The French firm Coldefy & Associates Architectes Urbanistes, led by Thomas Coldefy and Isabel Van Haute, in collaboration with ECADI, has been selected by the city of Shenzhen to build a cultural center of over 80,000 m2. This will be an iconic complex in a historic part of this city of 20 million inhabitants.  The district is the scene of a rapidly-changing society, bubbling innovation and a flourishing artistic avant-garde.

After an international competition involving 70 architects, the sculptural building proposed by Coldefy & Associates, in collaboration with ECADI, won over a jury keen to endow Bao’an District with a cultural venue open to everyone. The project is part of a series of ambitious international developments, embodying Shenzhen’s ambitions to become a major creation and design center. The teams of Thomas Coldefy and Isabel Van Haute have captured the architectural vision that the municipality wishes to give the dynamic district of Bao’an. Through its numerous new public facilities, the district has established itself as a leading force in the region’s current development.

Coldefy & Associates had already extended their activities outside France, notably with the construction of the Hong Kong Design Institute in 2011.



The watchwords for the project dreamed up by Coldefy & Associates are accessibility, culture for all and an optimized environment. Conceived as “living canvas” to be shared and experienced by artists and visitors alike, the building is characterized by its generous spaces, where works escape from the traditional enclosure of exhibition rooms. This multifaceted structure is simultaneously an objet d’art and a setting for art, fostering a dialogue between avant-garde creations and a much-involved public. The idea of opening out to the city and its residents is expressed through a large sculpted split, which gives the building permeability and breaks with institutional codes.

Courtesy of Coldefy & Associates / ECADI

The public space literally runs through the complex; the city continues through the building rather than skirting it. The layout embodies a Chinese character in its design, which uses a few simple forms to illustrate a thought, an idea and a symbolic place.

Lying in the heart of Bao’an, on the east side of the cultural pedestrian zone, the project’s location guarantees it a prime place in the future cultural panorama and its interaction with residents, city and sea.

The cultural center project consists of three independent entities: a museum, an art gallery and an exhibition hall. On the ground floor, the City Lobby serves the shops and metro, and links the three entities. Higher up on the Sky Lobby level, a “floating” public area, cultural programs are found alongside plant-filled spaces.

The layout is thus shaped from within, shifting the volumes. As a complement to the works presented here, this sculpted layout provides new vantage points over Shenzhen and the Bay, above the tower blocks of Bao’an, inviting the urban environment and citizens to move into the “canvas” and give it life.


The spatial vision of the “living canvas” proposed by Coldefy & Associates is also expressed through the desire to connect all the indoor areas with the exterior. This standpoint ensures a constant dialogue between the building and its environment, through a visual and tactile relationship. Nestling between residential blocks and a shopping street, right next to the metro and the main traffic routes, a garden surrounds the structure and forms the main entrance for all members of the public. While an area completely separate from the artistic program, it opens a continuous pathway to culture, no longer confined to exhibition rooms. In the heart of the building, the “canvas” dreamed up splits open, giving way to a large glazed hall on a higher level, providing a new 360° view over the city. Here people can take part in public talks and enjoy a new form of transparency uniting inside, outside, the human aspect, the city and plant life. Terraces and bridges maintain this direct visual contact between the cultural center’s employees, the visitors, the art works and the surrounding neighborhood.

Courtesy of Coldefy & Associates / ECADI



Shenzhen’s climate conditions have influenced the actual structure of the building. Volumes are optimized to reduce self-imposed shadow. The internal courtyard of the same height encourages the wind to circulate and creates a pleasant microclimate in and around the space. The plant-covered roof is designed to collect rainwater and integrate a photovoltaic electricity production facility, to generate a multi-level autonomous system. The outer part consists of facades featuring glass, marble and translucent marble, letting a soft light to pass through. It creates a buffer zone between the inside and outside of the building, reducing urban noise and limiting thermal exchanges.

Project info
Project: Bao’an art and culture center
Location: Shenzhen, China
Program: Museum, art galleries, theater, public services and shops
Net surface area: 84,700 m²
Year:  2016 competition
Client: Government of Bao’an District
Teams: Coldefy & Associates  Architectes Urbanistes – ECADI

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