JianLiJu Theatre

Studio Illumine and More Design Office


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) adopted the cinematic expression of film noir to create a dramatic atmosphere of contrasting spaces, much like the screenshots from an old-fashioned film reel. With an extremely limited budget and tight 3 month schedule, this was no mean feat. 

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 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 anti-chamber 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.

www.studio-illumine.com    www.moredesignoffice.com

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