Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Hadid Builds an Opera House

The visionary architect Zaha Hadid has finally got some career traction in the form of commissions, and the city of Guangzhou, China, has just completed building an opera house that she designed. NY Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff reviews the new house in the Times.

It's a gorgeous building and the review is appreciative - but it leaves out the most critical question: how does the house sound?

Facepalm! Perhaps Tony Tommasini is getting his visa in order?.


Keith said...

The sound of the house really isn't the purview of the architecture critic, is it? Similarly, I wouldn't expect the music critic to spend a lot of time telling me whether the building is attractive or well-constructed.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Whether the building fulfills its function adequately is part of reviewing it - so to fully review the Guangzhou Opera House, the Times does need a music review. (Two, actually; the house has an 1800 seat theater and a 900 seat performance space.)

Doundou Tchil said...

As Keith says, architecture writers don't necessarily know how to evaluate music. Architecturally, this is an amazing design and we need to appreciate why. Also interesting to music people is the role the new place will play in Chinese music circles, and that, too, can only be assesed by understanding the classical music situation in China. Classical music is huge in China, possibly more so than in some western countries but people also listen to a wider range of music. Furthermore, Guangzhou is a major centre of Chinese opera, so it's certain that there will be lots of Chinese opera there, which presents completely different acoustic challenges. Quite likely there'll also be a lot of Cantopop, too. Judging by western cultural models isn't relevant. Striking as it is, the Guangzhou house will be dwarfed by the new cultural centre in West Kowloon, but that's too big a story to describe here. The main thing is that these ventures show that there's a lot more provincialism in the west than we'd admit.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I was trying to say that the Times needs to send a music critic (Tommasini's the chief critic) to hear the hall. I have no idea how he would do with the cultural context side of the story, of course. Perhaps my friend David Urrows, who has lived and taught composition in Hong Kong for many years, would be a good person to handle that.

Doundou Tchil said...

Here's more :
"despite its unusual shape, the acoustics are perfect; the work of Harold Marshall, the veteran New Zealand acoustician. Intriguingly, he says that the strange angles of Hadid's auditorium work to produce an acoustic perfectly suited to both western and traditional Chinese opera. "There are very, very few asymmetrical auditoriums," says Marshall. "But asymmetry can be used to play with sound in very satisfying ways; it's more of a challenge tuning it, but the possibilities are greater, and this one has a beautifully balanced sound."

Full link here, from February 2011:

Anonymous said...

I just tried to leave a longer comment, but somehow the system choked on it, so let me summarize.

1) When I saw the pics of the Guangzhou hall's asymmetrical design, I was reminded of the original Segerstrom Hall in Orange County. Turns out Marshall was acoustician on both.

2) I am quite skeptical about the quote that Doundou Tchil gives above that "despite its unusual shape, the acoustics are perfect." That was written by Jonathan Glancey, architecture and design critic for The Guardian, not its music critic.

- CK Dexter Haven

Lisa Hirsch said...

Argh on the choked comment, and thank you, CK!