MAD's sinuous Harbin Opera House completes in north-east China

Beijing studio MAD has completed an opera house in the Chinese city of Harbin, featuring an undulating form that wraps two concert halls and a huge public plaza (+ slideshow).

Harbin Opera House by MAD
Photograph by Adam Mørk

The Harbin Opera House is the first and largest building that MAD has designed as part of Harbin Cultural Island, a major new arts complex among the wetlands of the Songhua River.

Harbin Opera House by MAD
Photograph by Adam Mørk

The 79,000-square-metre building features a three-petalled plan. One houses a grand theatre with space for up to 1,600 visitors, while the other is a more intimate performance space for an audience of 400.

Harbin Opera House by MAD
Photograph by Adam Mørk

The building is designed to mirror the sinuous curves of the marsh landscape, with an exterior of smooth white aluminium panels and glass.

These contrast with the rooftops, where a textured surface of ice-inspired glass pyramids allows light in from above.

Harbin Opera House by MAD
Photograph by Adam Mørk

According to MAD, the building is designed "in response to the force and spirit of the northern city's untamed wilderness and frigid climate".

Harbin Opera House by MAD
Photograph by Hufton + Crow

"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," said studio founder Ma Yansong.

Harbin Opera House by MAD
Photograph by Hufton + Crow

MAD has designed several cultural buildings, including an artificial island of art caves, an icicle-shaped wood sculpture museum also in Harbin and Chicago's proposed George Lucas Museum. Curved surfaces are a recurring theme through them all, picking up Ma's ambition for a new style of architecture, referencing the landscapes of traditional Chinese paintings.

"We treat architecture as a landscape," he told Dezeen in an interview last year.

Harbin Opera House by MAD
Photograph by Hufton + Crow

The smooth surfaces of the opera house's exterior continue inside, where a large entrance lobby features arched windows and a latticed ceiling that is located beneath the sculptural glass roof.

Harbin Opera House by MAD
Photograph by Hufton + Crow

At one end, a large block of Manchurian Ash wood encloses the grand theatre, with balconies and staircases wrapping around the outside. MAD describes is as "emulating a wooden block that has been gently eroded away".

Harbin Opera House by MAD
Photograph by Adam Mørk

The second theatre offers more of a connection to the exterior, as its backdrop is a soundproof glass wall. Its walls look more like a pair of weatherbeaten stone cliffs.

Harbin Opera House by MAD
Photograph by Hufton + Crow

The huge public plaza forms the third petal of the plan, and can be used as a venue for outdoor activities and performances.

Harbin Opera House by MAD
Photograph by Hufton + Crow

There is another outdoor performance space at the top of the building – a terrace that also serves as an observation platform.

Photography is by Adam Mørk and Hufton + Crow.

Harbin Opera House by MAD
Ground floor plan – click for larger image
Harbin Opera House by MAD
First floor plan – click for larger image
Harbin Opera House by MAD
Roof plan – click for larger image
Harbin Opera House by MAD
Long section one – click for larger image
Harbin Opera House by MAD
Long section two – click for larger image
Harbin Opera House by MAD
Cross section – click for larger image