Reactor

Tour Zaha Hadid’s Alien Opera House

by Kyle Chayka on March 29, 2011

Architectural criticism takes to the streets in this video walk through of starchitect Zaha Hadid‘s new opera house in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province in China. Wandering through the structure’s alien curves and strange spaces, Guardian architecture critic Jonathan Glancey explains how the opera house combines high-concept intellectualism with populism, showing how audiences interact with the space and interviewing an effusive (not to mention operatically dressed) Hadid.

The Guangzhou Opera House was built over the past 5 years, a long stretch of time for Chinese architects and construction teams, who work notoriously fast. Yet how could this one possibly be a quick job? The opera house is a marvel of intersecting angles and volumes, stretching and distending into different wings and concert spaces. In his written review, Glancey notes that “you are hard pressed to find a straight line” in the structure.

Zaha Hadid's Guangzhou Opera House (image via guardian.co.uk)

“As darkness falls and the foyers fill up with people, the building magically comes to life,” Glancey writes, and we as viewers get to experience that atmosphere rather than be told about it. The camera work of this short video does as much as Glancey’s explanation to show us the building’s achievements, with extreme wide angle shots and tracking pans that move our eyes around the space.

Hadid designed the Guangzhou Opera House as a decentralized entity, an asymmetrical network that also acts as a metaphor for the building’s populist purpose and programming, mingling Western opera forms with traditional Chinese as well as featuring popular musicals — next year, look for Chinese versions of Cats and Mamma Mia.

What I find really cool about this video report is that it manages to present the structure visually while maintaining an insistent critical gaze. With Glancey, we’re not just touring a building passively or gawking at its spatial feats; we are trying to understand and process it as we look, with the help of the narration and interview clips. If this is the future of art criticism, I’m all for it.

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