Trace Architecture Office designs theater complex in China as a “stage for the city”

Chinese Studio Trace Architecture Office has completed the Aranya Theater Complex at the seaside resort of Aranya in Hebei Province, with a stone amphitheater for outdoor performances.


Instead of designing a single block filling the waterfront site, the Beijing-based practice divided the complex into three distinct spaces – the open-air Dionysus Theatre, the 500-seat Theater A and the 300-seat Fengchuao Theater – with public spaces in between.

Trace Architecture Office built an outdoor amphitheater and two indoor theaters

“By dividing an excessively large volume into three smaller units, the building blends into the urban setting without being too intrusive,” explained the studio.

“The Aranya Theater itself is a stage for the city, and the theater’s events reflect Aranya’s urban public life,” he continued.

The exterior of the Aranya theaters in sand color
The Dionysus Theater is an outdoor amphitheater clad in stone

Each theater space has been designed to have its own distinctive visual appearance and to cater for a range of different uses, with the three buildings being linked by a cobbled plaza.

The Fengchuao Theater is a black box theater designed for professional dramatic performances and is appropriately housed in a low black metal covered box in the center of the venue.

Stone walls and steps of an amphitheater
The studio wanted to incorporate Hebei city life into the structure

The adjoining Theater A is a slightly larger space designed for a more flexible range of uses such as conferences and exhibitions, clad in a pattern of pale stone panels of varying size.

A low hall structure connects the Fengchuao Theater to Theater A, constructed using a framework of triangular beams allowing for a column-free space that creates a sense of visual continuity between the two.

Seeking to maximize the sense of connection between the theater spaces and the city itself, the doors lead directly from the small lobby to the performance spaces, encouraging visitors to spread out and congregate in the surrounding plaza during intervals.

Located one block south of the site is the Dionysus Theater, a stone-clad outdoor amphitheater looking out to sea that doubles as an informal gathering space when not in use for performances.

The Aranya Theater complex overlooks the sea
Actors and the general public can contemplate the sea from the building

“With the functions of performance, party, relaxation and sea-viewing, the Dionysus Theater acts as a socially cohesive space in the city,” said Trace Architecture Office (TAO).

“The concept was to open up the theater, where the stage takes in the sea and the city in the background. The set is juxtaposed against the actual scene of city life, creating a unique seaside theater,” he continued. .

An indoor theater stage
The black box theater is designed for professional performances

Contrasting with the opening of this amphitheater is a “cave-like” cafe nestled in its semi-circular form, with windows overlooking the Fengchuao Theater.

Other recently completed theater projects in China include the Sunac Guangzhou Grand Theater by Steven Chilton Architects, with a twisted red form informed by the city’s historic connection to silk.

TAO’s previous projects include a bookstore in an abandoned house in rural China and a visitor center in a swampy park.

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