The Nanjing Performing Arts Centre by Preston Scott Cohen 31.03.10

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The main auditorium building (image: Iwan Baan)

The Nanjing Performing Arts Centre was almost thwarted by a bureaucratic and conservative local construction culture. "They didn't think we could do it within the budget," says Preston Scott Cohen, principal of the eponymous firm behind the complex, which contributes auditoriums and offices for a number of student organisations to the tabula rasa of Nanjing University's new Xianlin Campus.

Like many Western architects currently working in China, PSC was chosen to bring high-end design. However, with constant changes of brief and resistance from local contractors, there was a lot of pressure to create a far simpler design than the dynamic and expressive building eventually built. "That's not what we're doing, that's not what we were asked to do," says Cohen, who obviously relished the challenge. Grateful for the support of the client ("they took a bold risk"), he's pleased with what was built.

The building has two basic parts: the larger, lower section contains the auditoriums, covering them with a roof composed of fluid hyperbolic paraboloids, while the offices are contained in a trapezoidal tower. Twisting around the tower is a bold silver form that contains a fire escape tucked underneath a dramatic open staircase.

One of PSC's strengths as a practice is a formal architecture that doesn't neglect the details, and this project is no exception. With its dramatic geometry, echoes of brutalism and shimmering tiled skin, it's a building rich in interest.

 

 Words

Douglas Murphy

quotes story

With constant changes of brief and resistance from local contractors, there was a lot of pressure to create a far simpler design than the dynamic and expressive building eventually built

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A fire escape wraps around the office tower (image: Iwan Baan)

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