It's a treat to see an architecture firm at the top of its game, and MAD Architects' undulating Harbin Opera House doesn't disappoint. Looking like an alien spaceship has landed on the wetlands of Harbin, Northeast China, the recently-completed project features two high-end theaters with a combined capacity of 2,000 patrons.
The product of a winning architectural competition entry back in 2010, Harbin Opera House occupies a total footprint of 850,000 sq ft (78,967 sq m) and rises to a total height of 56 m (183 ft).
The building's eye-catching design references the chilly local climate, which can regularly reach -19.8° C (-3.6° F) during winter. The facade's smooth white aluminum panels are broken up by glazed areas, including a crowning crystalline glass feature that tops the grand lobby. Though the fluid curves bring to mind some of Zaha Hadid's output, it also conforms to MAD's usual design language, as can be seen on the upcoming Chicago-based Lucas Museum.
Inside, visitors ascend from underground parking onto the large plaza or into the grand lobby. This latter space gains natural daylight by the aforementioned crystalline glass feature, and warm wooden detailing softens the frigid and hard interior decor. From this position, one can follow a sculpted wooden staircase to the grand theater, or hang a left to the smaller theater.
The grand theater seats 1,600 and sports curving walls and balconies sculpted from Manchurian Ash, which the architects say will offer excellent tonal qualities, while illumination comes in part from a skylight. The second, smaller theater is less ambitious, though features a large panoramic soundproofed window behind the stage with views toward the wetlands. A publicly-accessible rooftop terrace also offers choice views and an additional open-air performance space.
"We envision Harbin Opera House as a cultural center 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.
Check out the excellent architectural photography by Adam Mørk and Hufton + Crow in the gallery.