China’s Zhejiang province, located southeast of Shanghai, is composed entirely of islands—nearly 1,400 of them. In an effort to improve the quality of life for the rapidly growing population and economy, the province developed an engineered peninsula to serve as a major tourist destination and entertainment hub for the area. The City of Zhoushan wanted a unique theatre, situated on the new island’s waterfront in a public garden setting, to serve as a landmark of the new cityscape and reflect the community as a whole. As part of a design competition, Gresham Smith’s iconic, contemporary design was selected for its unique reflection of local culture.


Shanghai Fudan Planning and Architecture Design Institute


Putuo Zhoushan City, Zhejiang


Showcase, Middle Tennessee AIA 2008 Honor Award in Unbuilt Category, World Architecture News WAN Awards 2009 Shortlisted




square feet


combined seats

Linked to the Sea

Linked to the Sea

Gresham Smith’s design was inspired by the city’s location and undeniable link to the sea. The building is contemporary yet extremely organic, simulating a form that can only exist underwater. At one angle the theatre looks as subtle as a gentle mountain slope, yet at another it resembles the shiny scales of a fish. Every aspect of the opera house ultimately ties back to the sea, which is at the core of the City’s identity.
Inspired on a Microscopic Level

Inspired on a Microscopic Level

Our design team was ultimately inspired by diatoms, or single-celled algae that are very geometric in shape. Using an algorithm, the team used software to connect plan sections modeled after the organisms to generate a continuous, twisting, expanding surface for the building—something they could have never sketched by hand.
Taking Center Stage

Taking Center Stage

Gresham Smith’s team of architects had the mindset that the building itself could be a performer. On the outside, the structure’s entire exterior design calls for tiny lights to create a moving, theatrical atmosphere. Inside, the main lobby’s helical staircase and undulating wood wall are meant to create a sense of being underwater in a reef. The Opera House’s design features four venues: a 1200-set modern lyric theater, a 350-seat music hall and two theaters designed for projection films.


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Jeff Kuhnhenn, AIA, LEED AP
Jeff Kuhnhenn, AIA, LEED AP
Director of Architectural Design