07 November 2019
Henning Larson’s latest creation, Hangzhou Yuhang Opera, nestled between Hangzhou and the shores of the East Lake is going to end up on every list of World’s Best Opera Houses because of its unique construction and presence. Indeed, the architect designed the white angular volumes of the Opera to look like ice floes on a lake.
What makes Henning Larsen designs so very iconic and unmistakable? Lots of things, including a holistic approach to design that combines a sharp eye for detail with refined artistic taste, the desire to create spaces that are made for socialising, a focus on the environment and the landscape and, especially, the magical poetry that seems to radiate from every building. First and foremost, the new Hangzhou Yuhang Opera in China: designed to resemble a floating ice formation, it allows natural light to create intriguing patterns both inside and out.
Nestled between the bustling city of Hangzhou and the calm shores of East Lake, the Hangzhou Yuhang Opera cuts a distinctive profile in the skyline, its landscaped peaks appearing to dip beneath the water’s glassy surface. The new building forms the heart of a new cultural node in Yuhang, a fast-growing district in the metropolis of Hangzhou. Completed in May 2019, the 70,000m2 performance venue is an unmissable presence on the otherwise uninterrupted waterfront.
"There is a competition amongst Chinese cities to create new destinations, each with their iconic cultural landmarks," said Claude Godefroy, design director at Henning Larsen's Hong Kong office. "When designing those cultural nodes our most important task is to create truly lively urban centres that can welcome citizens at all times whether they are paying guests or not."
Crucial to the design was East Lake, an expanse of water that lies at the heart of the surrounding park and forms the shimmering, reflective backdrop for the new Opera. While at first glance an established landscape, the lake was in fact part of Henning Larsen’s design, mirroring Hangzhou’s famed West Lake and creating a geographically contrasting node for culture in the urban region. A meandering promenade circles the lake, passing through small pocket parks (including a traditional Chinese water garden) and commercial facilities. The exterior edge of the park borders a high-speed rail station.
The opera dominates the lake and the surroundings with a publicly accessible sloping landscape reminiscent in form and scale to ancient manmade landforms that have been discovered in the region.
The two sloped and intersecting masses of the Opera perch above an elevated public plaza, the roofs touching lightly on the ground level to invite visitors to climb up and enjoy the view. Both structures are clad in a graphic façade pattern that references ice cracking on the frozen lake; moving from solid back- of-house coverage to near total transparency where it encloses the public foyers – floes of ice drifting away to reveal the bright interior. The different entrances to the building connect in a path around the auditorium that offers views to the lake and foyer interior. Interior balconies and staircases maximize views out across the site and within the foyer: going to the opera is about seeing and being seen.
The Opera building comprises two main performance and event spaces: the Main Hall, which can seat up to 1400, and the 500-seat Black Box theatre. The ability of the halls to host a variety of events was a core focus in the design, driving the ambitious acoustic and stage design inside the halls. The Black Box theatre has the ability to literally open one full side to the elevated public plaza, becoming a stage for a massive 10.000 people exterior venue.