Exploded Cinema

Photography by Jonathan Leijonhufvud

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If you think that ornate, highly detailed movie palaces are a thing of the past, think again. Hong Kong–based design firm One Plus Partnership is dazzling modern-day Chinese audiences with the contemporary equivalent. The firm’s latest contribution is dubbed “Exploded Cinema.” The 11-screen movie theater in the city of Wuhan, in central China, is an homage to the eye-popping special effects of thrillers like Twister and The Day After Tomorrow.

“We wanted to create a sci-fi universe, where visitors could come and be inside the movie world rather than just watching it,” says Virginia Lung Wai Ki, director of One Plus Partnership.

Exploded Cinema is the latest of 15 movie theaters that One Plus Partnership has designed. Its Coastal Cinema and Coffee Shop, with its modern riff on beach motifs, won a 2015 Interiors Award (Contract, January/February 2015). Lung Wai Ki and husband Ajax Law Ling Kit co-founded their commercial interiors firm in 2004, and their work in Hong Kong and China has garnered international attention. “In the real world, it’s very hard to do something that fulfills your student dreams,” Lung Wai Ki says. “That was the reason we started our own business, because we wanted to do cool things.”

One Plus Partnership’s approach has particularly connected with developers in China. “In Hong Kong, our projects are more about conveying a sense of elegance and luxury,” Lung Wai Ki says. “Our Chinese clients are looking for design that is dramatic, modern, and futuristic.”

The firm’s previous cinema for this client, Hubei Insun Cinema Film Company, is called Pixel Box Cinema and features patterns composed of tiny boxes of marble and stainless steel. This time, the client wanted a bigger bang on a smaller budget. For Exploded Cinema, the designers leveraged local manufacturing to transform relatively inexpensive materials into eye-catching installations.

Highest grossing cinema in the area
“After collaborating with the firm and its designers on nearly 10 cinemas, we’ve been very impressed by their extraordinary creative skills and how they come up with unique and fresh ideas every time,” says Ruan Yong Chao, the vice general manager at Hubei Insun Cinema Film Company. “There are a number of new cinemas in this area, but thanks to its innovative design, Exploded Cinema is the most popular and highest grossing among them.”

For the 66,740-square-foot theater, the design team created an entry corridor that leads to a spacious lobby. The dark, dramatically lit passage sets the tone with an installation of white metal beams that project at haphazard angles from the ceiling and occasionally crisscross. Some rectilinear forms—made of a solid-surface material—appear to have fallen and become embedded in the floor, forming sculptural seating. The monochromatic palette, which extends to the floor of black marble with white veining, focuses attention on the angular shapes. “When you walk in, you don’t really know what is going on. There’s a dynamic sense of things flying around,” Lung Wai Ki says.

Where guests arrive in the lobby, the ceiling rises to 30 feet. Here, much larger beams,  powder-coated in black and brightly lit from within, appear as portals to another world. Opening at the ground level, some of these structures house the ticket office and concession stand. An immense suspended sculptural element, clad with LCD screens on all sides, has the impact of a contemporary art installation.

The theater has 10 similar-size screening rooms and one large screening room with 344 seats. The walls and ceiling of the jumbo theater are covered with approximately 6,000 boxes of gray acoustic paneling, tilted and mounted at six different angles for a random appearance. The spectacular visual effect also gives the room superior acoustics, since all of the angled surfaces absorb sound more effectively than a flat surface. Interspersed with the paneling are acrylic box-shaped light fixtures.

A VIP lounge features an angular bar in black marble and graphic walls of black-and-white acoustic paneling. Even a visit to the bathroom is a trip into a potential future: Custom pedestal sinks and wastebins emerge from the floor at unexpected angles. In the bathroom for the VIP lounge, the faucet is a square tube, dangling from the ceiling, which automatically releases a stream of water when a sensor is triggered.

“We want to change people’s minds of what a cinema should be, so they’ll expect more from their viewing experience,” Lung Wai Ki says. “Movie theaters should be fun and different.”

Exploded Cinema
Designer: One Plus Partnership
Client: Hubei Insun Cinema Film Company
Where: Wuhan, China
What: 66,740 square feet on one floor
Cost/sf: Withheld at client’s request