Guangzhou Opera House

1 Zhujiang West Road

Zhujiang New Town

Tianhe District


Guangong Province 510623

People's Republic of China


Zaha Hadid 2010


Opera houses have long been a symbol of a city's culture, and today a Zaha Hadid opera house is the cultural symbol of choice for a new world city. Dubai had to cancel theirs in the financial crisis; Abu Dhabi are still building theirs; but Guangzhou have completed theirs, to justifed critical acclaim. The Guangzhou Opera House is the third largest theater in China, for what is, by some measures at least, China's third largest city.



While there is some commonality to the fluid, amorphous forms of Hadid's opera house designs, the Guanzhou opera house stands out as the least organic. The building sits in the urban center of Guangzhou close to the Pearl River, and Hadid's metaphor for the building is a pair of water-smoothed pebbles in the flow of the river.



Guangzhou (the former Canton, and capital of Guangdong province) is made up of more clusters of tall, straight, square tower blocks than almost anyhere else, and the contrast with the irregular, smooth, low-profile opera house is brilliant - in a soothing, low-key way, like the rocks in a Chinese garden, not the skyline-defining way of a Sydney. The contrast is felt at a city level, rather than directly seen versus adjacent buildings, as the opera house is one of a small copse of consciously iconic buildings, including the lozenge-shaped vast tower of Wilkinson Eyre's International Financial Center and the perforated cube of Rocco Design's Guangdong Museum.



Inside the opera house, the pebble metaphor is less helpful. Instead, the sense is of glamorous yacht - seen in the white decks and the rounded doorways cut into the walls - nestled into a geometric grotto.



Go further in, into the 1800-seat auditorium itself, and you are in a much smoother, more organic, subtly asymmetric cavern - or the mouth of a whale, with balconies formed from folds in the flesh, all lit with thousands of pin-prick lights irregularly spaced around the roof.



The decks of the yacht give access to the upper levels of the auditorium, and to rehearsal rooms for opera and ballet that have each made attractive use of their acoustic ceiling and wall design.



While the larger pebble of the two buildings houses the opera house itself, the smaller pebble houses a 'multi-function theater': a black, contrastingly square and inorganic studio space with flexible staging and seating for different types of performance. The interior form of this second building is in matt black-painted plaster, in contrast to the matt white of the larger building.



If there is a disappointment with the Guangzhou Opera House it is in some of the construction detail - or perhaps in the unrealistic demands that the design makes of the construction. The 'curved points' of the building are unforgiving of anything less than a perfect geometry in their stone cladding. A more irregular, Gaudiesque approach to the stone would have been more tolerant, but the hard, simple, triangles of the stone struggle to keep their geometrical elegance as they embrace the more demanding curves. It's easy to blame the craftsmanship, but it may have more to do with the mixed metaphor of a geometric pebble.



Simon Glynn 2011


How to visit


The opera house is on the north side of the Pearl River in the center of Guangzhou, in Zhujiang New Town. Take metro lines 3 or 5 to Zhujiang New Town and walk two blocks south along Huaxia Lu. The building is just south of the IFC tower, just west across the square from the Guangdong Museum, and directly across the river from Guangzhou Tower.


Tours of the building are available at set times during the day in Chinese, and by prior arrangement in English. The booking office is at the lower levels of the building, accessible down the ramp outside the entrance (or directly at ground level without going up to the main entrance). It's quite informal: I arrived in time for a scheduled Chinese tour, found I was the only one on it, and my student volunteer guide impressively guided me in English instead.


The Opera House official web site is at, but the English language tab may not be working. For the Opera House box office, call (within China) 4008 808 922, or (from outside) +86 20 3839 2888.





Books and other web sites


The Zaha Hadid Architects web site has a good description and photographs of the building.


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