Iceberg-like opera house opens in China

7 August 2019
  • Philippe Ruault



Henning Larsen creates new venue and lake for Hangzhou

A sculptural opera house designed by Henning Larsen has opened in China, at the heart of the new cultural hub in Hangzhou’s fast-growing Yuhang district. Completed in collaboration with Hangzhou Architectural & Civil Engineering Design Institute Co., Buro Happold Engineering, Bassinet Turquin Paysage and AECOM, the 70,000 sqm venue features a geometric block-like white façade resembling an iceberg floating on a lake.

While at first glance part of an established landscape, the lake was part of Henning Larsen’s winning scheme for the opera house design competition. A waterside promenade meanders through pocket parks, including a traditional Chinese water garden. Overall, the design makes reference to ancient manmade hills recently discovered nearby. Claude Godefroy, partner and design director of Henning Larsen’s Hong Kong office, commented: “People in this region are proud of the 3000-year-old mysterious gigantic sloping landforms their ancestors built while laying the foundations of the Chinese civilization. We were inspired by them to use the roofs of the Opera to re-create similarly elevated vantage points above the surrounding lake and landscape.” 

The performance spaces include a 1400-seat multipurpose auditorium and a 500-seat black box theatre, together with an exhibition centre. Apart from creating attractive spaces for audiences, the idea of public appeal is central to the design. The two sloped masses of the Opera perch above an elevated public plaza, the roofs touching lightly on the ground level to invite visitors to climb up and enjoy the view. “There is a competition amongst Chinese cities and urban districts to create new destinations, each with their iconic cultural landmarks,” explains Godefroy. “When designing those cultural nodes our most important task is to create truly lively urban centres that can welcome citizens at all times, whether they are paying guests or not.”

The halls are flexible, with one side of the black box theatre able to open up, revealing the stage to a potential 10,000 audience members watching from the public plaza. “The capacity of auditoriums to serve multiple purposes is essential to secure lively venues that are utilized throughout the year,” says Godefroy. “Those auditoriums are complex to design because of seemingly conflicting requirements for the different configurations, but it is possible and the increase in cost is marginal compared with the cost of single purpose venues.”

Lucy Nordberg
TenderStream Head of Research

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