Architectural Gem: Glazing Shines in New Opera House

For years just the word “opera house” was likely to conjure up images of Sydney’s famous architectural structure, with its sweeping peaks and pearly façade. Now, a newly constructed venue, featuring glass as a significant design detail, may also stake its claim as an architectural opera house gem.

Spanning 70,000 square meters and costing approximately $215 billion (1.38 billion RMB), the Guangzhou Opera House in Guangzhou, China, is located at the heart of the city’s cultural development. Designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, the structure’s twin-boulder design was created to enhance the city by opening it to the Pearl River, as well as unifying the adjacent cultural buildings.

The design of the opera house evolved from the concepts of a natural landscape and the interplay between architecture and nature. In particular, it was also influenced by river valleys, and the way in which they are transformed by erosion.

“In Chinese culture, certain analogical thinking makes sense and the idea of pebbles and rocks on the banks of a stream is actually very meaningful for a project located next to the Pearl River,” says Zaha Hadid, the firm’s founding partner. “As designers, this is more of a technique for us to articulate the relationship of an object within a landscape; describing how the design is informed by its context. So when designing the building, we were not thinking so much of metaphor, but more in terms of analogy–the landscape analogy–where features of a natural landscape are expressed within the architecture.”

The use of glazing also played a significant part in the design of the opera house. For example, fold lines [that include glass] help define territories and zones within the structure that allow natural light to penetrate deep into the building.

“Tessellated triangular glass sections emphasize the crystalline nature of the design and open up the public areas of the Opera House,” says Hadid.

Zaha Hadid’s work on the Guangzhou Opera House began in 2002 when it took part in an architectural competition and was selected to design the project. The schematic design phase began in October 2004 and groundbreaking was in January 2005. The project was completed last year and the first performance in the new opera house was in May 2010.

Speaking of her work in China Hadid adds, “The dynamism of China’s development is breathtaking; throughout the entire country, you can sense thee enthusiasm, ambition, and boundless energy of the upcoming generation. It is a very rewarding experience to see the completed Opera House and I am very grateful to the city of Guangzhou.”

She adds, “There are very few places in the world today where architects can find such forward looking, enthusiastic clients with such passion for innovation … The design of the Opera House reflects China’s rich cultural history, but also the remarkable future China will play on a worldwide stage.”

Look to a future issue of the Architects’ Guide to Glass and Metal magazine to read more about the Guangzhou Opera House.