Volume 25, Issue 5 - September/October 2011


Sing a Song of Glass
Architectural Gem: Glazing Shines in New Opera House

For years just the word “opera house” was likely to conjure up images of Sydney’s famous architectural structure, with its sweeping peaks and pearly façade. Now, a newly constructed venue, featuring glass as a significant design detail, may also stake its claim as an architectural opera house gem.

Spanning 70,000 square meters and costing approximately $215 billion USD (1.38 billion RMB), the Guangzhou Opera House in Guangzhou, China, is located at the heart of the city’s cultural development. Designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, the structure’s twin-boulder design was created to enhance the city by opening it to the Pearl River, as well as unifying the adjacent cultural buildings.

The design of the opera house evolved from the concepts of a natural landscape and the interplay between architecture and nature. In particular, it was also influenced by river valleys, and the way in which they are transformed by

“In Chinese culture, certain analogical thinking makes sense and the idea of pebbles and rocks on the banks of a stream is actually very meaningful for a project located next to the Pearl River,” says Zaha Hadid, the firm’s founding partner. “As designers, this is more of a technique for us to articulate the relationship of an object within a landscape; describing how the design is informed by its context. So when designing the building, we were not thinking so much of metaphor, but more in terms of analogy–the landscape analogy–where features of a natural landscape are expressed within the architecture.”

The use of glazing also played a significant part in the design of the opera house. For example, fold lines that include glass help define territories and zones within the structure that allow natural light to penetrate deep into the building.

“Tessellated triangular glass sections emphasize the crystalline nature of the design and open up the public areas of the opera house,” says Hadid.

KGE Engineering in Zhuhai, China, part of China Architectural Engineering, was awarded the contract to undertake the design, engineering, fabrication and installation of the building envelope, including the glass curtainwall, glass wall, stone cladding, and roof waterproofing system. The project spanned a total area of 323,000 square feet. Glass was supplied by China Southern Glass.

According to Zaha Hadid’s team in China, “One of the significant challenges in designing the glazing was the complex geometry of the building envelope, where triangular glazed units were flush-fitted over various angles and around corners. There were also surface configurations to consider whereby laminated glazing [was used] on all inward inclinations.”

The architects also note that “the envelope is one of the largest asymmetrical structures of its kind,” and “a variety of technological solutions, from computer design to fabrication and installation” were used in order to create it.

Zaha Hadid’s work on the Guangzhou Opera House began in 2002 when the firm took part in an architectural competition and was selected to design the project. The schematic design phase began in October 2004 and groundbreaking was in January 2005. The project was completed last year and the first performance in the new opera house was in May 2010.

Speaking of her work in China, Hadid adds, “The dynamism of China’s development is breathtaking; throughout the entire country, you can sense the enthusiasm, ambition, and boundless energy of the upcoming generation. It is a very rewarding experience to see the completed opera house and I am very grateful to the city of Guangzhou.”

She adds, “There are very few places in the world today where architects can find such forward looking, enthusiastic clients with such passion for innovation … The design of the opera house reflects China’s rich cultural history, but also the remarkable future China will play on a worldwide stage.”



Architects' Guide to Glass & Metal
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