Enchanted: Puzzeball Theatre

Located in the Huadu District of Guangzhou, China, the Puzzle Ball Theatre proposal by London’s Steven Chilton Architects takes its inspiration from the ancient art of puzzle ball carving. The 2000 seat proposal is designed to house an original and permanent show inspired by the local Yue culture.

Jade Puzzle Ball Guangdong Museum, Guangzhou, China

Chinese puzzle balls are intricately carved sculptural ornaments consisting of several concentric spheres, each freely rotating within the next and traditionally formed from a single block of material. Sculpted by master craftsman, each ball is typically composed of up to 10 concentric layers. Revered for their beauty, mystery and inherent mastery, they are the embodiment of the qualities and characteristics the architecture and show aspire to evoke.

A spherical massing was chosen for the efficiency of its surface area to volume ratio. The primary structure is twin layered dome formed of tubular steel members connected to machined spherical nodes. The cladding panels are formed of GRC and sit as a rainscreen over a substrate formed from insulated aluminium panels with integrated glazing units.

The main entrance is composed of a series of offset spherical surfaces. Each surface has a circular opening that reduce in size concentrically until they reach the glazed portion of the façade. Each spherical surface is offset around its centroid to create an asymmetric overlapping  pattern characteristic of puzzle balls.

The surface geometry is inspired by geometric patterns found on wooden window shutters originating from the region. Using generative design techniques, the cladding design was developed with three key goals driving the outcome.

The design started with the mapping of a triangular grid based upon a geodesic polyhedron. The grid was established with input from the engineer to ensure it aligned with the optimal structural solution for the twin layered dome primary steel supporting structure.

Using hierarchical subdivision, a heterogeneous panelization was developed using rhombus and trapezoids as the primary panel shapes. Distributed across the setting out grid over three generations, each one reducing in size from the previous, the density and apparent complexity of the surface increases towards the ground and entrances.

The size of the opening in each panel emerge by the interaction of two main inputs. The first is the need for daylight and views in the theatre lobby and areas adjacent to the main entrances, the second is the desire to keep the façade as closed as possible in the higher parts of the building to avoid heat gain. The outcome pattern is a gentle and gradual variation of solids and void.