The Guangzhou Opera House was designed as two pebbles overlooking the Pearl River. Credit: GuoZhongHua / Shutterstock.
Designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, the project was inspired from the river valleys created through erosion. Credit: SnvvSnvvSnvv / Shutterstock.
Construction on Guangzhou Opera House started in 2005 and was completed in 2010. Credit: GuoZhongHua / Shutterstock.

Guangzhou Opera House is a new cultural building built in Guangzhou, the largest city in Guangdong province, China. Located on the banks of Pearl River, the modern auditorium carries a monumental design.

It is the third-largest performing centre in China after the Shanghai Grand Theatre and Beijing’s National Theatre. Built at the foot of the Zhujiang New Town towers in Haixinsha Square, the opera house complex is the central part of the cultural development in Guangzhou. It accelerated the establishment of the Guangdong Provincial Museum, library and archive in the proximity.

The 70,000m² Guangzhou Opera House has been designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. They were chosen in November 2002 through an international competition, in which Rem Koolhaas architect and COOP HIMMELB(L)AU competed as the finalists. The schematic design was started in October 2004.

The construction of the RMB1.38bn ($202m) project was started in January 2005. It was completed by May 2010 and was formally opened in February 2011. In May 2011, the project won the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) International Award for its design.

Design of Guangzhou Opera House

The Guangzhou Opera House design is based on the principles of topography and geology. The interior was mainly inspired by the river valleys transformed by erosion. The project tends to create an interrelation between the natural landscape and architecture.

The opera house is designed as two large pebble-shaped structures washed onto the banks of Pearl River. The structures appear as twin boulders taken from the riverbed and smoothed by erosion in a stream. The smaller of the two houses the multipurpose performance hall while the larger is the main auditorium.

The auditorium has a wave-shaped foyer. Entrance to the opera house is through an approach promenade on the landscape. The promenade also enhanced the urban function of the site and improved the access to the harbour and the river.


The Opera House is a pair of asymmetric structures with the dome and curtain wall integrated together. The irregular structural joint has a complex non-geometric design. It is about 43m tall and the external shell has a maximum length of 120m. Three-direction skew folded steel plates were used to create 64 faces and 47 corners to the structural façade. The latticed cladding required precise founding, positioning and joining of each steel sub-section.

The metal framework of the opera house structure required 59 unique, custom-cast steel joints to hold the structure in place. The structure required about 12,000t of steel. The irregular shaped shell was assembled using GPS positioning and laser techniques. The project required new and cutting-edge construction methods.

Guangzhou Opera House façade

The larger building is clad in charcoal-coloured granite with a rough texture while the smaller structure used lighter white colour. The total granite facade cladding area is 24,700m², with 75,422 pieces used to give a pebble appearance.

The tessellated, triangular glass sections provide internal lighting and open up to the public areas. It also emphasises the crystalline nature of the Opera House.

Interior design

The large building covers an area of about 36,400m² while the smaller structure occupies 7,400m² and the other facilities account for about 26,100m² of space. Visitor circulation is guided by the structural and spine frame in the interiors of the main auditorium. Views are provided into the main atrium from various levels for establishing orientation and connectivity within the building.

The public foyers are located between the auditorium and the exposed steel structure. The black granite floors of the foyer lead visitors to the auditorium balconies through slopes and twists. The outdoors and main entrances are provided through cascading stairs and ramps.

The walls and ceilings of the auditorium are made of about 50mm GRG moulds fixed to a steel frame. The folded and flowing surface is treated for a golden and glossy appearance. The split-level terraced seating is copper-toned. Ceiling lighting is designed with 4,000 white LEDs. The acoustics design was a challenge for the asymmetric performance hall. It considered the differences in Chinese and Western operas, where the former uses various musical instruments.


The façade is made of granite and glass and is supported by a steel frame. The moulded panels of the main theatre used glass fibre reinforced gypsum (GRG) for the interior surface.

Facilities of Guangzhou Opera House

The Guangzhou Opera House has a grand 1,804-seat theatre, a multifunctional lounge with 443 seats, support premises and other auxiliary facilities. The auditorium is equipped with the latest acoustic technology for superior sound clarity. A smaller building houses restaurant, bar and shops.


Guangzhou Pearl River Foreign Investment Architectural Designing Institute, a local architect, was involved in the design.

SHTK (Shanghai, China) served as the structural engineer and KGE Engineering was the façade consultant. The mechanical and electrical engineers were OK Design Group, and Max Fordham and Partners.

Marshall Day Acoustics was the acoustic consultant while ENFI was the theatre consultant.

China Construction Third Engineering Bureau was the main contractor and Guangzhou Municipal Construction Group provided the project management services.