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Shanghai Opera House

Our concept is for a City of Opera, a coherent cluster of cultural activity. Each performance space is given individual expression, each with its own roof shape. A river-viewing tower is pivotally positioned. Rehearsal spaces are housed in glazed lantern-towers at the street corners. The defining elements of the Shanghai Opera are grouped together in a theatrical scenography. This is a sculptural /architectural concept, an urban composition held in a carefully balanced visual equilibrium. The City of Opera is designed to be seen from close up and in long view, from within the park, from along the bend in the river and from viewpoints across the river.

The site is part of the Expo 2010 Shanghai site, it is located at a bend in the Huangpu River, within a regeneration masterplan area. The brief consists of 110,000m2 of accommodation, including three performance spaces, rehearsal rooms, backstage areas, receptions areas, management and logistics areas and parking. The three halls comprise an 1800 seat Opera Hall, a 650 seat Theatre and a 400 seat Performance Space. Other activities include conference, meeting rooms and banquet facilities, library and education facilities, museum and exhibition spaces, cinema screens, and outdoor performance area.

Expo Houtan site, Shanghai, China
Shanghai Lujiazui (Group) Co. Ltd. / Shanghai International Tendering Co., Ltd.
31°09'53.1"N 121°28'20.8"E
  • Folding Landscape / East and West
    Venice, Italy, 26th May - 25th Nov 2018
  • 2017 Shanghai Urban Space Art Season Exhibition
    Shanghai, China, 15 Oct 2017 – 15 Jan 2018

Masterplan — The City of Opera is approached across the main public space at the heart of the masterplan. External public space flows into and over the building, making an open building, inviting to all members of the public. The foyer and roof garden are new public spaces for the city. The theatres are arranged around the foyer space as if on a town square.

Sunlight /Daylight — Daylight is brought deep into the plan through big light scoops. Different roof forms are united in a dynamic profile, outlined against the sky. The building silhouette, clearly visible by day, and dramatically illuminated by night, gives the Opera a unique and memorable identity in the city skyline.

Long beams span the foyer spaces — The structural depth of the concrete beams provides sufficient space for mature trees to take root on the roof landscape. Each beam is designed into a triangular structural form. The beams are set at tilted angles to each other, interlocking in a see-saw arrangement to create clerestory daylighting across the foyer spaces. And this tilted roofscape generates the topographical landscape of the public garden. The roof landscape provides a new public garden for the people of Shanghai, linking the park with the river, relating the Opera House to everyday family life in the city.

Material — Brick is the fundamental material of the project. Walls, floors and roofscapes are made of brick. Some say that brick was a Chinese invention, but here it is used in an innovative way. Lattice brickwork is integrated in the elevations. Faceted brick piers contain stairs, lifts and services. The building glows at night through perforated brickwork, reflecting in the river like a prismatic lantern. The natural material contributes to the civic character and cosmopolitan identity of the Shanghai Opera.

Promenade, Procession and Flow — Since Garnier’s Paris Opera there have been many developments in the architecture of the opera house. We see our project as a further development of the type. Garnier’s plan is arranged on a linear axis with foyer, auditorium, fly-tower, and backstage all fixed on a central axis of symmetry. His project gives emphasis to the spectacle of the audience in a public promenade through foyers and staircases to take their seats in the auditorium. Since Garnier’s Paris Opera, the tradition has been to provide gathering spaces for members of the audience to see and be seen, a spectacular architecture of spaces to celebrate the social event of the opera.

Utzon’s Sydney Opera arranged the two halls required by the brief in a parallel arrangement, side by side, under a shell structure roof formation. He envisaged the audience assembling together from different directions to flow up the stairs to the performance “like a festive procession.”

More recent opera houses, including some built in China, have gathered the auditoria under sweeping roof shapes and orchestrated audience flow through sinuous spaces.

Convergence — The theme of our plan is “convergence.” Building on the established tradition of promenade, procession and flow, we see the public spaces of the City of Opera like grand station halls, civic spaces of community congregation. The convergent geometry of the scheme originates from the landscape setting of the site location, located at the bend of the river, between the linear park and the ecological corridor.

The City of Opera is designed to be an open and welcoming building. An informal architecture of social invitation. Triangulated structures converge to create a daylit gathering space, an orchestrated spatial sequence, a foyer of pockets and places. Each of the three performance spaces is “moored” in the plan like a river-boat docked in alignment with the adjacent street line. The space in-between these moored theatre-vessels is activated by a site-specific convergent geometry.

Our design brings the site-wide vectors into play to generate a resultant form. The City of Opera will be a significant landmark in the public realm of Shanghai, a beacon seen across the river in the wider cultural landscape of the city. Our ambition is to create an architecture that belongs to its place. We want to make a building that feels like it belongs in Shanghai. This design draws on the latent intelligence of the situation to make something completely new, a dynamic building that has an archaic quality, a generous public space of vital and lasting presence.


  • Client: Shanghai Lujiazui (Group) Co., Ltd. / Shanghai International Tendering Co., Ltd.
  • Architects: O’Donnell + Tuomey
  • Structural Engineers: AKT II
  • Theatre Consultant Advisor: Charcoalblue
  • Acoustic Consultants: Max Fordham
  • Fire Consultants: ARUP Shanghai
  • Environmental & Sustainability Consultants: Max Fordham
  • Landscape Architects: Grossmax
  • Quantity Surveyors: Aecom Ltd. Shanghai
  • Visualisation / Animation: Picture Plane
  • Graphic Design: WorkGroup

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