Bamboo Theatre

Text by Eduard Kögel
( Photo ©: Wang Ziling )
Bamboo is a fast growing grass, which in China can be found in all gardens and in many hilly regions especially in lightly-planted forests. The meaning of Bamboo in Chinese culture, is informed by manifold qualities: its interesting flexible structure, the sparkling light effect created by a bamboo grove, the bright green colour of its leaves, its many varieties, and its technical characteristics as a material. 
The sixteenth century painter Qiu Ying created a scroll of the garden of 10th century historian Sima Guang in Luoyang, named Garden of Self-Enjoyment. One section of this scroll depicts a ‘Studio for Planting Bamboo’. 
( Photo ©: Wang Ziling )
Xu Tiantian has designed a theatre stage inspired by this depiction of a circular ring of bamboo plants roped up on top to form a dome. It is located in Hengkeng Village, in the Songyang County of the Zhejiang province where Xu Tiantian’s office has developed several interventions in age-old villages, transformed buildings and added new architectural elements to the landscape. This hilly region still depends on agricultural production, and the remoteness of its hundreds of villages have preserved their material and intangible cultures to date. Today, modern society and industrial production challenge this rural culture, impacting particularly on production, historic values and traditions. 
In the Songyang region almost every village has a bamboo grove in its vicinity. These add beautifully scenic backdrops to the village life, provide space for leisure activity, and carry metaphorical cultural meanings. For example, in ancient times, the ability of bamboo to continue growing while bent and yet return to their original positions when released, was understood as reference to banned disagreeable officials, who after some time returned to their positions. 
( Photo ©: Wang Ziling )
In the case of the bamboo theatre in Hengkeng Village, Xu Tiantian instructed the local villagers in the pattern for bending and weaving the bamboo into the vaulted space with circular opening at the top. This low-tech bio-design approach, makes use of bamboos rapid growth and its bending quality. Furthermore, the growing dome needs little regular cultivation: just once a year, must the villagers weave younger bamboo shoots into the existing frame and remove some old poles. This low-maintenance living architecture provides an extraordinary outdoor space for village activities. Together with the complementary, irregularly shaped, floating Bamboo platform in the centre, the bamboo theatre caters for activities from group performances to individual meditation in a natural space. 
( Photo ©: Wang Ziling )
The combination of historic literati tradition with simple local knowhow results in an object that beautifies the village and transforms the bucolic landscape into an appealing tourist destination. While this is necessary in order to keep the younger generations and energetic people in the villages by offering an economic perspective for sustainable development, this approach runs the risk of the sensibly developed contemporary authenticity being quickly overrun by an uncontrolled mass tourism attracted by the beauty of a carefully developed rural expression of local culture. 
( Photo ©: Wang Ziling )
( Photo ©: Wang Ziling )
( Photo ©: Wang Ziling )
( Drawing ©: DnA _Design and Architecture )
Project Location
Songyang County, Zhejiang Province, China
Design and construction period
Songyang Hengkeng Village
Wang Ziling