Interiors Awards 2016: Entertainment

Photography by Jonathan Leijonhufvud

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Exploded Cinema
Designer: One Plus Partnership
Client: Hubei Insun Cinema Film Company
Location: Wuhan, China

“This is a really new and very innovative way of thinking about an interior. The way they manipulated the scale is what makes it so effective. The form-making reinforces the spatial aspects.” —Jury

For moviegoers in the city of Wuhan, China, escape from reality begins immediately upon entering the lobby of Exploded Cinema by One Plus Partnership. As the name suggests, this 11-screen cineplex is designed to evoke the special effects seen in disaster movies, such as “The Day After Tomorrow.” However, as a very stylized and abstracted version in black and white, this theater is completely plausible as a rarefied venue for art films and avant-garde productions.

“We want to change people’s minds of what a cinema should be, so they’ll expect more,” says Virginia Lung, director of One Plus Partnership, a commercial interiors firm based in Hong Kong. “The visitor can come and be inside the movie world rather than just watching it.”

Lung and her One Plus Partnership co-founder, Ajax Law, have come to specialize in designing modern movie palaces, among other project types. They’ve created more than a dozen theaters, each based on a specific theme, such as vintage roll films, pixelated images, and ocean waves. Their high-impact cinemas are often selling points for retail developments, designed to attract a growing Chinese middleclass. Since the husband-and-wife team launched their firm in 2005, they’ve sought to create design-forward environments—initially in model units for new high-rise towers but more recently in various hospitality projects. “It was our goal from the very beginning to fight to do something special,” Lung says.

Upon entering the 66,740-square-foot Exploded Cinema, designed for Hubei Insun Cinema Film Company, guests encounter what initially seems to be a chaotic and tumultuous environment. In a dramatically lit entry corridor, white metal beams project through the ceiling at haphazard angles, while additional beams made of white solid-surface material are embedded into the floor. “When you walk in here, you think, Wow, what is going on?” Lung says.

The corridor leads to the main lobby, where the ceiling rises to a lofty 30 feet high. Here, more large beams, powder-coated in black and brightly lit from within, beckon guests to enter through portals into another world. One beam suspended from the ceiling is entirely clad with large LCD screens, an inspired way to display trailers of current theater attractions. Angular, geometric ground-floor portals serve as ticket and concession booths.

The theme of disintegration is carried into the screening rooms themselves, most notably in the cinema’s largest 344-seat screening room. With a tight budget, the need to create the effect of an explosion required some careful deliberation. The designers took advantage of Chinese expertise in manufacturing and worked with a local supplier to create more than 6,000 rectangular boxes out of gray acoustic paneling. The boxes, which are of uniform size but tilted at six different angles to give the impression of randomness, line the walls and ceiling of the large screening room. “Symmetrical is boring,” Lung says. “We like asymmetrical and random.” The unusual visual effect also improves the acoustics of the room, since all of the angled surfaces absorb sound effectively.

The cinema features a VIP lounge, with an eye-catching bar clad in black marble and boldly patterned walls. In the lounge bathroom, a tube suspended from the ceiling acts as a high-tech faucet, sending down water when a sensor is triggered.

According to the client, hiring One Plus Partnership was a winning move: The cinema is the most popular and highest-grossing theater in its region. “We have a good, longstanding partnership with Ajax and Virginia,” says Ruan Yong Chao, vice general manager at the Hubei Insun Cinema Film Company. “They never give up, and they look for unique and new ideas every time.”