The Bartlett School of Architecture


Zhenhang Hu

Image: Xiang Peng 象棚 (A Contemporary Interpretation of the Song-dynasty Zaju). Venue: The Bauhaus Museum Dessau. Co-Directed by Zhenhang Hu, Photo by Zhenhang Hu



Reoccurring Communitas: Phoenix Hill Urban Theatre



The design-based research focuses on a particular type of urban environment in multilayered historical cities in China, where significant heritage underneath and high-density settlements above are overlapping. Questioning the current prevailing heritage approach that pursues permanent tourist heritage parks predominantly using the top-down way, the research introduces theatre as a critical method because theatre has its transience, capability of bottom-up discussion, and nature of integrating architectural elements. 

Phoenix Hill in Hangzhou, southeast China, is chosen as an ideal experimental site because of its multilayered and extremely complicated situation developed over more than 1000 years. The site had been the town centre at the latest in the 6th century and reached its peak as the imperial palace of China in the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279). The site started to decline due to the Mongolian occupation in the 13th century. Now it has most of its ancient relics underground, and above ground, half of the site is covered with high-density settlements in poor condition and the other half is forest.

Victor Turner’s theory on communitas, liminality, and structure is a key fundament of this research. According to it, the research attempts to use theatrical experiments that create liminal phases and communitas states to restructure the current situation by dealing with three typical architectural relationships—spatial, temporal, and social. To do this, the research will revisit ancient theatre in Hangzhou in the Song dynasty for inspiration from three aspects—urban scale, architectural scale, and performative motions. By bringing back the values of ancient theatre to the contemporary world, communitas is expected to reoccur.
The research combing heritage sites and theatre is two-fold. First, for architectural studies linked to theatre, complicated heritage environments provide a challenging and meaningful ground for both architectural and theatrical research. How theatre interacts with, inspires, and contributes to the architecture will be explored. Second, for heritage conservation and urban development in historic environments, theatre is expected to provide flexible, provisional, participatory measures to complement the traditional top-down and permanency-led strategies. This new approach will be experimented with and is expected to achieve long term benefits and cultural prosperity.


Zhenhang Hu is a Lecturer at the School of Architecture and Art, China Academy of Art, and the Founder of MUFU Arch-Lab. He is a researcher on “theatre and spatial performance”, specialising in “urban space and environmental theatre”, and the “history of theatre and performance of the Chinese Southern Song dynasty”. He got his BArch from Zhejiang University (China), and then MSc in Architectural History and Theory from Southeast University (China) and MArch in EmTech from the Architectural Association. 
He has conducted joint teaching/research with institutes such as The Bartlett, École Nationale Supérieure d'Architecture de Paris-Malaquais, and the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation. His works have been exhibited internationally and in China, including at Teatro La Fenice, Bauhaus Museum Dessau, Festspielhaus Hellerau, China Design Museum, and Guan Shanyue Art Museum. His project won the “Excellent Public-Education Project of Art Museums” awarded by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of China.

  • Hu, Z. 2021. Space-Driven Environmental Theatre Dialoguing with and Reshaping Communities. Public Art.3, pp. 92-102.
  • Hu, Z. 2020. Experimental Archeology of “Design as Research”—Xiang Peng: Bauhaus Figural Space Cabinet. China Architectural Education. 24, pp. 119-130.
  • Hu, Z. 2019. Demonstration of Official Factors of Goulan (Theatres) in Lin’an in the Southern Song Dynasty, Architecture and Culture. 1, pp. 203-205.
  • Chen, L. Hu, Z. Zeng, Y. and Huang, M. 2016. From Ideas to Fabrication: A Collection of Syllabuses of Young Tutors. Journal of the National Academy of Art. 8, 92-115.
  • Hu, Z. 2011. The Criticism of the Form of Goulan in Washe in the Song Dynasty and its Relationship with Huts. East Architectural Heritage. Cultural Relics Publishing House, Beijing, pp. 75-86.

Creation Project of Zhejiang Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism


Image: Xiang Peng 象棚 (A Contemporary Interpretation of the Song-dynasty Zaju). Venue: The Bauhaus Museum Dessau. Co-Directed by Zhenhang Hu, Photo by Zhenhang Hu