Interview: How Atkins made Dubai Opera a landmark

With Dubai Opera planned to be inaugurated later this year, DesignMENA spoke to Janus Rostock, design director at Atkins and the architect who led the project, about the structural details of the building which is set to become another landmark for Dubai.

Located in the Dubai Opera District master plan, the jewel in the crown is set to be the concert hall itself – an arena designed to bring world class acts to the city and form a new Middle East hub for art, music, theatre and culture.

Dubai Opera meets a brief from the client, Emaar, for a multi-functional theatre which will become the focal point of the new district at the heart of Downtown Dubai, as well as a new architectural reference point for the region.

What has resulted is a building embedded in the place, culture and history of Dubai, and which celebrates a historic link to the sea and the sailors and merchants who have been responsible for bringing the area’s original success and prosperity.

Its vernacular form is inspired by the traditional Arabic dhow, and local heritage is a theme going through the interior of the building.

While the vision for Dubai Opera is inspired by the past, its functional aspects are very much rooted in the present. It t is set to be the most state-of-the-art performance venue in the world.

Of particular note is Dubai Opera’s ability to transform internally into different modes to host opera, theatre, concert, exhibition, banquet and conference occasions.

Janus Rostock

This is achieved through a high number of moving floors, walls and ceilings that allow auditorium seating to change configuration, or to disappear altogether, as well as different stage configurations. To deliver this in a seamless fashion, with no compromise– whether in terms of aesthetic quality, comfort or safety – demanded complete collaboration, led by the architectural team but drawing heavily on engineering disciplines according to Atkins.

An additional technical challenge is the fact that, unusually for theatres and opera houses, 100% of the facade is open and accessible for pedestrians, with no back of house.

The roof is also a major part of the design. Rostock said: “Cold air is pumped to the roof courtyard which is open to the elements, so even in summer people will have that outdoor experience.

“Other parts are enclosed and a conservatory has been added to the design.”

Set amidst much high rise architecture the building is relatively low rise – which takes into account a factor in the design of the human body itself.

Rostock said: ‘We as humans, something we tend to forget is that we tend to look down. Our body make-up reflects the fact that not a lot of threats come from above so we see the ground much more than we see the sky. From 23m out you are actually only looking 12m up. So that means you sometimes do not see past the podium in Dubai and miss a lot of the architectural interest.

“We have also used very transparent glass and the reason is that people can stand outside and look in during the day which you normally would not be able to do during the day as the glass would be too thick and it is darker inside. But you also want to be able to look outside during the night and see the Burj Khalifa, We have used anti-reflective glass to give the best possible views.

“What will happen is when the audience come to the theatre they will activate the whole neighbourhood. So they are coming to see as performance but they become part of the show themselves

“The lobby is very much a public space which is enclosed by a transparent glass screen, only broken by external horizontal wooden louvers that provide protection from the sun. The lobby and public realm is seen as one – a space where the audience becomes performers for residents and visitors of the neighbourhood.

“The arrival experience of guests through the plaza also creates a ‘theatre of people’ surrounding the building, with the processional walk across the plaza becoming ‘a see and be seen” opportunity. Dubai Opera will share its stardust to bring the whole Opera District to life, animating the public realm and creating a unique experience for the city.”