A Butterfly by the Lake—Wuxi Grand Theater
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Wuxi, a city in Jiangsu Province, is located about 40 km from its eastern neighbor Suzhou and about 128 km west of the metropolis Shanghai (Fig. 8.1). Despite its population of 6.55 million (2017), Wuxi still seems small when compared with its larger neighbor Suzhou (10.26 million in 2017) and the megacity Shanghai (24.18 million in 2016). Although its proximity to Suzhou and Shanghai is a geographical limitation that reduces Wuxi’s potential to become a regional center, it has never lacked for confidence and ambition in catching up with the trends of other large cities. For example, the construction of Wuxi Grand Theater is a milestone project in the city’s history of cultural development in terms of providing a high-class facility for the performing arts.
This chapter is part of a study supported by the Research Grant Council, Hong Kong Government, Project No. CityU 11658816. The author heartily thanks Professor Pekka Salminen for his kind provision of valuable pictures of Wuxi and Fuzhou projects.
I have been to Wuxi four or five times. Each time, I was in a rush, or only there for a short time. My longest visit to Wuxi was about three days. I enjoyed the beautiful landscape of Yuan-tou-zhu Peninsula in Lake Tai and explored the delicate and intricate Ji-chang-yuan Garden in Huishan Hill. Wuxi once was a canal town. Although the in-town canals and typical waterfront houses with white walls and dark roofs disappeared long ago, I still like the old town very much because it is small and convenient, and I can go anywhere by foot. The sense of it being small mostly comes from the ancient moat that encircles Wuxi old town. Walking along the moat in the morning is one of the most pleasant things I do there, and it reminds me that Wuxi is a historical city. In the old days, rural areas and small villages could be found beyond the moat.
Today, Wuxi is rapidly developing new towns, and its urban area has increased continuously. During my last visit in spring 2018, it took me more than an hour to reach the Grand Theater from the old town by subway and taxi. It was a quiet afternoon; there was no performance event scheduled that day, and I saw no more than 10 visitors. I was very surprised to see that the theater was situated in a tranquil environment, with a wide open plaza and an expansive green lawn in front, and a calm lake at the left and rear. The bridge is 300 m away, and no vehicular noise comes from there. Through a grand stairway, I stepped up to the top of the plinth six metres above ground level, where I was able to look over the wide expanse of misty water. I walked around the theater, along the terrace of the plinth and the lakeside promenade, and was amazed by how well the building had been designed to harmonise with the natural landscape, especially the transparent glass curtain walls in the public foyers facing the lake, which allowed the scenery to be viewed inside the theater. Indeed, I had not just an appreciation of the architecture of Wuxi Grand Theater, but also an appointment with Lake Tai.
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