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MAD’s Harbin Opera House opens in China.

MAD Architects has unveiled the completed Harbin Opera House, an astonishing pursuit of urban landscape at one with the natural environment.

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Five years after winning an architectural competition entry for Harbin Cultural Island, Beijing-based studio MAD has completed the opera house in the Chinese city of Harbin, as part of the major arts complex embedded within the wetlands of the Shonghua River.

The 79,000-square-metre structure has a grand theatre with a capacity of up to 1,600 visitors, and another more intimate space for audiences of up to 400. The sinuous building is designed to echo the winding curves of the marsh landscape surrounding it, resulting in a curvilinear façade featuring smooth aluminium and glass panels that wrap around the two concert halls and a huge public plaza.

The opera house boasts of high roofs made of ice-inspired glass pyramids, allowing the interiors to be flooded with daylight. According to MAD, the building to appear “as if sculpted by wind and water, seamlessly blending in with nature and the topography—a transfusion of local identity, art, and culture.” The local weather is chilly at best, with temperatures reaching -19.8° C (-3.6° F) during winter, which is why MAD wanted it’s latest project designed “in response to the force and spirit of the northern city’s untamed wilderness and frigid climate”.

Inside, visitors will instantly be overthrown by the grand lobby, it’s warm wooden detailing, the rich light flooding in from every direction, and its crowning diagrid crystalline roof, make it a simply breath-taking sight to see. Large transparent glass walls span this grandiose entrance, visually connecting the curvilinear interior with the swooping façade and exterior plaza.

Sculpted from Manchurian ash, the grand theatre is swathed in rich wood, emulating a gently eroded wooden block. The spatial configuration and simple materials used offers excellent acoustics, while illumination comes from the skylights. The interior of the second, smaller theatre connects with the outdoor elements through a panoramic, soundproof window behind the performance stage, providing a naturally scenic backdrop for performances.

“We envision Harbin Opera House as a cultural centre of the future – a tremendous performance venue, as well as a dramatic public space that embodies the integration of human, art and the city identity, while synergistically blending with the surrounding nature,” says MAD’s founding principle, Ma Yansong.


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