Stage under Starlit Sky

In its previous life, the Stone Nest Amphitheatre was a small-sized stone pit located in the Wujiatuan Village at Songshan Residential District in the city of Weihai, Shandong Province, China.

A base emerging from reading of site and location

In its previous life, the Stone Nest Amphitheatre was a small-sized stone pit located in the Wujiatuan Village at Songshan Residential District in the city of Weihai, Shandong Province, China. Since 1990s, along with the rapid urbanization of China, a great number of stone pits had emerged all over in Weihai, among which this project was one, as well. For the past few years, as the state is paying increasingly attention on environment protection, almost all of the stone pits have been closed. Accordingly, this place had also been gradually discarded and eventually turned into a relic, given a name by the local as “Shi Wozi (Stone Nest)”.

During the site exploration, the design team found this abandoned stone pit by accident and was amazed by its charm. After years of erosion through the time, this relatively small stone pit, in a form of a naturally curved hand, renders a presence of some kind of artificial nature with its old traces of quarrying. The architect has been especially impressed by the exposed jagged precipice and steep cliff. How to transfer this stone pit that once ruined the environment into a public place that will benefit the local people? That has been the biggest question of this project.

The design concept inspired from intertextuality

Already chosen, but what does its future look like? What functions are supposed to be granted? And what will it to the surroundings bring? … The ancient Greek amphitheatres, the Piazza del Campo in Siena and the musical stage of Dr Sun Yat-sen’ Mausoleum in Nanking have inspired the architect. During his early years of overseas study tour in Europe, the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus in Greece, leaning against the mountains and facing the distance, has made a profound impression on him with its unique cultural-natural landscape, of which the artificial structures blend perfectly into the nature. Although the environment of this old stone pit is quite different from that of the ancient Greek amphitheatre, the architect finds a logical intertextuality between them and sees that an open-air theatre, as a public field, will bring fresh vigor and new opportunities to the local community, which could be used as a public communication piazza for gatherings, musical and theatrical festivals. More than mere simple beautification of the landscape, this kind of disposal is also supposed to augment cultural and industrial functions to the project, which should provide solution concepts on these abandoned industrial remains.

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The architecture between human and nature

In a sense, this project is a kind of architecture in landscape. And, according to the architect, a “light” posture should be taken to deal with the site, the architectural form and their relations in between.

The cliff of the site is intactly preserved, without any processing, as the background wall of the amphitheatre, which, with its arc-shaped form produced by quarrying, realizes excellent acoustics. From the architect’s point of view, the cliff itself is the most significant content of entire the performance, which is not only the background of the stage, but also one of the major performers. Its existence, as the start point of the whole space, determines the characteristics and atmosphere of the theatre. The audience area is set up hemming in the cliff, of which the height is gently elevated starting from the horizontal plane of the stage, forming a rounding up field. The shapes of the stage and the audience area are fitted to the original terrains, not pursuing symmetry. The seat terraces of the audience area are designed as free broken lines to strengthen the landscape efficacy of the venue.

The ground of the original site is a slope descending downhill from the cliff, contrary to the ascend tendency of the audience area. Complied with this feature, a new architectural structure is added under the audience area, and they share the same supporting system, with functions of storage, public restrooms and café, providing the theatre with logistics and public supporting services. To avoid taking away the protagonist status of the cliff, the height of the architecture has been brought down as possible and its exterior appearance tends to be relatively orderly and neat. A series of French windows form the front architectural façade. And, with intentionally consolidated thick walls between the windows, the architect hopes to give a feeling of a cave, echoing its history as stone pit. On both sides of the building, steps and ramps are arranged for people’s entering and leaving the stage zone, surrounded by high and big walls and slightly oppressive or circuitous, becoming transitional space before entering the main space, which cause an effect of “refraining before highlighting”. Rubbles are chosen as building materials for masonry construction, among which most of the rubbles come from the stones excavated during site formation. Through this, the architect hopes to express the concept that, both in terms of form and physical attributes, the architecture naturally grows out of the site.

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Here, the landscape is not an independent content, and neither is the architecture, between which a possibility of mutual transformation exists. The green belt before the architecture is divided into sections uneven in size by stone pathways, echoing the terrace partition of the audience area. And the traffic line leading into the theatre takes shape of a curve, demanding that people have to walk around the whole architecture for at least a half circle before entering the theatre, which strengthens the sense of ritual, as well.

The interior space of the architecture is small and relatively simply planned, with slanting roof, on which the irregular skylights imply the connection of the building to the audience area while enhancing the dramaticism indoors. Through the fundamental intension of cave, pit and industrial sense for the interior architecture design, the architect hopes to endow the spatial atmosphere with an ardent and hard touch. Stone, slightly rough timer, leather and metal become the preferred materials for the spatial moulding. Lamps and furniture in industrial style also intensify this aura. Exposed light sources produce enchanting dazzle lighting. Coupled with the orange hue on the east and west walls and the sapphire tone on the inner walls of the skylights, the interior architecture emits a retro lethargic sense.

In the architect’s vision, at some point in the future, people can be listening to folk songs, drinking beer and looking up into the starlit sky, in which way life is actually supposed to be.

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