design institute, and the show’s creators. The biggest challenge for his team, says Chilton, was fine-tuning the more complicated elements while sticking to their deadline, and he credits the success to their working approach – and their use of digital tools. “A lot of the elements were designed parametrically, which allowed us to have a certain flexibility to change the design and look at various options,” he says. “We produced a 3D model which had all the built components that we could then use to create the 2D drawings in terms of sectioning etc. It was a really efficient process.”


Architect: SCA | Steven Chilton Architects Client: Dalian Wanda Group Architecture and Design Management: Wanda Cultural Tourism Planning & Research Institute Co. Ltd Concept engineer: Buro Happold Engineering

Theatre consultant: Auerbach Pollock Friedlander Show design: Dragone Local Design Institute: Tongji Architectural Design

effect.” The other third of the envelope is custom-fritted glazing, “creating a certain depth, so when you’re on the outside looking in you almost feel like the space is really receding into it,” he explains. This extends the full height of the building above the entrance lobby, a fact that is revealed by a break in the columns. The budget posed challenges, admits Chilton. “Reducing the depth of the canopy inevitably meant there were less columns, so more of the rendered wall was exposed,” he says. “We had to work quite hard on how the columns were distributed so that visually, from an angle, there were always enough of them there to create the effect we were after whilst masking what was a fairly cheap and cheerful wall.” There is an increasing focus on sustainability in China, and as well as the canopy reducing the load on the air conditioning by limiting solar gain, Chilton says the choice of materials will also help. “It’s more down the line that the sustainable potential will become apparent,” he says. “It’s a simple palette of fairly pure materials like raw steel and so in terms of recycling we’re confident we haven’t built anything that’s going to end up in a landfill.”

Approaching the finish line The interior design and layout of the 2,000-seat theatre is something Chilton and his team haven’t been directly involved in – and in fact details are being kept somewhat under wraps until the grand opening. The nature of the show means an enormous water tank has to be incorporated with the circular stage, the specifics of which are being finalised by specialist technical theatre consultants APF along with the local


The construction started in early 2017, only a few months after the practice were first approached. “We started handing over information which they would start using at the local design institute after a couple of months,” explains Chilton. In fact, while the bulk of the design and construction work was agreed early on, there was one detail that caused a slight headache. “Choosing the colours that they were going to paint the back wall with took forever,” Chilton says. “Everyone had a different opinion and it just went round and round!” Despite this, and some minor changes to the glass fritting, the project has so far gone smoothly. “Anything that’s had to be updated has been fairly superficial stuff,” he says. “When these things run so quickly there’s room for error but the team [in China] are very competent, they’ve done a fine job.” There’s a buzz around the project among

locals, which Chilton’s pleasantly surprised by. “It’s doing the rounds on social media in China,” he says. “Over the last few years there’s been dozens of really interesting buildings designed and constructed so you’d have thought they’d be fairly blasé, but it’s great.” Since work began Wanda have sold the project, along with several of their other cultural tourism cities, to Sunac, who are now overseeing it with a team transferred from Wanda. In spite of the time pressure, Chilton says working on the project, which is shortlisted for the Future Project Award (Cultural) at the World Architecture Festival, has been a “pleasurable experience”. Being a relatively new practice, they enjoy challenging themselves and finding new approaches, and this project has been no exception. “We just try to reset our approach and find something about the locality or culture,” he says. “If we used the same technique or approach every time it would become boring – we try and keep it interesting.” 


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