A visualization of Shenzhen Opera House by REX.
REX_SOH 1_01_Night Render_credit Luxigon

Shenzhen, China

CLIENT Municipality of Shenzhen (Bureau of Planning and Natural Resources; Bureau of Culture, Sports, Tourism, Radio, and Television; Bureau of Public Works)
PROGRAM Performing arts complex (2,300-seat Opera Hall, 1,800-seat Concert Hall, 800-seat Operetta Hall, and 600-seat Multifunctional Theater); cultural center (Opera and Dance Literature Center, Stage Art Museum, Book Bar, and Public Hall); Urban Art Parlor; Opera Support Building; 1.7-hectare (4.1-acre) public park, and below-grade parking
AREA 167,000 m² (1,800,000 sf)
SUSTAINABILITY LEED Platinum equivalent

COST $727 million
STATUS Limited competition 2020; third prize 2020; superseded by SOH 2.0
PERSONNEL Elias Arkin, Wanjiao Chen, Adam Chizmar (PL), Kelvin Ho, Sebastian Hofmeister (PL), Britt Johnson, Isabelle Moutaud, Joshua Ramus, Elina Spruza Chizmar, Vaidotas Vaiciulis (PL), Teng Xing
CONSULTANTS Agence Ter, Arup, Atelier Ten, Cost Plus, Front, Magnusson Klemencic, Theatre Projects, Threshold

A visualization of the Shenzhen Opera House Concert Hall interior.
REX_SOH 1_23_Concert Hall Render_credit Luxigon

The Concert Hall of Shenzhen Opera House eschews fashion in favor of performance and elegance. It aspires to what has never been achieved before: a true marriage of the acoustically superior ‘shoebox’ shape of the Wiener Musikverein with the experientially preferred ‘vineyard’ seating of the Berliner Philharmonie.

The modern consolidation of a metropolis’ major performing arts venues—opera house; concert hall; theaters for operetta, dance, drama, film, etc.—into a single center has two archetypes: …

Photographs of the Lincoln Center and Sydney Opera House.
REX_SOH 1_04_Lincoln Center and Sydney Opera

…New York City’s Lincoln Center and the Sydney Opera House. While both broke ground in 1959, each creates its powerful iconography by radically different means.

Lincoln Center’s strong identity is forged by the strategic placement of its venues’ simple rectilinear forms in relation to each other, carving three grand public spaces out of Manhattan’s dense urban fabric. Its iconography is further enhanced by the harmony of its elegant Modernist architecture and the unique motifs within that harmony.

By contrast, the Sydney Opera House’s identity is created simplistically by the addition of a gregarious roof form of ten massive ‘sails’ that crown the venues like a ‘Blanket of Iconography.’

Although these sails are one of the most recognized architectural icons in the world, their structural gymnastics and unnecessary volume came at notoriously high cost.

A diagram showing other examples of the ‘Blanket of Iconography.’
REX_SOH 1_07_Blanket Diagrams

Of the two archetypes, the Blanket of Iconography—and its excesses—have been replicated pervasively worldwide in a broad range of manifestations.

Amplifying Lincoln Center’s tactical placement of simple shapes and use of motifs within each building, the pure volumes of Shenzhen Opera House’s venues are stacked into a tower of culture whose Opera Hall, Concert Hall, Operetta Hall, and Multifunctional Theater are stripped of all unnecessary program or geometry. Their shapes are dictated by functionality.

A diagram showing the Shenzhen Opera House tower.
REX_SOH 1_09_Landmark Diagram

The cultural tower achieves the Sydney Opera House’s extraordinary presence (minus the expensive, superfluous Blanket) with its unusual form and unexpected height, establishing it as a landmark in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area.

A diagram showing the site of the Shenzhen Opera House.
REX_SOH 1_10_Site Diagram

Of equal importance, its stacking also liberates an exceptional public space on Shenzhen Bay. With the majority of the site dedicated to landscape for citizen’s enjoyment, Shenzhen Opera House advances China’s goal of becoming an “ecological civilization.”

An image of Chinese Golden Travertine and a Shoushan stone seal.
REX_SOH 1_11_Travertine and Seal

Wrapped in Chinese Golden Travertine, Shenzhen Opera House is reminiscent of a Shoushan stone seal, …

A visualization of the Shenzhen Opera House (SOH 1.0).
REX_SOH 1_12_Daytime Render_credit Luxigon

…a modern totem at once a symbol of a rich heritage and a future that sets new paradigms.

