MAD Designs New "Floating Theater" of Glass Sails in China

MAD Architects have revealed the design of a new theater made of glass sails in Yiwu, China. Located on the south bank of the Dongyang River, the ‘Yiwu Grand Theater’ encompasses a 1600 seat grand theater, medium theater, and international conference center. The project's protective canopy was made to resonate with the river and use water as its stage. MAD’s design responds to its locale by appearing as a boat floating on the river above the water’s surface.

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Yiwu Grand Theater. Image Courtesy of MAD Architects

As MAD explains, Yiwu has established itself internationally for its strong economy, as the world’s largest wholesale commodities market. Domestically, it is traditionally known as a city of trade, thus making it an integral part of the country’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative.’ While being a hub of growing international commerce, the city decided in 2018 that it would focus on culture to further elevate its soft power, and hosted an international competition to design the ‘Yiwu Grand Theater.’ MAD Architects, led by Ma Yansong, competed against four other global architecture firms, coming out ahead of Arata Isozaki & Associates, Atelier Christian de Portzamparc, GMP, and KDG, to secure the project.

Yiwu Grand Theater. Image Courtesy of MAD Architects
Yiwu Grand Theater. Image Courtesy of MAD Architects

The new theater is defined by a layering of glass sails that are reminiscent of the Chinese junks that once transported goods across the waters, while their curves echo the Jiangnan-style eaves of the ancient vernacular architecture that is typical of the region. The transparency and lightness of the glass express the texture of thin, silky fabric, creating a dynamic rhythm that makes them appear as if they are blowing in the wind. To reduce overall energy consumption, MAD formed the theater with a passive solar design. Thus, the semi-transparent glass curtain wall has been developed to not only act as a shading system, but to also optimize the use of natural light within the indoor public spaces, forming a solar greenhouse effect in the winter. In the summer, it serves as the ventilation system, enhancing airflow circulation inside and outside of the building.

Yiwu Grand Theater. Image Courtesy of MAD Architects

Envisioned as a public space for the city, the ‘Yiwu Grand Theater’ is easily accessed from all directions. Vehicular transportation can enter from the south shore, while tree-lined foot bridges from the north offer pedestrians the opportunity to meander along the water and enjoy views of the city, theater, and greater waterfront as they approach the building. Emphasizing public interaction, the scheme features an amphitheater and large open plaza that extends into the water on its southern edge, while landscaped terraces offer elevated views of the site’s surroundings, and areas of quiet contemplation – an immersive natural experience in the urban context.

Construction on the ‘Yiwu Grand Theater’ is expected to begin in 2020.


Administration Committee of Silk Road New District of Yiwu
Culture, Broadcasting & Television, Tourism and Sports Bureau of Yiwu
Yiwu City Construction Investment Group Limited

Principal Partners in Charge: Ma Yansong, Dang Qun, Yosuke Hayano

Associate Partners in Charge: Fu Changrui, Liu Huiying

Design Team: Zhu Yuhao, Zheng Chengwen, Kazushi Miyamoto, Shang Li, Ma Yin, Jordan Demer, Guo Wenjia, Zhu Zixiao

News via MAD Architects

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Cite: Eric Baldwin. "MAD Designs New "Floating Theater" of Glass Sails in China" 28 Jun 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

Yiwu Grand Theater. Image Courtesy of MAD Architects

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