WAN Performing Spaces Award 2016 Winner Announced

Ella Pilkington
Tuesday 03 May 2016

MAD Architects awarded as the winner for their Harbin Opera House

It is with great pleasure to present MAD Architects as the winners of the WAN Performing Spaces Award 2016 for their Harbin Opera House project- Congratulations!

The winner was selected from six inspiring shortlisted projects, each project celebrates and promotes the best in international architecture for performing arts venues. But for our judges, there was one clear winner. On this year’s panel: Gerardo Broissin, founder of Broissin Architects, Chris Cotton, Chief Executive of the Royal Albert Hall, Albert Giralt, Architect for Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Gavin Green, co-founder of Charcoalblue, Raj Patel, Principal at Arup and David Staples, consultant at Theatre Projects. 

The Harbin Opera House is the focal point of the Cultural Island in the city of Harbin, featuring two performance venues, a grand theatre that can host over 1,600 patrons and a smaller theatre to accommodate an intimate audience of 400.

The opera house emphasises public interaction and participation with the building, ticketholders and the general public alike can explore the façade’s carved paths and ascend the building. At the peak, visitors discover an open, exterior performance space that serves as an observation platform for visitors to survey the panoramic views of Harbin’s metropolitan skyline and the surrounding wetlands below. Upon descent, visitors return to the expansive public plaza, and are invited to explore the grand lobby space. Chris engaged with the venue’s public interaction, stating: “I love the idea that you can explore the outside, you can actually go on the roof, it’s interesting and it certainly fulfils originality, innovation, form, function and context.”

The main theatre is an inviting element at the heart of the building, insulated within a “snowy” envelope. Clad in a warm wood veneer, the theatre’s mass emulates a singular wooden block gently eroded away by natural forces to reveal layers of rich history. The wooden form features a procession of winding stairways and viewing openings. Within the theatre, the ripples from the main stage, smoothly folds into the walls, while intimate balconies embrace the centre floor seating. The grand theatre is designed acoustically to cater to both Western and Chinese operas. 

The architectural procession choreographs a conceptual narrative, transforming visitors into performers. 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. 

The venue’s shape has been designed so that it blends into Harbin’s landscape. The height of the entrances have been kept low, while the building stretches the horizontal expanse so it continues into the surrounding landscape. This effect is especially marked during Harbin’s long and cold winter, when the pillowed white aluminium cladding will make the building look like a snowdrift. Albert commented: “From a distance it looks like a mountain which looks appealing.” Gavin agreed, adding: “The external form, the interiors and public spaces look extraordinary, you can see there is a very strong narrative, a highly functional building.”

We’d like to take the opportunity to thank not only the jury, but all who entered their projects into this years’ WAN Performing Spaces Award. 


Ella Pilkington

WAN Administrator

Key Facts:


Want to submit your project to World Architecture News?

Contact The Team