Inspired by the largest bamboo forest in China, the Wuxi Taihu Show Theatre serves as a permanent home to a new acrobatic water show from Franco Dragone.
By Rachel Gallaher
Photographed by Grace Gavin Rhodes
Standing more than 104 feet tall and surrounded by hundreds of thin white steel columns, the imposing Wuxi Taihu Show Theatre—set to open this December in eastern China’s Jiangsu Province—is just as breathtaking as the acrobatic spectacle it was built to house.
Designed by London’s Steven Chilton Architects, the circular theater’s screen of angled columns evokes the Sea of Bamboo national park in nearby Yixing. “I wanted to design something that would resonate well locally,” Chilton says.
To underscore the bamboo motif, Chilton designed a roof-level canopy composed of triangular bays that contain rows of gold-toned anodized aluminum louvers that together suggest, as the architect puts it, “an abstracted version of the leafy canopy you get at the top of bamboo. We always try to use simple and immediately recognizable symbols in our work.”
The canopy and columns also serve a practical purpose: they provide shade over the façade to passively lower the cooling load on the building. At night, when the building envelope is lit from below, it becomes an ethereal, illuminated beacon meant to draw patrons to its glow. The 2,000-seat venue will be home to Belgian theater director Franco Dragone’s latest water-based show (his work runs in the same vein as Cirque du Soleil’s O), and, according to Chilton, the architecture is meant to highlight the drama of the performance.
“The shadows are all perpendicular and point toward the entry,” he says. “It feels like you’re crossing the threshold into an otherworldly experience.