Harbin Opera House

Matter of Metaphors


Last year the Chinese president Xi Jinping condemned the “weird architecture” that was proliferating in the country, often thanks to foreign architects, and announced a period in which buildings would tend to be designed with a certain patriotic spirit. The announcement mustn’t have had much effect. Although a new architecture has in fact been emerging that seeks to reinterpret the vernacular, it is not the rule but the exception (see Arquitectura Viva 180): China’s rapid and anonymous growth ordinarily continues to yield iconic constructions that, with their special forms and programs, have the effect of giving character to the vacuous urbanizing process.

A case in point is the Harbin Opera House by MAD Architects, part of a very ambitious plan that, besides a series of grand auditoriums, includes a park and the recovery of the wetlands of the 170-hectare isle that the building stands on. Conceived to give a name to the anonymous, buildings like this opera house are called upon to have surprising but legible and amiable forms. Thus the enormous success, in China, of parametricism, and in particular of the architecture of the firm MAD, which is organic. In the northern city of Harbin, the organic translates into an unfolding of natural metaphors: the form is a block sculpted by the force of the wind; the folds are facets of snow; the auditorium is a wooden box that has been eroded by time... Predictable and rather banal connections that hardly justify a building which is, on the other hand, a splendidly executed construction.

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