Shanghai Culture Square (Shànghǎi Wénhuà Guǎngchǎng, 上海文化广场), also known as Shanghai Cultural Plaza, is the city’s latest offering to the cultural and performing arts sphere. A thoroughly 21st century building, its undulating roof and sweeping lines are the center piece of a French Concession block—bounded by Shaanxi Lu (Shǎnxī Nán Lù, 陕西南路), Fuxing Lu (Fùxīng Lù, 复兴路), Maoming Lu (Màomíng Lù, 茂名路) and Yongjia Lu Yǒngjiā Lù, 永嘉路)—that has been tied to the cultural and political life of Shanghai throughout its 80-year-history.
Originally the Shanghai Canidrome (greyhound racetrack) built in 1928, Shanghai Culture Square later served the grim purpose of mass execution facility under the newly-formed Communist government. Over the next 40 years, the stadium was covered and used as an event space, its dark past overshadowed by musical performance and Peking Opera until it eventually became the Shanghai Flower Market in 1997. Its latest incarnation comes courtesy of US architectural firm Beyer Blinder Belle (BBB) whose design the “White Wave” won out in a 2003 competition to create a new iconic park and theater. The curtain was raised on first production eight years later.
Turning local planning restrictions to their advantage (the theater could be no higher than the surrounding five and six story buildings), BBB dug 26 meters down to create what is, at the time of writing, the world’s deepest underground theater. Surrounded by expansive, tree-lined pathways (sadly the park is only open to theater ticket holders), the main structure sits like a giant white turtle among the neighboring buildings. Beautifully lit at night, the glass walls of the lobby emit a soft blue light, the source of which is a breath-taking floor-to-ceiling blue-stained-glass mural.
Within the performance space itself 2,011 (a nod to the year of its opening) plush maroon-velvet seats surround a 2,100 sq m (6,890sq ft), state-of-the-art stage that lifts and sinks and rotates and can even be turned into an ice rink or water pool.
Harking back to its history as an accessible city center performance venue, Shanghai Culture Square has been pegged as a pioneer for popular theater and with tickets prices starting at just RMB 80 they seem to be on the right track to becoming the Broadway of Asia.