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The Jianliju theatre company offers a unique spectator experience, whereby the audience plays an integral part in their performances. The design of their new Shanghai premises explores the relationship between space, event, and movement through careful implementation of forms, lighting and circulation, in a monochromatic setting.

The architect, More Design Office (MDO) has taken the cinematic expression of film noir and applied its heightened sense of drama to the atmosphere within to create a sequence of contrasting spaces that read as a montage of screenshots from a film reel.

MDO collaborated with Studio Illumine to produce a lighting scheme that accentuates spatial contrasts by using light to create spaces out of darkness. Vertical light beams were applied to scale down long, vast corridors and create visual interest. Lighting was also used as a form of orientation, leading people fluidly from space to space The theatee functions are organized into a linear arrangement of spaces, where the visitor is prevented from going backwards, as if following an unknown figure through the street at night.

The theatre is accessed through a non-descript side-street in Shanghai. Visitors arrive only with a time and number. From the entrance, a stairwell leads down into darkness, the circulation creates a sense of departure from the world outside, a deliberate act of disorientation initiated by a dark curved corridor and emphasized by low-key lighting that leads to the spaces inside.

The palette is simple throughout; monotone and minimal. The strategic use of wall-graze lighting, which skims the plastered walls, highlights subtle textures and gives scale and depth to the space. In contrast to the threshold sequence, the first space; the lobby, is bright, with cove-lights lining the walls, ceilings and benches. This creates a closed and calm environment; a moment of respite before the performance and drama begins.

When it is time, each participant enters a small changing space, highlighted by an eerie number from a pinhole aperture projected onto the dark corridor floor. Here, in a space with merely one spotlight on the designated costume, the participants are provided with a script, and transform into character. Performers emerge from their costume change into a small antichamber where the main focus is on a back-lit number displaying stage directions through a magnifying glass.

After the show concludes, the sequence finishes with a hall of mirrors, one final nod to the film reel and the chosen cinematic genre. Here, lighting was applied only to the vertical planes, thus further accentuating the mirrors and providing an ideal setting to take photographs to remember the unique cinematic experience. Given this final space is predominantly used for photographs and selfies, their last note is intentionally witty, a critical reflection perhaps on the ambiguous relationship between actor and audience that their architecture has curated throughout.

Project Credits
Client : Jianliju Theatre
Interior design : More Design Office (MDO), Shanghai
Lighting Design : Studio Illumine + MDO : Carlos Galan, Azlan Nazam, Kozen Zhang
Photography credits : Dirk Weiblen
Products used : Great Lighting

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