MAD Architecture's Harbin Opera House reaches completion
After 5 years of construction, the striking Harbin Opera House has finally been completed, marking a significant addition not only to the landscape of Northern China, but to the international architectural universe as well. In 2010, MAD Architects won the competition for developing the Harbin Cultural Island on a 444-acre plot surrounded by the Songhua River. Along the construction of a Cultural Center and the planning of the wetland landscape, the Opera House is in the focal point of the project both physically and thematically. The enormous structure houses a grand and a small theatre, the two embracing a large public plaza in between.
Though thematically focusing on musical acts, the building works not only as a performance venue, but as public meeting point as well. The idea of integrating art, humans, and the city is also reflected in the House’s form-language, which takes overt references to its surroundings. MAD Architects took inspiration from the untamed wilderness and frigid climate of Northern China, recreating the neighbouring nature and topography. The petal-like mass looks as if it was formed by wind and water, giving the impression of a huge organic sculpture.
The whole structure is characterised by fluid lines inside and out: the curvilinear form of the aluminium facade is echoed in the sculptural interplay of glass and timber in the interior. The plaza’s most compelling feature is a crystalline glass wall constituted of transparent pyramids, held by a diagrid structure. The space welcomes not only ticket-holders but offers an exceptional sensory experience for any passer-by.
The two enclosed performance venue held a different atmosphere. The grand theatre, featuring 1600 seats, repeats the undulating forms of the outside, but the Manchurian ash wood used provides a warmer, more welcoming atmosphere, while a subtle skyline reminds the audience not only of the passing of the time, but of the often severe climatic conditions outside. The small theatre, with the capacity of 400, was designed to host more intimate shows, still it hides a real fascinating feature - a large, panoramic window made of soundproof glass behind the stage, offering an exceptional backdrop to performances.
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