Wuxi Grand Theatre: a Sydney Opera House on the Yangtze River

PES-architects export the Finnish approach to sustainability to China

by Malcolm Clark
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Finnish office PES-Architects has completed the work of Wuxi Grand Theatre, in the Chinese city of the same name on the banks of the Yangtze River. Winner of the international competition in 2008, the project is reminiscent of the Sydney Opera house, if only for its reflection on the water and the plasticity of the eight large wings that unfold to protect the inner rooms.

In Sydney it was the armour of an Armadillo, here the wings of a butterfly act as a formal pretext. However, the design method used to create this work is more interesting than any allusion to nature. The Theatre complex manifests unique technical and decorative aspects, from the treatment of the external areas to the distribution of the paths.

This is because the whole project, from the functional program to interior design, from landscape architecture to theatre technology up to the lighting and acoustics has been designed and controlled by PES-architects.

Their argument is that without a designer with a global view and with the knowledge of the whole design and construction process, the criteria of sustainable development cannot be met. The "assembly line" construction tends to optimize (or maybe just economise) the individual steps but loses the overall picture and flattens the design towards obligatory choices.

This is particularly evident in China, which is the place where more building work is taking place today than anywhere else and where projects are carried out at an astonishing speed. There are frequently complaints in Italy about Italian Architects' unwillingness to internationalisation: too self-referential, too closed in a "workshop" logic, unaccustomed or ill-prepared to gear up to complex systems.

The Wuxi Grand Theatre shows how even a difficult project can be managed (from the other side of the world) without excessive parcelling of work and dehumanisation architecture. As regards the organisation necessary to achieve this result, it is enough to mention that the Pes-architects office will be celebrating its first 10 years on the Chinese market next year and will be doing it in the company headquarters established in Shanghai. Maybe a good example to follow?

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    Wuxi Grand Theatre 107

    Wuxi Grand Theatre

    Wuxi / China / 2012