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New Shanghai Theater

Pedro Pegenaute

In an ever-changing city, Neri & Hu chooses clarity of lines for a new theatre.

What to do when a city changes so fast that architecture is taken aback? Well, this is one of the major problems in contemporary architecture - the evolution of style is a tricky issue because if one tries to keep up with the micro-adjustments of taste ends up creating a mess of a style.

This was the case of a theatre in Shanghai. Built during the 1930s, the venue underwent a series of renovations over the decades, during which much of the original character and architectural detail had been stripped away. The resulting building was a pastiche of various styles and programmatic uses. Then, luckily, Neri & Hu were appointed to renovate the building, taking it back to its former glamour.

The primary design challenge for Neri & Hu was to recall the clarity and unity of the historic building in all its grandeur, while creating an architecture that would not only be relevant today, but have the potential to become a lasting and significant landmark in modern Shanghai.
This purity of lines and clarity of architecture is at the center of a video by Pedro Pegenaute. With his signature elegance - a perfect fit for the style of the architectural studio - he portraits the new building, focusing on its relationship with the street and with the height: the theatre, encased entirely in stone, has multiple openings carved in its structure.

From the street, the building reads as a heavy stone volume hovering just above ground level, lodged firmly between its neighbors, it announces its presence unabashedly. To guide theatergoers into the building, fluted bronze walls—reminiscent of a theatre curtain cloaking the drama of the main stage behind it—provide a sense of weightlessness in contrast to the heaviness of the stone above.

The inspiration comes from the theatrical acts: the carved spaces, the atriums, the openings, they all create dramatic backgrounds, providing intensity to the experience of the spectator who enters inside, also thanks to the change of light conditions throughout the day. As Pedro Pegenaute underlines, the theatre is structured as a covered plaza, a public space that welcomes its audience and the passers-by, blurring the boundaries of public and private.

(Story by Sara Marzullo, The Architecture Player)


Architect: Neri & Hu
Mentioned project: New Shanghai Theatre (2016)
Project location: Shanghai, China

China 2016
Duration: 2'44"