When the Pingshan District government in Shenzhen, China tapped Beijing-based OPEN Architecture to design the district’s first theater, the architects knew immediately that they wanted to create something different from the high energy-consuming and monotonous theaters that have recently become the norm throughout China. After taking a critical look at the past development of theaters in the country, the architects worked closely with the client to propose a new program for the Pingshan Performing Arts Center that emphasized social inclusivity by serving as a new cultural hub with amenities for both theater-lovers and the general public. Integrated with a public promenade and series of publicly accessible gardens, the contemporary theater also boasts a restaurant, a cafe, social and educational programming and an expansive landscaped roof that helps mitigate the urban heat island effect.

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aerial view of large white and blue theater building

Completed over the course of four years, the Pingshan Performing Arts Center eschews the extravagant exteriors that have defined many modern theaters in China in favor of a climate-responsive facade wrapped in precision-engineered perforated aluminum V sections that protect the building from sub-tropical sun exposure while enhancing natural ventilation.

Related: This museum is carved into the seaside sand dunes of China’s Gold Coast

large white and blue theater building with rooftop gardens
large open interior with glass walls and round lights

At the heart of the new performing arts center — nicknamed “drama box” — is a 1,200-seat grand theater wrapped in dark red-toned wood panels that are visible from both inside the building and atop the roof, where the fly gallery can be seen. The grand theater is flanked by a series of smaller functional spaces and a public promenade that links together a cafe, a black box theater, teaching spaces, rehearsal rooms, an informal outdoor theater and outdoor gardens on multiple levels.

theater with blue seats and wood walls
person walking past benches on landscaped rooftop

“In breaking away from the mono-function Cultural Landmark typology, the building not only becomes much more sustainable in daily operation, but also sets a new example of social inclusivity for civic buildings,” the architects explained. “Serving as a new cultural hub, it also provides the non-theater-going public with an exceptional and unusual urban space.”

+ OPEN Architecture

Photography by Zeng Tianpei and Jonathan Leijonhufvud via OPEN Architecture