Stacking four large performance venues demands a robust vertical transportation system for both front-of-house and back-of-house circulation. To this end, a highly efficient ‘Super Core’ of elevators and stairs rises through the center of the tower. Composed of circulation columns tied together by steel trusses, the Super Core also functions as the building’s primary structural framework, from which are cantilevered the auditoria and the side- and backstages. The structural Super Core is transformed into a circulation superhighway.

In the front-of-house, eight double-decker elevators provide excellent audience circulation, shuttling patrons from the main entrance on Level B1 to each venue’s elevated lobby in about 56 seconds, including waiting time. To achieve this exceptional performance, the four venues are organized as two pairs, each served by a bank of four double-decker elevators. The 2,300-seat Opera Hall is combined with the 600-seat Multifunctional Theater, with an average waiting time of 8.6 seconds and transit time of 41 seconds. The 1,800-seat Concert Hall is combined with the 800-seat Operetta Hall, with average waiting and transit times of 4.5 seconds and 58.3 seconds, respectively. (For reference, an average of 55 seconds for just waiting alone would be considered “acceptable.”)

Within each venue, patrons circulate using local stairs and elevators. To augment the front-of-house elevators, convenience escalators draw patrons from the main entrance up through the cultural totem in a playful promenade that connects the lobbies, bars, terraces, and amphitheater.

To support back-of-house functions, the Super Core houses three stage elevators, two massive scene elevators, four large service elevators, and eight egress stairs, linking all four venues’ stages and support areas. The stacked design’s consolidation of all back-of-house spaces into a single tower provides surprising efficiency: each venue’s makeup rooms, costume rooms, performer waiting rooms and lounges, instrument tuning and storage rooms, etc. can be easily accessed by all other venues, if desired.

Section of Shenzhen Opera House.
REX_SOH 1_16_Section

In contrast to the increasingly stylized auditoria shapes that prioritize fashion over performance, Shenzhen Opera House’s halls are contemporary interpretations of the pure geometries of historic precedents. All four venues employ a similar materials palette that increases in richness from the exterior Golden Travertine, to the bamboo of the lobbies, to the mahogany of the auditoria.

Each venue also exhibits a unique motif applied to its rotating sunscreens, chandeliers, ceiling coffers, and feature elements inside the halls themselves.

A visualization looking up at the Shenzhen Opera House from below.
REX_SOH 1_17_Daytime Screen Render_credit Luxigon

In the Opera Hall, …

…the ‘sunray’ lobby screens pivot to reveal views out over the site and toward Shekou Mountain and Shekou Port.

Emulating the acoustic richness of the Teatro Colón and the clean lines and acoustic intimacy of the Wiener Staatsoper, the Opera Hall is a combination of restraint and strength. Its grand chandelier is a tensegrity structure that deploys pre-show, during intermissions, and post-show, and retracts during performances, the jewel of the ‘sunray’ motif.

A visualization on the 'Lower Balcony' outdoor terrace.
REX_SOH 1_20_Lower Balcony Render_credit Luxigon

Immediately above the Opera Hall, ‘The Lower Balcony’ is the first terrace of Shenzhen Opera House. It welcomes patrons to a sheltered café-bar and sweeping views of Shekou Mountain and Shekou Port.

A visualization looking up at the Shenzhen Opera House from below, at dusk.
REX_SOH 1_21_Nighttime Screen Render_credit Luxigon

In the Concert Hall, …

…the ‘starburst’ lobby screens pivot to reveal views reaching out to the China Resources Headquarters and the Ping An Finance Centre, and the rest of Shenzhen’s Central Business District.

A visualization of the Shenzhen Opera House Concert Hall interior.
REX_SOH 1_02_Concert Hall Render_credit Luxigon

The Concert Hall of Shenzhen Opera House eschews fashion in favor of performance and elegance. It aspires to what has never been achieved before: a true marriage of the acoustically superior ‘shoebox’ shape of the Wiener Musikverein with the experientially preferred ‘vineyard’ seating of the Berliner Philharmonie. The Concert Hall’s ‘starburst’ motif is carried into the design of the organ, which is suspended above the stage to serve as an acoustic reflector.

