Poking out of a vast bamboo forest is a golden structure that looks like it was woven by birds or small woodland creatures. Organic in shape, its form billows above the ground, creating a protected space beneath it. Located in the Karst Mountains of Yangshuo County in southern China, this pavilion leads visitors on an immersive journey to “Impression Sanjie Liu,” a theatrical performance staged on a small island of the Li River.
Appropriately named “Bamboo Bamboo,” the pavilion is made of the same materials by which it’s surrounded. Architecture firm LLLab has succeeded in creating a sensory experience that elicits a sense of anticipation — a sort of pre-performance meditation as guests make their way to the outdoor theater.
The pavilion offers a place to retreat from the sun and frequent rains, stretching out a full 140 meters (459 feet) along the river. Lanterns set at various intervals create a soft, warm glow after dark, and in some areas, cutouts in the roof allow living bamboo to grow unencumbered. Amazingly, this canopy was hand-woven by local craftspeople using a technique that eliminates the need for any glue or nails. The result is remarkably nest-like, with support pillars hidden behind the woven surfaces.
The further visitors travel into the pavilion, the larger the lanterns become, until you’re eventually able to walk right inside them. In the daylight, they appear solid, but at night, they diffuse the light, creating patterns and shadows that add to the drama of the setting.
The firm explains that “currently, the night show entertains guests in two areas, one at either end of the island site. The entry and pagoda where guests arrive, and the main stage, perched at the bank of the Li river at the other end. Between these two points, little interaction takes place. It is here in this middle ground that two new assemblies of architecture are introduced. The first, woven bamboo lantern structures, scattered where guests circulate, whose purpose is to guide and intrigue. Then the other, a stretch of woven canopy amongst clusters of bamboo, providing an area to walk sheltered from regular rainfall. In these, the architecture relies on bamboo not only for its composition but also for its constant referral to parts that constitute the place.”
“In acknowledgment of the theatrical spirit of the Impression Sanjie Liu, moments of performance make its way into many parts of the design: the hand weaving and bamboo playing off the tension of one another. The topography of the canopy ceiling dancing between columns of bamboo as if unsupported. Even the way guests are intended to move from lantern to lantern, in a narrative of interaction. Together these subtle hints encourage a particular frame of mind, readying the guest for the main feature.”
“Impression Sanjie Liu” makes the landscape its backdrop. In fact, this site is considered the world’s largest natural theater, using the waters of the Li River as its stage and the mist-shrouded hills and sky as set dressings. Rain, moonlight, and all the reflections seen in the water play a role in the performance, while the audience stands on viewing terraces. Sound equipment is hidden among the bamboo groves, so it feels like the performance is occurring spontaneously, naturally amplified.