Pitch perfect: MAD reveal the Harbin Opera House’s sweeping curves

Mad Harbin Opera House 001 Chuftoncrow
Beijing-based MAD Architects has just launched their latest striking project - a brand new opera house in Harbin, China.
(Image credit: Photography: Hufton + Crow)

Until the opening of its extraordinarily sinuous opera house, Harbin, in China's remote and cold north-east provinces, has been mostly known for its annual blow-out ice-sculpture festival. However, the Beijing-based MAD Architects have pushed China's eighth most populous city to the top of the country's cultural league-table with a defiant flourish. 

Just a decade ago, a building like the Harbin Opera House could not have been made. But a combination of technological and engineering leaps, computer wizardry and fearless deep-pocketed clients has meant that now, for the first time, architects are able to give free-rein to their wildest imaginations. 

Set within the wetlands of the Harbin Cultural Island – an arts hub that, when fully open, will also include a cultural centre – MAD's 829,000 sq ft project is anchored by a curlicue comprising a grand theatre that seats 1,600, and a smaller theatre for 400.

Clad entirely in white aluminium panels, the opera house swoops and curls against the bleak landscape, at times resembling a thundering snow-drift and, at others, a hyper-stylised tented yurt. The primal references are deliberate, a not entirely subtle nod to the region's harsh climate and wild topography.

The grand interiors are equally breathtaking. Vast volumes are cut out of gigantic curving glass windows, acres of polished stone floors, and enormous timber-clad walls that dip and rise and bend like canyons. You can't help but think the heating bill will be impressive.

The naturalist swooping lines continue in the grand theatre where an organically ribbed cocoon of Manchurian ash wraps concert-goers in a warm aural lushness. Ma Yansong, MAD's founder and the project's team leader, likens the space to a wooden block that has been gently eroded by time and the elements.

The opera house, Ma adds, is 'a dramatic public space that embodies the integration of humans, art and the city's identity while synergistically blending with the surrounding nature.' Cue the maestro.

Mad Harbin Opera House 002 Cadam Mork

(Image credit: Photography: Adam Mork)

Sitting in the country's fairly remote and cold north-east provinces, the curvaceous opera house is set within the wetlands of the Harbin Cultural Island

MAD reveal the sweeping Harbin Opera House

(Image credit: Photography: Adam Mork)

Clad entirely in white aluminium panels, the futuristic opera house swoops and curls, standing out against its context.

MAD Architects: Harbin Opera House

Shinning like a beacon at night, the building reveals equally breath taking, curvy interiors.

(Image credit: Photography: Adam Mork)

Mad Harbin Opera House Cadam Mork

(Image credit: Photography: Adam Mork)

The structure's meandering form creates lots of open areas and public spaces. 

MAD Architects Unveils Completed Harbin Opera House

(Image credit: Photography: Hufton + Crow)

Inside, generous volumes are cut out of gigantic curving glass windows, acres of polished stone floors, and enormous timber-clad walls that dip and rise and bend like canyons.

MAD reveal the sweeping Harbin Opera House

(Image credit: Photography: Hufton + Crow)

A spiraling staircase made of curved woods creates a sculptural addition for the interior.

Pitch perfect: MAD reveal the Harbin Opera House’s sweeping curves

(Image credit: Photography: Adam Mork)

The 829,000 sq ft project is anchored by a curlicue comprising a grand theatre that seats 1,600, and a smaller theatre for 400. 

INFORMATION

For more information on MAD visit the website (opens in new tab)

Daven Wu is the Singapore Editor at Wallpaper*. A former corporate lawyer, he has been covering Singapore and the neighbouring South-East Asian region since 1999, writing extensively about architecture, design, and travel for both the magazine and website. He is also the City Editor for the Phaidon Wallpaper* City Guide to Singapore.