Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Tianjin Grand Theatre's Heating Trouble

Less than a year ago, on May 31, 2012, New York Times reported the opening of a grand theater in Tianjin, a metropolis next to Beijing, China.  "The Tianjin Grand Theater cost $240 million to build, and is among many such arts complexes recently built in large Chinese cities.

Like most grand theaters, the Tianjin Grand Theater houses an opera house (1,600 seats), concert hall (1,200 seats) and multi-function hall (400 seats).

As is also the norm, it was designed by a prestigious foreign architecture firm — in this case the Germany firm gmp-Architekten — and has state-of-the-art everything, from mobile phone jammers and LED screens to the portable pipe organ commissioned from a Czech organ builder. Whereas most grand theaters are built as stand-alone structures, however, this one, in this city south of Beijing on the Chinese coast, is part of a massive new 90-hectare, or about 220-acre, cultural center that includes the Tianjin Museum, Natural History Museum, Library, Art Gallery and Youth Activity Center, as well as the requisite shopping mall."

A year later, the glitz chilled considerably when the visiting Royal New Zealand Ballet had to cancel its schedule two performances of "Giselle" at the last minute due to the cold temperature inside the theater.

According to the theater's statement, the theater is heated by the city and is dependent on the city's central heating planning.  The theater, with its glass panel walls, could not contain heat inside properly.  The central heating system in Chinese cities are generally governed by calendar, not the real temperature.  In my home city Shenyang, a far colder city, the central heating for residents stopped at March 31.  In mid April, when it snowed in Shenyang, my parents had to retreat to one room with a unit heater to fend off the chill.

Tianjin Grand Theatre did was just that.  According to some report, the temperature in the theater was only 23 Celsius (50 Fahrenheit) while the dance company requested for 23 Celsius (73.4 Fahrenheit).  The theater then borrowed dozens of industrial heater to pump up the temperature but they were only able to make it to 20 Celsius (68 Fahrenheit).

In order to avoid severe injuries to its dancers, reluctantly, Royal New Zealand Ballet cancelled the scheduled performances on 20 and 21 of April, 2013.  The theater then locked up the visiting troupe's costumes and other equipments and only released them when the New Zealand diplomats intervened.  The theater in turn, offered refunds or alternative performances to the disappointed ticket holders.

Most people in China reacted to this story by questioning the design and maintenance of this expensive theater.  Good question asked.

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