Jury prize

Jian Li Ju Theatre, Shanghai

Designed by: More Design Office
For client: Jian Li Ju Theatre Company Floor area: 930.00 M² Year of completion: 2017
Awarded: Best Use of Light Jury

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© Dirk Weiblen

From the entrance a stair leads down into the darkness.

About the Project

The project for a new performance space for the Jian Li Ju Theatre Company nestled in the heart of a complex and historic Shanghai context is an interesting study on typology. The concept for its execution is based on the shaping of light and shadow to create the drama and tension in a 1950s Hollywood thriller. The theatre company specializes in offering unique spectator experiences where the audience plays an integral role in their performances and productions. As such the brief for their new premises in Shanghai demanded a careful architectural approach to the relationships between space, event and movement.

More Design Office takes the cinematic expression of film noir and applied its heightened sense of drama to the atmosphere within creating a sequence of contrasting spaces that read as a montage of screenshots from a film reel.

The required functional spaces are organized in a linear arrangement, where the visitor must always move forward in order to heighten the sense of journey and expectation. Visitors are given only a time, location, a character and a script. Once inside, individual changing rooms are lit by a number projected from a pinhole aperture providing a unique threshold between life outside and the production within.

What’s unique about it

The designers worked closely with the client to develop an innovative user experience to create the new theatre. Traditional audience experiences are challenged, the engagement with cinema questioned and the approach to characters, acting and performance are turned upside down.

With work of this nature, the architectural theory of Tschumi - especially the 1976 Screenplays project - is never far away and many of the formal strategies employed directly reference the parallels with screen editing and the time-space nature of architecture. Tools such as distortion, repetition and superimposition often used by the great directors of the film noir scene have all been applied as a method to soak the interior with all the atmosphere of a 1950s Hollywood melodrama.

The palette is simple throughout, monotone, minimal with a hint at texture through the treatment of the plaster to give a luster and depth to the spaces. This all provides a backdrop to the lighting strategy integral to the concept of the project. Contrasting light and dark spaces create a balance of relief and tension, curved walls and reflections create disorientating rooms within and eerie light from hidden sources fill narrow corridors with atmosphere and intrigue. The silhouetted figures and shadowy sets of a Michael Curtiz drama are never too far away.

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© Dirk Weiblen

A dark curved corridor seeks to create a sense of departure from the world outside.

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© Dirk Weiblen

When it is time, each participant in the production enters a small changing space, highlighted by an eerie number projected from a pinhole aperture onto the dark corridor floor.

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© Dirk Weiblen

In contrast to the threshold sequence, the waiting room is bright and lined with acoustic paneling on the walls and benches creating a closed and soft environment, a moment of respite before the performance begins and the drama is further heightened.

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© Dirk Weiblen

The lobby has an emphasis on low-key lighting and unbalanced composition, a deliberate act of disorientation.

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© Dirk Weiblen

Here in a space reminiscent of a Lynch production set complete with heavy velvet curtains, visitors are provided with a script and transform into character.

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© Dirk Weiblen

The guests emerge from a costume change into a small anti-chamber where the four enclosing walls are asymmetrical.

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© Dirk Weiblen

The main focus is on a number displayed through a magnifying glass giving stage directions to the participating actors waiting in anticipation.

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© Dirk Weiblen

A corridor of spot lights leads visitors to the final event space.

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© Dirk Weiblen

The sequence finishes with a hall of mirrors, one final nod to the film reel and the cinematic traditions that the design engages with. Given this final space is predominantly used for photographs and selfies, the last note is intentionally witty.

More Design Office

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