MAD Architects create musical venue sculpted by wind and water

MAD Architects create sweeping and stylised musical venue in remote landscape.

The forces of nature and a freezing wetland wilderness have combined to inspire a major new cultural centre from MAD Architects.

The urban design team has unveiled the Harbin Opera House in Northern China – a sinuous structure which appears to be sculpted by wind and water.

In 2010, MAD won the international open competition for Harbin Cultural Island, a master plan for an opera house, a cultural centre, and the surrounding wetland landscape along Harbin’s Songhua River. 

The sinuous opera house is the focal point of the Cultural Island, occupying a building area of approximately 79.000 m2. It features a grand theatre that can host over 1,600 spectators and a smaller theatre to accommodate an intimate audience of 400.

Embedded within Harbin’s wetlands, the Harbin Opera House was designed in response to what the architects called “the force and spirit of the northern untamed wilderness and frigid climate”.

The building seamlessly blends in with nature and the topography—a transfusion of local identity, art, and culture.

Ma Yansong, founding principal at MAD Architects said: “We envision Harbin Opera House as a cultural centre of the future – a tremendous performance venue, as well as a dramatic public space that embodies the integration of human, art and the city identity, while synergistically blending with the surrounding nature.”

On the exterior, the architecture references the landscape of the surrounding area. The resulting curvilinear façade composed of white aluminium panels fuses edge and surface, softness and sharpness.

Upon entering the grand lobby, visitors will see large transparent glass walls spanning the grand lobby, visually connecting the curvilinear interior with the swooping façade and exterior plaza.

Curving organic lines for both main audience space and boxes.

A crystalline glass curtain wall soars over the grand lobby space with the support of a lightweight diagrid structure. Comprised of glass pyramids, the surface alternates between smooth and faceted, referencing the billowing snow and ice of the often frozen landscape.

The architect said: “Presenting a warm and inviting element, the grand theatre is clad in rich wood, emulating a wooden block that has been gently eroded away. Sculpted from Manchurian Ash, the wooden walls wrap around the main stage and theatre seating.”

Within a smaller theatre, the interior is connected seamlessly to the exterior by a large, panoramic window behind the performance stage.

Sightlines are not blocked.

This wall of sound-proof glass provides a naturally scenic backdrop for performances and activates the stage as an extension of the outdoor environment, inspiring production opportunities.

“Harbin Opera House emphasises public interaction and participation with the building. Both ticket holders and the general public alike can explore the façade’s carved paths and ascend the building as if traversing local topography

Stairways all form part of the ultra-fluid design by MAD.

“At the apex, visitors discover an open, exterior performance space that serves as an observation platform for visitors to survey the panoramic views.” These are another way that the building connects to its environment as they allow visitors to look out over to the wild landscape beyond.


One of the most imressive winter festivals in the world the Harbin International Ice Snow Sculpture Festival 2016, started in Dcvember last yearand runs until Feb.28, 2016 is features fireworks, ice latern castles, snow sculpture expo and competitions, skiing, sledding, wedding, winter swimming, fishing and more carnival activities for Christmas, New Year and the Chinese Spring Festival holiday. It attracts visitors from across the world.

Large open spaces are also a feature.