A visualization of Shenzhen Opera House's 'Upper Balcony', an outdoor terrace.
REX_SOH 1_24_Upper Balcony Render_credit Luxigon

Above the Concert Hall is ‘The Upper Balcony,’ Shenzhen Opera House’s second terrace and its protected café-bar.

A floor plan of the Shenzhen Opera House Opera Hall.
REX_SOH 1_25_Opera Hall Plan

Opera Hall Plan

Just as the geometries of the Opera Hall…

A floor plan of Shenzhen Opera House's Concert Hall and Multifunctional Theater.
REX_SOH 1_26_Concert Hall Plan

Concert Hall and Multifunctional Theater Plan

…and Concert Hall are refined and maximize acoustical performance, sightlines, and intimacy, so too are the layouts of the Multifunctional Theater…

A floor plan of Shenzhen Opera House's Operetta Hall.
REX_SOH 1_27_Operetta Hall Plan

Operetta Hall Plan (Amphitheater shown at left)

…and the Operetta Hall.

A visualization of the Shenzhen Opera House sun screens at night.
REX_SOH 1_28_Screen Zoom Render_credit Luxigon

Wrapping Shenzhen Opera House are two taut façade systems that simultaneously render the building monolithic and inviting: a ‘closed-cavity’ glass system with integrated screens at the four lobbies and two backstage windows, and an opaque travertine rainscreen on all other surfaces.

The closed-cavity glass system acts as a thermal boundary—from which heat can be expelled in summer and harvested in winter—and as an acoustic buffer to outside noise. When closed, the motorized screens provide glare control and sun shading—reducing cooling loads—and unimpeded views and deep daylight penetration—reducing electrical loads—when open.

The outer layer of the closed cavity is composed of highly transparent insulated glass units supported by a cable system and braced by compression struts tying back to the lobby passerelles.

The inner layer is made of frameless, laminated panels that span from balcony to balcony. Without mullions and transoms, these systems create a minimalist appearance.

All opaque walls, sloped soffits, and roofs are clad in a rainscreen of travertine panels. The stone panels are supported on a subframe which in turn is attached to the back-up wall and primary building structure with thermally isolated brackets and clips.

Siteplan of the Shenzhen Opera House.
REX_SOH 1_31_Site Plan

The site strategy is simple and bold.

The cultural totem is placed to the southern edge of the south site, a terminus befitting the master plan’s grand axis spanning the north and south lots. The axis is demarcated by a two-story-deep Traversée adjacent to the below-ground pedestrian corridor that links the Opera Subway Station, Opera Parking, and Opera Support Building.

The landscape strategy embraces the geometries of the three sites that make up this cultural complex and defines them in distinct precincts. The Urban Art Parlor sits within a dense forest on a microtopography, where visitors can wander under the shade-providing tree canopy. On the north lot, wide allées of trees surround the Opera Support Building.

A visualization of the 15 meter wide courtyard in the Shenzhen Opera House landscape.
REX_SOH 1_32_Cut Render 1_credit Luxigon

This fifteen-meter-wide cut in the landscape draws abundant daylight into the cultural functions on Level B1…

A visualization inside the 15 meter wide courtyard within Shenzhen Opera House's landscape.
REX_SOH 1_33_Cut Render 2_credit Luxigon

…and Shenzhen Opera House’s rehearsal spaces, studios, and offices on Level B3.

Below grade, front- and back-of-house spaces are organized around the Traversée and separated into two distinct levels to maximize organizational efficiency and simplicity of circulation.

A diagram showing the changing site of SOH 1.
REX_SOH 1_34_Site 4 Square

The Opera House site is delineated by a paved promenade with stepped seating along the water that frames the entire square, engaging Shenzhen Bay Park’s continuous cultural leisure experience, and inviting visitors to enjoy the beauty of the bay.

Within this pure square, however, the landscape becomes another performance element, a constantly changing ‘Canvas’ covered by a topographical sea of tall grasses and seasonal flowers.

The Canvas can be mowed into different patterns for aesthetic pleasure or for varied uses: concerts, sculpture shows, festivals, or follies. The grasses quickly regrow to allow a new pattern to be mown. Gentle hills and valleys throughout the Canvas provide subtle cues for congregation and encourage the flowing movement of the grasses in the wind.

Shenzhen Opera House will be a new icon for future Shenzhen and a landmark in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area.

Image Credits: 1, 2, 12, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 28, 32, 33, 35: Luxigon

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