Text description provided by the architects. Stufish Entertainment Architects has completed the 2,000 seat, live entertainment Han Show Theatre in Wuhan, China. The state-of-the-art theatre has been purpose-built to house the brand new theatrical, acrobatic water spectacle, ‘The Han Show’, by renowned theatre director Franco Dragone.
The Han Show Theatre’s design is based on the traditional Chinese paper lantern – hence its nickname ‘The Red Lantern’. The intent was to recreate an instantly recognisable and iconic Chinese symbol with the aesthetic cladding that covers the theatre's ambitious auditorium and fly tower.
Stufish’s concept drawings have now come to life as the traditional bamboo superstructure of a paper lantern is reinterpreted with eight intersecting tubular steel rings, suspended in orbit around the theatre fly tower. The paper surface is suggested through a series of minimal surface cable nets, hung and tensioned within the lattice of trapezoidal voids generated by the intersecting rings.
Each of the 18,000 cable net structural nodes supports a red concave aluminium disk, modelled on the appearance of an ancient symbolic artefact, the Bi disk, from the Han Dynasty. The lantern light is enabled by a circular array of red LEDs at the centre of each disk that illuminate the dimpled, concave surface. The light across each disk is split into four quarter zones, each individually addressable using DMX control. The resultant lighting system can host a video image of approximately 600 x 120 pixels across its surface.
At the base of the building Stufish have represented the lantern’s tassels with the podium's slender support columns and vertical gold fritting applied to the perimeter glazing. The podium roof profile is generated by offsetting the bottom edge of the lantern’s intersecting ring geometry. It is intended to evoke the curving profile of traditional Chinese roof forms.
The entire design, inside and out, was informed by three essential and unique performance features: moveable auditorium seats, a 10 million litre performance pool, and three moveable LED screens which were designed to be the largest in the world.
The moveable seats allow the theatre to change shape and configuration during the show. Though the audience begins their viewing experience in the traditional proscenium setup, eventually the lower 1,000 seats smoothly swing open to the left and right, and the top 1000 seats slide down to the main level.
All this movement reveals a 10-metre deep performance pool, and one of the most fantastic features of The Han Show. Within its basin, a series of wet/dry lifts are covered in perforated acrobatic flooring for spectacular in and out of water stunts.
Early in the design process, Stufish set out to design the world’s largest moveable LED screens (225 sqm) to add further visual stimulation and acrobatic opportunities. These enormous LED screens are mounted on three robot arms, which are fixed to backstage columns. Each screen is 6.5 x 11 meters and each robot arm has six axis of motion.
Explaining the importance of getting all architectural elements right, Stufish architect Jenny Melville said: “The unique vision for the auditorium and show required vast and complex design integration. The entire building programme had to be configured specifically for and around the auditorium whilst also fitting within a constrained urban site. "
Located on Donghu Lake, The Han Show Theatre is the western anchor of client Dalian Wanda Group’s 'Wuhan Central Cultural District' development – a city-wide programme to provide waterway connections between Wuhan's six lakes. The Cultural District includes a programme of offices, residential, cultural buildings and shopping malls along a 2km canal-side site. To the east, the district is anchored by Stufish’s other recently completed building, the Wanda Movie Park, which overlooks Shahu Lake.
Notably, Stufish took on the project in 2010, when Mark Fisher was still alive. Fisher and his team worked closely with the client, designing a viable building alongside their vision of innovative technology and exhilarating spectacle. However, Fisher passed away in 2013 – a year and a half before the projects’ completion. As such, the launch of The Han Show Theatre and Wanda Movie Park is a significant and sentimental achievement for the design studio. Stufish CEO Ray Winkler comments, “Mark Fisher has laid solid foundations for Stufish to move forward and go from strength to strength. His creative approach to problem solving and his willingness to share his insights with the team of talented architects and designers in the studio, has given us the motivation and ability to explore the unexplored.”