The Guangzhou Opera House was designed by the world famous Iraqi-born, London-based avantgarde female architect – and all-around designer – Zaha Hadid, one of the busiest, most visionary (her style is officially designated as "Deconstructivist", a branch of Postmodern art) and most celebrated architects in the world, irrespective of gender.
The coming Guangzhou Opera House will be located in Zhujiang New Town, and will become one of the seven cutting-edge architectural constructions of the city of Guangzhou. Zaha Hadid has, since the year 2000, won a string of prestigious awards internationally – almost a new and more prestigious award each successive year, in fact. In China, Zaha Hadid designed Hong Kong Polytechnic Institute's successfully completed Innovation Tower, and the architect had earlier designed the Peak Leisure Club in Hong Kong, though the building conceived by Zaha Hadid in 1983 was never realized, unlike the Cardiff Bay Opera House in Wales, which was designed by Hadid in the early 1990s, then put on ice for over a decade before it was finally realized, eventually opening to the public in 2004.
The Guangzhou Opera House will span an area of roughly 70,000 square meters, will attain a maximum height of 120 meters, and a maximum width of 43 meters. The Guangzhou Opera House will include the main venue, the Grand Opera House, spanning some 36,000 square meters and with a seating capacity of 1800, the Multi-Functional Theatre, spanning roughly 7,500 square meters and with a seating capacity of 400, plus a number of ancillary facilities which, in all, will span some 26,000 square meters.
The external, two-part design of the new opera house is so special that it looks more like huge boulders than buildings – at least if we are speaking of buildings in the conventional sense. The opera house's two parts, or "boulders", are in different sizes, the smaller "boulder" in front of – and slightly to the side of – the larger "boulder", with the entire construction lying on a gentle rise alongside the Pearl River.
Zaha Hadid has herself referred to this external design as "twin boulder". The Guangzhou Opera House will represent one of the most non-geometric building designs ever seen – one is tempted to say that the projected building will have been "sculpted", not "built", so unique is its design. Many of Hadid's previous imaginative creations have defied the logic of simple geometry (i.e., the logic of straight lines), involving instead highly curved, albeit, often vertical or horizontal, lines, but the overall design of the Guangzhou Opera House goes a step further, defying not only the logic of simple geometry, but the logic of any geometry. Zaha Hadid has long been famous for her "moulded" interiors. The Guangzhou Opera House seems to be the next logical step: the "moulded" exterior.
It hard to avoid superlatives when describing the work of Zaha Hadid, just as it is hard to avoid heaping praise on the architect for her more recent "conceptual" architectural projects especially, since they incorporate a holistic, interactive appreciation of themselves, their end-users and the surrounding ambient space in which they will exist. For example, it is no accident that the Guangzhou Opera House is in the shape of boulders – in fact, in the shape of highly smooth, rounded boulders – given that they lie near the shoreline of the Pearl River: the symbolism is of course of large rocks whose outer surfaces have been polished into smooth, undulating shapes – almost inviting a caress – by the incessant action of the river's waves. Another naturally occurring phenomenon that Hadid associates her "moulded" exteriors with is the sand dune, perhaps a natural association for an architect whose origins are Middle Eastern.
There is another aspect of this "moulded" design that reveals – perhaps unconsciously – even more of Zaha Hadid's non-Western origins: straight lines (vertical or horizontal) translate to flat surfaces and flat surfaces easily suggest walls, especially as concerns the exterior of a building, and walls are as much designed to repel as retain, whereas "moulded", non-flat, undulating surfaces do not repel, at least not in a psychological sense (in fact, they invite a caress in much the same way that a small, smooth object is often handled and treasured as a good-luck charm, a talisman).
Another feature of the "moulded" design that is deliberate on the part of the architect in the case of the Guangzhou Opera House is the image of immutability and immovability (solidity) that it projects. Whereas any ordinary, geometrically shaped building has "man-made" written all over it, a "moulded" creation has the appearance of innately belonging to nature. Man-made creations have an appearance of inherent vulnerability: they look as if they could be blown away or ripped apart by the first strong wind or flood, whereas a huge boulder deposited by the seashore – which is not unlike the massive image projected by the Guangzhou Opera House, seemingly deposited on the banks of the Pearl River – projects an image of utter solidity; with its sleek, aero- and aqua-dynamic lines, it looks as if it is there to stay, come wind, come rain.
For an old country whose ancient culture has similarly withstood the test of time, and has even produced a monumental wall that itself has withstood the wear and tear of time (and can even be seen from outer space), such an architectural design appears most fitting.
The unique, asymmetrical exterior design of Guangzhou Opera House will pose a daunting challenge to its engineers, since every steel component will have to be forged separately, then welded together, on-site, which itself will involve the use of computers in order to fit the various "nodes" of the steel framework three-dimensionally, i.e., in three planes, so that the completed building will stand precisely as in the three-dimensional, computerized model. There exists no precedent for this type of building construction in China – not even the "Bird's Nest", the Olympic Stadium in Beijing, required this much attention to detail (though itself very irregular in its outer shape, at least ¼ of the component parts of the "Bird's Nest" are in fact symmetrical).
When the opera house stands finished, there are planned three presentations of the created-for-the-occasion opera, For the Princess Turandot, ostensibly in order to check the accoustics of the new opera house (though the computer model suggest that the accoustics will be tip-top) and to test the opera house's microphone-, amplifier- and sound equipment, but also as a foreshadowing of the staging of Puccini's Turandot, which will be repeatedly performed (four performances in all) in the new opera house in the period May 6th – May 9th, directed by Chen Kaige, the Chinese film director who made several notable films, including Farewell My Concubine (1993) and The Emperor and the Assassin (1998).
The presentation of Turandot will also mark the first visit to Guangzhou of the renowned French-born American conductor, Lorin Maazel, who will conduct the orchestra. The tickets for the four maiden performances of Turandot are not for sale to the general public, but are to be sold only to select audiences, while tickets for future operas and concerts at the Guangzhou Opera House will be available to the general public.