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The Oval Partnership Creates A Subterranean Cultural Landmark in Xi’an

Denoted at street level by a reflective entrance pavilion, the Qujiang Creative Cultural Centre unfolds underground as a series of spaces with carefully detailed surfaces of material and light.



BY Narelle Yabuka

July 30th, 2019


The black-box nature of many theatres lends itself to subterranean spaces – there’s no natural light to dilute stage effects, and the audience can enjoy full focus on the stage. But to craft an uplifting cultural venue underground requires a particular sensitivity to the power of light, spatial volume and materials.

The Oval Partnership has developed a subterranean gem for the city of Xi’an with a new cultural landmark that forms part of an integrated master plan for Qujiang Creative Circle. The Qujiang Creative Cultural Centre officially opened to the public this month, and is charged with the potential of becoming the heart of the city’s civic district.

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The Centre (designed for Xi’an Vanke & Xi’an Qujiang Cultural Industry Investment [Group] Co. Ltd) is tucked beneath the central plaza of Qujiang Creative Circle and denoted at street level by a reflective entrance pavilion that offers a new civic meeting point within a broader public zone of some 2,000 square metres.

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Below ground are spaces that can host an array of cultural performances, concerts, educational events and exhibitions.

The Centre comprises a retractable 400-seat multi-functional theatre, a performance and rehearsal room, a multi-purpose gallery, exhibition spaces, workshops, a café and bar, and supporting office and auxiliary spaces.

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These amenities are expanded in potential by The Oval Partnership’s vision of nurturing collective identity for the people of Xi’an, and inspiring a new generation of innovative creative pioneers.

After descending from the shimmering entrance pavilion, visitors find themselves entering a longitudinal gallery – a vestibule that serves the theatrical spaces and also provides a multi-functional place for creative events and exhibitions.

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Says The Oval Partnership, “The design experimented with the notion of poetic exuberance, exchanging spatial dialogues between permanence and ephemerality, hard and soft, light and dark, compression and contraction.”

The gallery was inspired by the traditional Chinese lián láng – a connecting structure between buildings. The designers’ modern interpretation of this has resulted in an arrangement of 8,000 bronze rods suspended from the ceiling, cantilevering from the walls, and rising from the floor.

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Along the centre of the vestibule runs a 13-metre-long draping metallic veil – a soft counterpoint to the vertical rhythm of the brass. Say the designers, “Together they create an emotionally uplifting spectacle and a sense of ‘weightless suspension’.”

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In the dark-toned multi-functional theatre, rounded acoustic panels re-establish a subtly expressed rhythm, aided by uplights. In the brighter rehearsal room, a similar effect is achieved beneath a pale, reflective, coved ceiling that harks to the sky.