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Guangzhou Opera House

Guangzhou Opera House by Zaha Hadid Architects in Guangzhou is situated on the banks of the Pearl River. The spectacular building comprises a large concert hall for 1,800 spectators and a smaller multifunctional theater, both erected on a pedestal. Hadid’s design work was inspired by river pebbles made smooth by flowing water. The 1,800-seat auditorium of the Opera House houses the very latest acoustic technology, and the smaller 400-seat multifunction hall is designed for performance art, opera and concerts in the round.

Guangzhou-Opera-House-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-04-759x591 Guangzhou Opera House / Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hufton + Crow

“At the heart of Guangzhou’s cultural sites development, a lasting, state-of-the-art monument to the new millennium overlooking the Pearl River. Its contoured profile, unique twin boulder design and approach promenade enhances urban function, opens access to the riverside and dock areas and creates a new dialogue with the emerging town.” – Zaha Hadid Architects

Guangzhou-Opera-House-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-06-759x653 Guangzhou Opera House / Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hufton + Crow

The Opera House is at the heart ofGuangzhou’s cultural development. Its unique twin-boulder design enhances the city by opening it to the Pearl River, unifying the adjacent cultural buildings with the towers of international finance in Guangzhou’s Zhujiang new town.

Guangzhou-Opera-House-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-09-759x724 Guangzhou Opera House / Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hufton + Crow

Design features:

The design evolved from the concepts of a natural landscape and the fascinating interplay between architecture and nature; engaging with the principles of erosion, geology and topography. The Guangzhou Opera House design has been particularly influenced by river valleys – and the way in which they are transformed by erosion.

Fold lines in this landscape define territories and zones within the Opera House, cutting dramatic interior and exterior canyons for circulation, lobbies and cafes, and allowing natural light to penetrate deep into the building. Smooth transitions between disparate elements and different levels continue this landscape analogy. Custom moulded glass-fibre reinforced gypsum (GFRC) units have been used for the interior of the auditorium to continue the architectural language of fluidity and seamlessness.

Guangzhou-Opera-House-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-12-800x1200 Guangzhou Opera House / Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hufton + Crow

Approximately 70,000 square meters opera house in Guangzhou comprises two buildings, the somewhat larger opera house and an adjoining, smaller multifunctional theater, both of which are positioned on a pedestal. Numerous, completed and under-construction office skyscrapers tower over the new area in which Hadid’s charismatic building stands out for its almost intimate feeling.

Both buildings recall smooth gravel pebbles that have been washed and polished by water. Zaha Hadid looked to the nearby Pearl River for her inspiration. The architect chose a granite for the facade design that fits in with building’s organic structure and is divided into triangular sections. A darker, charcoal-colored granite with a rougher surface was used for the facade of the opera house.

Guangzhou-Opera-House-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-15-Iwan-Baan-759x506 Guangzhou Opera House / Zaha Hadid Architects

© Iwan Baan

A brighter, white granite was used in the smaller multifunctional theater. “These textured finishes reinforce the over design concept of the project as boulders, eroded by water, on the banks of a stream – a continuation of our architectural language of landscape formations and natural systems,” comments Zaha Hadid. Hadid also continues the river theme in the interior of the building. Walls and pillars look as if they have been pushed out of line.

Ramps and stairs wind like large rivers. Structures and spaces meander like streams. Triangular glass panels in the facade underline the organic form of the complex and open the public areas of the opera house to the outside. The sun refracts onto them as if onto a lake in the evening light.

Guangzhou-Opera-House-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-16-759x705 Guangzhou Opera House / Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hufton + Crow

“The opera house structure, is a volume within a volume. Housing the auditorium and fly tower is a concrete box with terraces cantilevering into the auditorium and lobby. The giant steel lattice that forms the exterior structure vaults out in all directions from this inner concrete volume, forming a shell with flat facets triangulated with steel members. The facets meet in rounded fillet edges that pivot each facet toward the next; the facets themselves converge in sprockets projecting from what Schumacher terms a “knot.” These huge star-shaped joints—59 of which are used in the façade—are made of cast steel and were formed using an unexpectedly traditional technique: The joints were built out of wood that was then embedded in sand to form the molds into which the steel for the final nodes was poured. These joints support the facets of the steel lattice, and the whole armature—knots, fillets, and lattice together—acts as a rigid surface.” – Patrik Schumacher explains

Guangzhou-Opera-House-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-17-759x782 Guangzhou Opera House / Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hufton + Crow

The two-part structure, comprising the 1,800-seat Grand Theatre and the adjoining multifunctional hall with 400 seats, is intended to be a new cultural landmark on Haixinsha Tourist Park Island in the Pearl River Delta. The 42,000 sqm building designed by Hadid also aims to be a symbol of both Guangzhou’s new Zhu Jiang business district, and of China’s growing status in the new millennium.

Guangzhou-Opera-House-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-18-800x1200 Guangzhou Opera House / Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hufton + Crow

Zaha Hadid Architects:

The Guangzhou Opera House is a structure that rises and falls at the foot of Zhujiang Boulevard, confirming Guangzhou as one of Asia’s cultural centres.

