Harbin Cultural Centre
by MAD


Here are some new renders of Beijing studio MAD's Harbin Cultural Centre, which is well under construction (+ slideshow).

Harbin Cultural Centre by MAD

MAD designed the undulating arts and culture venue for the city of Harbin, in China's far north-east corner.

Harbin Cultural Centre by MAD

Situated on an island surrounded by wetlands of the Songhua River, the meandering site plan echoes the form of the river cutting through the land.

Harbin Cultural Centre by MAD

To disguise the centre in the often snowy landscape, the buildings will be predominantly clad in white aluminium and also use white stone and concrete.

Harbin Cultural Centre by MAD

The complex is split into two parts, separated by a man-made lake but connected by a long straight bridge.

Harbin Cultural Centre by MAD

On one side is the Harbin Grand Theatre, which will contain two different-sized theatres to host performances from large-scale operas to small independent shows.

Harbin Cultural Centre by MAD

A ribbon-like structure rises up from the ground to wrap around the back of both theatres, pinching in at the front of each.

Harbin Cultural Centre by MAD

This element will continue outward from the larger volume to create landscaping around a plaza.

Harbin Cultural Centre by MAD

Glass panels will form the roofs over the foyers, filling the gaps between the ribbon shape.

Harbin Cultural Centre by MAD

Inside, the larger theatre will be lined with wood panels to aid acoustics and add warmth to the otherwise white spaces.

Harbin Cultural Centre by MAD

The Harbin Labour Recreation Centre will sit on other side of the lake, containing facilities for conferences, cultural education and exhibitions, plus a hotel and catering space.

Harbin Cultural Centre by MAD

The project is due to complete next year, in time for Harbin's summer concert in July.

Harbin Cultural Centre by MAD

MAD has also completed a wood sculpture museum shaped like an icicle in Harbin.

Harbin Cultural Centre by MAD

Last week the studio's director Ma Yangsong revealed plans for a mixed-use complex in Beijing featuring skyscrapers, office blocks and public spaces modelled on mountains, hills and lakes.

Harbin Cultural Centre by MAD

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Read on for more information from MAD:

Harbin Cultural Island is located in the natural landscape of the riverside wetland north of Songhua River. The entire project covers an area of ​​1.8 square kilometres, with a construction area of ​​79,000 square meters. It is part of the development north of Sun Island, which is an important natural habitat in the north. In February 2010, MAD won the competition to design the cultural center on the island. The entire building is expected to be completed in 2014 when the Harbin July summer concert will be held.

Harbin Cultural Centre by MAD

Influenced by both Chinese and Russian culture, Harbin is reputed as the music capital of the north. Different from other theatre buildings that are normally located in the urban centre, Harbin Grand Theatre will not act as an isolated landmark for the city, but the natural continuation of the human spirit. Apart from regional protection and utilisation of the wetland ecosystem, Harbin Theatre, Harbin Labour Recreation Centre, Harbin Great Square and the Wetland Park together compose the Harbin Cultural Island, to join culture, art and nature in an integrated environment.

Harbin Cultural Centre by MAD

Surrounded by rivers, the Cultural Island embraces the wide riverbank as its background appearing as a glacier stretching and connecting to each other into a cohesive whole. The main entrance mimics a jade belt bridge spanning the wetlands and connecting the city and the cultural centre together. The movement of the terrain strategically directs the flow of people from different directions to the entrance of Harbin Theatre and Harbin Labor Recreation Centre.

Harbin Cultural Centre by MAD

The external ramp of the Grand Theatre, resembling a mountain path formed by gusting winds, guides people from the interior to the exterior. Walking along the landscape passage, visitors are able to appreciate the surrounding cultural and natural landscape. Atop the highest point of these buildings, visitors are able to enjoy a panoramic view of the surrounding scenery as if they are on top of a mountain.

Harbin Cultural Centre by MAD

The grand theatre takes the natural beauty of the north as its premise. In an attempt to reduce such a large volume, the architectural form is a continuation of the natural environment as it becomes part of the landscape. The entire building acts as an undulating snow covered mountain, following a natural rhythm.

Harbin Cultural Center by MAD

The cladding of the building is custom-made pure white aluminium. White stone and concrete are also used as part of the wall, introducing a pure feeling as ice and snow. The skylight above of the auditorium utilises natural daylight. During the day, the need for interior lighting can be completely satisfied with energy-saving and special lighting effects. The Grand Theatre is made up of two different sized theatres. The larger theatre can accommodate up to 1,600 guests and it is formed with lower level stalls and a two-floor gallery. The interior space uses a large amount of wood to provide the best possible acoustical effects for the Performance Hall of the Grand Theatre. Also, the wood and the white wall form a balanced contrast between warm and cold colours, resembling the unique warm atmosphere of mountain huts.

