Harbin is a city of China’s Northern Province Heilongjiang where MAD Architects has designed Harbin Opera House. It is the first and largest building that designed by MAD as a part of Harbin Cultural Island, a most important new art multifaceted among the wetlands of the Songhua River.
“Opera design normally focuses on internal space, but here we had to treat the building as part of its natural environment—one outside of the urban context,” says Ma Yansong, principal architect and founder of MAD Architects. In 2010, MAD Architects won the open international competition for a master plan “Harbin Opera House”. It was designed in response to the location’s natural elements untamed wilderness and frigid climate.
It covered the 79,000-square-meter or total area is 444 acres, and its building features a three petalled plan. It features a grand theater with space for up to 1,600 visitors, and another feature is more intimate a smaller stage has space for 400 audiences. The smaller theater allows the visitors to see the outer surface, edged by real walls carved to imitate waves. “When the walls reflect the sun, its rays are dispersed in multiple directions,” says Yansong.
“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.
The exterior curvilinear facade is formed of smooth white aluminum panels, like a glass of the circuitous curves of the swamp landscape. The soft surface sculptural quality remains with the interiors cladding, wherever a large entrance lobby features an aggregate of timber and mirror and a latticed cover that is located under the sculptural glass roof.
Sculpted from a large chunk of Manchurian Ash, the massive wooden walls enclose the main stage and grand theater seating with balconies and staircases covering around the exterior. The MAD architectures describe it as “emulating a wooden block that has been gently eroded away”.
While the skylight stable the grand theater brightens, a principle swathed curtain of pyramidal mirror streams sunshine into the extensive lobby. He says, “I didn’t want to create a dark space in the middle of the park,” “when people enter, they should still feel like the sun moving around them.”
About the atmosphere of Harbin Opera House, Yansong says, “When people visit, they don’t notice the strength or complexity of the manmade structure – they only feel a natural atmosphere, which I like”, and “I didn’t want the building to feel cold and lifeless.”
Eventually, MAD team hoped to make a building people could interact and have a close relationship with. He says, “Most visitors come to the opera house to watch a performance, but we want them to feel like they are performers.”
“The opera house is such a dramatic, beautiful setting; it’s almost as if the people are the ones being showcased like they’ve become part of the drama. For the moment, they’re away from reality, like they’ve fallen into an imaginary space or dream. That’s what I want.”