The Queen Sofia Palace of the Arts Opera House in Valencia, Spain, was officially opened by Queen Sofia of Spain in October 2005. The opera house was designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, who was born in Valencia.
The building was constructed with an estimated cost of €120m. For Calatrava, the completion of the opera house is the culmination of 14 years’ work. The actual building is a masterpiece of modern architecture and descriptions of it have varied from ‘a blend of seagoing vessel and spacecraft’ to ‘some sort of prehistoric trilobite’ or a ‘giant warrior’s helmet’.
The roof of the opera house resembles a feather plume consisting of two ‘shells’ that embrace the building on the outside.
Valencia opera house interior
The opera house is part of a larger complex mostly designed by the same architect (Santiago Calatrava) called the City of Arts and Sciences (la Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències), constructed on the old dried-up Turia riverbed featuring a planetarium and a science museum.
The opera house has three different halls, including the main performance space (1,800 seats) that can act as a symphony orchestra concert hall or a ballet and theatre stage, as well as an opera venue. The smaller ‘Aula Magistral’ Hall (master classroom) has a capacity of 400 spectators and is designed for conferences, lectures, roundtables and children’s theatre.
The Upper Auditorium (amphitheatre) has a capacity of more than 1,700. The building is capable of seating up to 4,000 people in three different halls (three events can occur simultaneously).
Valencia opera house design
The setting of the building is important, as it stands in over 87,000m² of gardens with 10,000m² of reflecting pools and interlinked surrounding paths. The building itself is over 70m in height and has a total floor area of around 40,000m².
The roof or ‘feather plume’ is the most structurally spectacular detail, 230m in length and consisting of two ‘shells’ which embrace the building on the outside. These are constructed of laminated steel with an approximate weight of 3,000t and feature
delicate mosaic ceramic work (trencadís) on the outside, which along with the white concrete gives the outer surface of the building a daytime and night-time luminosity.
The roof is held up by two supports, one at its western end and the other in the midsection, with the eastern end of the roof totally projecting.
The building, considering the curved shapes which give it its lenticular form, is 163m in length and 87m in width. It was designed with the dual intention of acting as a multi-hall auditorium and creating a striking urban landmark for the city.
The opera house resembles a ship with round portals or the cracked shell of an egg, in which the main auditorium itself is the yolk.
The most eye-catching features are two narrow sheaths that seem to billow atop the oval base like an abstract feather or ribbon blown upward by the wind. Calatrava’s innovative design will also allow spectators to watch rehearsals through glass panels and enjoy the view from the boat-like opera house’s ‘decks.’ The nautical theme ties in very well with the siting of the building in the Turia riverbed and its closeness to the ocean.
Building spaces in detail
The main hall (seating 1,800) is the core around which the building generates both its formal and structural aspects. It is located within the structural support of the building created by curved surfaces and interior boxes of white concrete.
The meeting foyer lies around the main hall providing a perimeter route to access the rooms beside the hall. Spiral ramp staircases mean that there are exits from the hall at different heights. The longitudinal section is generated through the sightlines of the audience towards the stage and the opera boxes are set out at four different heights on the vertical faces.
The master classroom is located on the western side of the building. Access to it is by the main side stairs which converge on the building’s different terraces. Over this hall, there is a cafeteria and below this are the dressing rooms. This room is specially designed for live performances by small music ensembles and can be used for holding conferences.
The facilities of the amphitheatre include advanced sound, cinema and video systems for live performances and shows and for projecting cultural events on large screens, including the opera performance in the main hall at the same time.
There are also several other rooms necessary for staging productions. These include assembly and repair workshops for carpentry, mechanics, lighting/sound and wardrobe. There are also storage areas for scenery, flats, stage props and wardrobes, as well as storage for the sets of the different companies using the facility.
There are also various types of rehearsal rooms, such as joint rehearsal rooms for singing, dancing or orchestra. These areas are connected to the dressing rooms, rest areas and cafeteria. In the private area, there are offices for general administration, artistic and technical direction, large rehearsal rooms, stage production room, VIP dressing rooms, individual dressing rooms for soloists and dressing rooms for extras, choir and orchestra.
The developer of the building was Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias SA. The construction contractors were Dragados and Necso and the stage engineering was the responsibility of Waagner-Biro Bühnentechnik AG The acoustics were the remit of Alfonso García (García BBM SL).
The construction required over 77,000m³ of concrete, 275,000m³ of earth movement, 1,750 linear meters of piles, 38,500m² of granite, 20,000m² of ‘trencadís’ (fractured ceramic tile mosaic), 3,360m² of glass, 20,000,000kg of structural corrugated steel and 10,000,000kg of structural steel. There are also 1,450 doors in the building.
In 2014, the Valencia council filed a lawsuit against the opera house’s architect Calatrava for the rapid deterioration of the building and the falling off of mosaic tiles from the roof façade due to high winds. The deterioration forced the city to cancel performances and restrict public access until further notice. A panel of experts suggested that all the tiles need to be removed for renovation, which would cost nearly €3m ($4.1m).