Guangzhou-Opera-House-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-40-759x506 Guangzhou Opera House / Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hufton + Crow

Bringing together two adjacent sites for the proposed Museum and metropolitan activities, it forms an adjunct to the Haixinsha Tourist Park Island and a dominant riverside focus for visitors.

Viewed from the park at the centre of Zhujiang Boulevard, the Opera House creates a visual prelude to the Tourist Park Island beyond. Viewed from the river, the towers of Zhujiang New Town provide a dramatic backdrop to the Opera House and offer a unified vision of the setting’s civic and cultural buildings.

Guangzhou-Opera-House-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-41-759x506 Guangzhou Opera House / Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hufton + Crow

An approach promenade is cut into the landscape – an internal street beginning at the proposed Museum site at the opposite side of the central boulevard and leading to the Opera House. To one side of this promenade, a cafe, bar, restaurant and retail facilities are embedded shell-like into the landforms.

Guangzhou-Opera-House-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-44-759x677 Guangzhou Opera House / Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hufton + Crow

Visitors arriving by car or bus are set down at a ‘drop-off’ point on the north side of the site on Huajiu Road, while service vehicles access the Opera House and Theatre Buildings at either end of the same road. VIP access to the Opera House is from the western boundary, facing Huaxia Road.

Guangzhou-Opera-House-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-45-759x506 Guangzhou Opera House / Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hufton + Crow

Project Data:

Project name: Guangzhou Opera House
Location: 1 Zhujiang W Rd, Tianhe, Guangzhou, Guangdong, China
Coordinates: 23.115219, 113.322692
Seating capacity: 1804 (Opera Hall)
Type: Dance / Music Center
Project Area: 70,000 sqm
Project Period: 2003 – 2010
Status: Completed
Cost: 1.38 billion yuan (approx. US$200 million)
Completion Date/Year: May, 2010


  • 2012 – Architectural Record Awards – Architectural Record Magazine China Award – Best Public Project
  • 2011 – The American Institute of Architect (AIA Awards) – AIA UK Chapter Award – International Projects
  • 2011 – Outstanding Engineering Design Excellence Award
  • 2011 – Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Awards – RIBA International Awards – Winner

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: Guangzhou Municipal Government
Architects: Zaha Hadid Architects – Studio London, 10 Bowling Green Lane, London, United Kingdom
Design: Zaha Hadid with Patrik Schumacher
Project Director: Woody K.T. Yao
Project Leader: Simon Yu

Design Team:

  • Jason Guo, Yang Jingwen, Long Jiang, Ta-Kang Hsu, Yi-Ching Liu, Zhi Wang, Christine Chow, Cyril Shing, Filippo Innocenti, Lourdes Sanchez, Hinki Kwong, Junkai Jiang

Competition Team:

  • (1st stage): Filippo Innocenti, Matias Musacchio, Jenny Huang, Hon Kong Chee, Markus Planteu, Paola Cattarin, Tamar Jacobs, Yael Brosilovski, Viggo Haremst, Christian Ludwig, Christina Beaumont, Lorenzo Grifantini, Flavio La Gioia, Nina Safainia, Fernando Vera, Martin Henn, Achim Gergen, Graham Modlen, Imran Mahmood.
  • (2nd stage): Cyril Shing, YanSong Ma, Yosuke Hayano, Adriano De Gioannis, Barbara Pfenningstorff

Local Architect: Guangzhou Pearl River Foreign Investment, Architectural Designing Institute (Guangzhou, China)
Structural: SHTK (Shanghai, China); Guangzhou Pearl River, Foreign Investment Architectural Designing Institute
Facade: KGE Engineering (Zhuhai, China)

Building Services:

  • Guangzhou Pearl River Foreign Investment, Architectural Designing Institute
  • Max Fordham and Partners (London, UK), OK Design Group

Theatre: ENFI (Beijing, China)
Lighting: Beijing Light & View (Beijing, China)
Acoustic: Marshall Day Acoustics (Melbourne, Australia)
Project Management: Guangzhou Municipal Construction Group Co. Ltd. (Guangzhou, China)
Cost / QS: Guangzhou Jiancheng Engineering Costing Consultant, Office Ltd. (Guangzhou, China)
Principal Contractor: China Construction Third Engineering Bureau Co. Ltd. (Guangdong, China)

Text Description: © Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects
Images: © Zaha Hadid Architects, Hufton + Crow, Iwan Baan, flickr-A As Architecture, flickr-trevor.patt, flickr-pya, flickr-Tianming Chen, flickr-Anna Kulicova

Materials & Suplier:

Solid Surface: LG Hausys (Hi-Macs) himacs.eu
Flooring: Nora Systems nora.com
Fabrics and Finishes: Kvadrat (seating fabric) kvadrat.dk
Seating: Shenge Industrial (auditorium seating) chinashenge.com
Wall Systems: E-Grow (Shanghai) International Trading Co.(auditorium wall panels) egrow3dsolutions.com

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Guangzhou Opera House / Zaha Hadid Architects
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