Harbin Cultural Centre by MAD
Site plan - click for larger image

The stage design for the theatre is not only suitable for western opera and modern drama performances, but also meets the requirement of traditional Chinese theatre plays. The acoustics and lighting design provide a high level of performance for the various venues in the theatre. Covered by curved acrylic lamps, the second floor VIP lounge appears as a glowing clear crystal floating in the theatre. The standardised stage is equipped with a versatile orchestral pit, designed to meet large-scale performances of Opera, Ballet and other various needs.

Harbin Cultural Centre by MAD
Ground floor plan - click for larger image

The 400 seat small theatre that connects with the larger theatre serves as the venue for small drama performances, chamber music, and operas. The design of the backstage curtain allows the stage to expand like a wide screen with natural landscape in the background integrating the indoor and outdoor view. The outdoor water section can also be used as an outdoor auditorium, therefore when the curtain opens, it becomes a panoramic arena with unobstructed views. This ingenious design creates a great space and a delicate dramatic effect for the Grand Theatre to adapt to the innovation and changes of the modern theatre art.

Harbin Cultural Centre by MAD
First floor plan - click for larger image

The art centre demonstrates the rich scale of the city, the nature and the people. It encourages the publicity and mass participation of Harbin’s art and culture activities. People can get a different sensory experience from different distances. The huge man-made lake between the Grand Theatre and the Culture and Art Centre contrasts the building with a long landscape bridge wedged in-between to form a Buddhist concept of “Void”.

Harbin Cultural Centre by MAD
Roof plan - click for larger image

Along the landscape bridge, visitors can reach the Labour Recreation Centre west of the Great Square. With a construction area of 41,000 square meters, this building is a comprehensive building complementing the Grand Theatre. Its functions include staff training, conferences, cultural education, exhibitions, hotel and catering space. These facilities will provide a diversified space for visitors, spectators and the staff. The boundary of the Cultural Centre interconnects with the river bank and wetland, blurring the boundaries of the natural and the artificial. Open spaces like ramps, bridges, sky terrace and squares bridge the distance between man and nature.

Harbin Cultural Centre by MAD
Small theatre cross section - click for larger image

From the design’s initial startup in 2010 to August 2013, the overall structure of the Cultural Centre was completed and the entire project began to take shape. In the coming year, the building façade, the interior design and landscape design will be finished. This new cultural island in Harbin is emerging to facilitate the blend of humanity, art and nature in the north and it will become the centre of this city’s spirit.

Harbin Cultural Centre by MAD
Large theatre cross section - click for larger image
  • Will

    Looks better mid-build. The wonder in this is the engineering. Cover it up and it will look like any other dime-a-dozen parametric design.

  • TH


  • d_spot

    Greatest design ever created since the human.

    • Catherine Millington

      “Greatest design ever created since the human”? I didn’t know human beings were “designed”!

  • Marc

    If it gets well built like the wood museum they might as well stop where they are…

  • T,.T

    Cold place / cold architecture.

  • Daedalus

    YIKES! the Kraken strikes back!


    run for your lives!

  • BreadCar

    I’m pretty sure this is not parametric. Weird shapes do not automatically mean parametric.

    • Will

      My humblest apologies.

      • BreadCar

        That’s fine. Zaha’s fault, really. She says what she does is parametric, when it’s really just goofin’ around with Play-Doh in Maya.

        • Architect

          The meta is not to be parametric, the meta is to be pleasant to the eye and revolutionary on the technology.

  • amsam

    Oh how very Zaha of you.

  • Concerned Citizen

    Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

  • Ralph Kent

    Well it looks like MAD have the market sown up for new cultural centres in ghost cities. What is the opening schedule for the one in Ordos again? I seem to recall I saw a programme advertising one concert every three months at the moment….

    Don’t you just love shadow-banking / phoney GDP growth figures? Shame all this stuff will be dilapidated before its ever really properly used.

  • Wolfie

    White landscape. White building. White elephant.

  • Gary Walmsley

    What can I say, I appreciate sinuous buildings like this and am utterly sick of the endless slabs of flat grey concrete that were Au Courant well over 50 years ago. The rendering look amazing. The winter mid-construction shots don’t do it justice.

  • Lee Van Binh

    I am always left wondering if design is getting back to nature, now that we can emulate its structure better, or (judging from the floor plan) are we just covering up how humans actually plan space with pretty and new ways of making a facade?

    In most cases, we humans need a level platform to live, work, and relax. Our minds are rational and thus we design rationally. I really do respect the talent and thought behind the curvilinear forms. And the space it defines is amazing. But in the end, we still need to stack levels to maximise space.