Wednesday02 September 2015

Finland and China’s operatic duet

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PES-Architects’ Wuxi Grand Theatre uses 17,000 individual bamboo blocks to create its unique acoustics

Project: Wuxi Grand Theatre, China
Architect PES-Architects
Location Wuxi, China
Completed 2012

Finnish practice PES-Architects has completed a new opera house in Wuxi, eastern China, with a series of interiors that play on the rippling surface of its lakeside location.

Won in an international competition in 2008, the 78,000sq m building is sited on a manmade peninsula on the northern shore of Taihu Lake.

Rising to a height of 50m from a terraced base, the roof is formed of eight steel wings that cantilever over the facades, recalling the wings of a butterfly and protecting the building from the sun’s heat.

The steel wings are clad in perforated aluminium panels and contain thousands of LED lights, which make it possible to change the colour of the building according to the character of the performances. Below, a forest of 9m- high lighting columns begins in the main entrance, supporting the roof of the central lobby, and continues outside into the lake.

Wuxi Grand Theatre, China by PES-Architects

Source: Kari Palsila

Wuxi Grand Theatre, China by PES-Architects

The main auditorium features an undulating bamboo wall that draws on Chinese tradition, and a rippling glass wall that is inspired by Finnish nature, lakes and ice.

New methods for the production of bamboo have made it possible to line the auditorium with 17,000 solid bamboo blocks, all individually shaped according to acoustic needs. Meanwhile 25,000 specially designed glass bricks cover the curved wall of the opera auditorium in the lakeside lobby.

Bamboo wall in main auditorium

Bamboo was chosen for the interior of the main auditorium, as a readily available locally sourced material with the perfect properties for the specific acoustic requirements.

It was calculated that the weight of the surface materials in the concert hall should be at least 35kg per sq m, with a varied surface texture — some areas needing to be reflective and others diffusing.

Bamboo blocks section detail

Bamboo blocks section detail: 1 Black stainless steel railings; 2 Solid strand woven bamboo wall blocks, carbonated; 3 Solid strand woven bamboo boards, carbonated; 4 Bamboo block acoustic modulation, CNC cut; 5 Solid bamboo floor, darkened; 6 Stage lighting bar structure; 7 Concrete structure; 8 Secondary structures for bamboo elements; 9 Suspended gypsum ceiling, painted black

Strand-woven bamboo blocks were chosen, being substantially heavier than conventional bamboo and able to be formed into the desired shape.

The blocks are formed from crushed and pressed bamboo fibres, heated under high pressure to achieve a dark amber colour. They also achieve the required fire resistance rating, with retarder agent added to the material during manufacture.

The 17,000 blocks, which were digitally modelled in 3D and CNC-cut, are on average 900mm long, 100mm high and about 80mm thick. Each block has two 11mm holes, through which 10mm threaded steel rods are fitted and structurally attached to the secondary steel structure behind the bamboo wall.

Wuxi Grand Theatre, China by PES-Architects

Source: Kari Palsila

The main auditorium is lined with an undulating wall of strand-woven bamboo blocks.

Each block was numbered and marked in a 3D drawing, enabling the workers to find and install the correct blocks quickly. The precisely cut shapes allowed for a maximum of only 0.5mm installation tolerance for each block.

Bamboo wall blocks illustration

Bamboo wall blocks illustration: 1 Lighting bridge wall; 2 Second balcony wall; 3 Auditorium wall; 4 Royal balcony; 5 Concealed bamboo door

The naturally larger construction tolerances of the structural concrete walls of the auditorium were compensated by the flexible secondary structure behind the bamboo wall.

Glass brick wave wall in lakeside lobby

Wuxi Grand Theatre, China by PES-Architects

Source: Martin Lukasczyk

The 25,000 bespoke glass bricks were handmade.

The undulating wave form of the auditorium’s bamboo wall has been mimicked in a glass block wall which lines the building’s lakeside lobby.

Working with Aalto University in Helsinki and Suzhou University to develop production techniques, the 25,000 blocks were all made by hand and transported to site.

The bricks only came in two forms: the complete brick and a half-brick, making it essential adjust the entire elevation, including all technical installations, according to the brick pattern, in order to avoid inappropriate detailing.


The installation technique is very similar to that used for the bamboo wall: each full glass brick has two holes, through which 10mm threaded steel rods are fitted and structurally attached to the secondary steel structure behind the wave glass brick wall, obscured with a white cover.

Glass wave wall plan

Glass wave wall plan: 1 Glass brick; 2 Plastic clip, white; 3 Steel rod, white; 4 Steel plate, white; 5 Secondary structures; 6 Concrete structures

An LED lighting system is installed in the ceiling above the glass brick wall, which illuminates the white surface behind.

Architecture and interior design
Client Office for the Important Urban Projects in Wuxi
Landscape design Maisemasuunnittelu Hemgård (Finland); Feiscape, Shanghai
Structural design Vahanen Group (Finland), Shanghai Institute for Archi-tectural Design & Research HVAC design Climaconsult (Finland); SIADR (China)
Lighting design Valoa Design (Finland); Enjoy, Shanghai (China)
Acoustic design Akukon & Kahle Acoustics (Finland); Zhang Kuiseng, Shanghai (China)
Material suppliers Bamboo interiors Dasso Co, Hangzhou
Glass Bricks SIP Pengli Visual Mastermind & Design



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