Rising from the wetlands like a twisted ice structure that has been sculpted over time by blow and rain, the Harbin Opera House is unquestionably a new landmark on the horizon of the Chinese northeastern town of Harbin. Created by Beijing-based MAD Architects as an artistic answer “to the force and spirit of the northern city’s untamed wilderness and frigid climate”, the architectural building is a sculptural tour de force that naturally combines into the horizon.
Part of Harbin Cultural Island, a significant new arts complex established on the wetlands of the Songhua River, the new Harbin Opera House includes three distinguished focal spaces that form a three-petalled plan: a great theater with accommodation capacity for 1,600, a modest theater composed of 400 seats and a huge public plaza.
All three parts are connected commonly by a moving cover made of smooth white aluminum boards that fluidly encloses around them reflecting the waters of the encircling marshlands.
The exterior’s fluidity is also dominant in the interior areas. Upon opening the grand daylit lobby, you’re stupefied by the billowing structure of the frame building below the atrium roof and the large wooden mass that holds the Harbin Opera House.
Sculpted from Manchurian Ash that evokes a warmness that is sorely required in the ice-white interior, the sculptural mass of the Harbin Opera House is designed as per the architects to follow “a wooden block that has been gently eroded away”.
The curved wooden surface is also used inside the theater where it encircles around the stage and seats, all the way to the roof where, at the back, it surprisingly incorporates a skylight.
In opposition to the opera’s introspective design, the smaller theater opens up to the outside throughout a soundproofed glass wall that acts as the stage’s backdrop providing panoramic scenes. Although rectangular in design, space is far from normal as it highlights moving walls, their ripples made all the more exciting by the daylight flooding within the glass façade.
While the public plaza gives enough space for outside projects and shows, the architects have also designed a secondary exterior performance space positioned on top of the main volume.
Accessible through curving tracks along the building’s mass and open to the wide public, space, which increases as an observation terrace with views of both the city skyline and the neighboring marshlands, truly epitomizes MAD Architect’s philosophy of using architecture as scenery.
Photo © Iwan Baan