Opera Houses and Concert Halls Disrupting Established Ideas of Performance Space.
“Design me a showstopper” is usually the brief given to architects designing new concert venues. From the soaring wings of Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House to the shimmering curves of Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the structural acrobatics of Zaha Hadid’s Guangzhou Opera House, music halls represent some of the most adventurous architecture of the last few decades.
This sense of adventure is just as evident in the latest crop of projects. For the CKK Jordanki in Torún, Poland, Spanish architect Fernando Menis combined crushed brick and concrete to create a new building material. Design studio MAD’s awe-inspiring opera house in the Chinese city of Harbin (about 1,200km north-east of its Beijing base), features a sinuous composition modelled on the petals of a flower. And there is a huge timber wave bursting through the facade of the Kilden Performing Arts Centre in Norway, designed by ALA Architects of Finland.
But a different approach has also emerged, instigated by Norwegian studio Snøhetta. When the firm designed a huge sloping roof for the Oslo Opera House, it created one of the most popular public hangouts in the city. Described by the architects as being “as much landscape as architecture”, the building welcomes more visitors onto its roof than it does into its auditorium. It was a grand gesture that created a new focus on public gathering spaces, as evident in the vast foyer of the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik as it is in the rooftop plateau of Jean Nouvel’s Philharmonie de Paris.
That the arts are enduring a tough time financially does not seem to have stunted ambition, but there are also projects proving that bigger isn’t always better
The sheer scale of these projects means that few are designed by young architects, but they do have the capacity to make a career. Spanish studio Barozzi Veiga cemented its reputation, and won European architecture’s most prestigious accolade, the Mies van der Rohe Award, for designing the Szczecin Philharmonic Hall in Poland. Mexican firm Rojkind Arquitectos is hoping for similar results on home soil with its new home for the Boca del Rio Philharmonic Orchestra.
That the arts are enduring a tough time financially does not seem to have stunted ambition. Despite extensive delays and eye-watering costs, Herzog & de Meuron is pushing forward with its impressive new concert hall in an overhauled Hamburg warehouse. There are also projects proving that bigger isn’t always better. With a rugged stone exterior, Peter Haimerl’s angular concert hall for the Bavarian village of Blaibach is a lesson in modest materiality.
With all that in mind, here’s the pick of the most remarkable new or future opera houses and concert venues:
Harbin Opera House, Harbin, China
by MAD, 2015
Designed to look like “as if sculpted by wind and water”, it pays tribute to its setting in a town famed for its annual ice festival. Smooth white aluminium panels give the building its undulating curves, while a roof of glass pyramids allows light to filter in from above. Inside it boasts a 1,600-seat hall that appears to have been carved from a massive block of wood.
Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg, Germany
by Herzog & de Meuron, due to complete in 2017
A revamped 1960s warehouse forms the base of this project, which has not been without controversy: it has taken 10 years to build and cost 10 times as much as the original price tag. But it finally opens next year, when visitors will finally get a chance to see the tent-inspired ceiling and grand glass crown of the 2,150-seat auditorium.
Szczecin Philharmonic Hall, Poland
by Barozzi Veiga, 2014
Reminiscent of a nearby castle, the facade of the Szczecin comprises a series of gabled towers that give the building a spiky profile. Each one is made from translucent, ribbed glass, allowing the walls to glow after dark. Both a concert venue and a chamber music venue are contained inside, connected by a monumental corkscrew staircase.
CKK Jordanki, Torún, Poland
by Fernando Menis, 2015
Built from a new material combining broken brick with concrete, which gives it a unique finish, helps the building match the tones of the town’s local brickwork and optimises acoustics. Flexible partitions and removable seats make it possible to combine the building’s two auditoriums or vary capacity; one performance space can be opened up to a park outside.
Fora Boca, Boca del Rio, Mexico by Rojkind Arquitectos, under construction
The forthcoming home for the newly formed Boca del Rio Philharmonic Orchestra is also a bid to bring more tourists to the southern Mexico city. The building will be formed of a cluster of geometric concrete forms that take their cues from the zigzagging layout of a nearby jetty. A triple-height lobby will welcome visitors, leading through to an 850-seat hall.
Philharmonie de Paris, France
by Ateliers Jean Nouvel, 2015
The architect has already tried to disown this massive new venue in Paris’ Parc de La Villette, claiming it was nowhere near finished when it opened. The building centres on a 2,400-seat concert hall wrapped by cascading balconies. Other features include a skin of tessellating bird-shaped tiles and a rooftop that’s an ideal spot for visitors to have picnics.
Concert Hall Blaibach, Blaibach, Germany
by Peter Haimerl Architektur, 2014
This granite-clad auditorium references local Bavarian stone carving traditions, while its angular structure lifts off the ground at one end and the other sinks down into the ground, creating the tiered seating of its small performance space. Inside, raw concrete walls are softened by their contrast with timber-lined corridors and transparent seats.
Kilden Performing Arts Centre, Norway
by ALA Architects, 2012, expanded in 2014
An undulating oak plane wrapped around the four performance spaces inside appears to burst right through the building’s glass facade. The use of wood helps to improve acoustics in a grand foyer that spans the entire length of the building, as well as in the performance spaces, which include a 1200-seat venue, a 750-seat theatre and two smaller halls.
Amy Frearson is deputy editor of the architecture and design magazine Dezeen.