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Yang Liping Performing Arts Center

An Evocative Totem-Like Building

Studio Zhu-Pei

If the achievements of contemporary Chinese architecture over the last 30 years have gone hand in hand with the rapid expansion of Chinese cities, with the result that high-density urbanization is now the objective reality architects face, then the creation of architectural works that incorporate natural landscapes or human contexts in sparsely populated, extensive natural environments outside the metropolis represents a significant conceptual leap. Studio Zhu-Pei’s Performing Arts Center for Yang Liping, a dancer rooted in the artistic traditions of a minority local community living between the iconic landscape of the Cangshan Mountains and Lake Erhai in the small southern Chinese city of Dali, is an outstanding example of this different paradigm. 
A huge open-air platform, the building is a complete departure from the traditional central shoebox theater volume surrounded by subsidiary spaces. Echoing the geomorphology of mountains and lake, the raised and sunken building is made up of three functional components: the main body - an indoor theater beneath the platform; three vertical “birdhouses” rising and piercing through the platform; and an outdoor theater whose extended staircase sweeps up to connect the entrance level and broad roof. Zhu Pei has sensitively captured the unique elements of the regional landscape and local building and cultural traditions.
The only large public building in the vast low plain blanketed with low-to-medium rise residential housing, the theater complex is an obvious reference to the Cangshan Mountains and Erhai Lake that form the backdrop to the long low valley. The scenario recalls the title of Zhu Pei’s solo exhibition at the Aedes Architecture Gallery in Berlin - Mind Landscapes, pivoted around the concept that buildings can become miniature regional landscapes.
As well as the huge amount of outdoor space for the performing arts, the program also allows the indoor...

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