Placed in a unique and beautiful location in the central harbor of Copenhagen facing Amalienborg, the Royal residence, The Opera is an exceptional, monumental building complex.
Designed by the danish architecture firm of Henning Larsen Architects, the project combines classic forms with modern ideas to create a fully functional space for the staging of opera, ballet and other lyric presentations.
Described by experienced visitors even before it’s completion as ‘absolutely stunning’ this opera house is set to take its place high in the list of great performing arts buildings in the world.
In 2000 the City of Copenhagen asked three architectural companies – West 8, Sjoerd Soeters and Henning Larsens Tegnestue – to prepare a volume study of the Copenhagen Harbor in order to define and control the future urban development of the area.
Henning Larsens Tegnestue was responsible for the inner harbor whereas the other two companies were responsible for the northern and southern parts of the harbor, respectively. HLT’s vision for the inner harbor was to develop the area by mixing residential and commercial buildings with large public cultural institutions to create a dynamic city life. As they explain: “In our opinion this would create a rich variety in the urban environment, and by adding quality and coherence to the areas the harbor would provide an attraction to the citizens of Copenhagen as well as to visitors from all over the world.”
The Opera is a very large building in the townscape. Its appearance as a distinctive, inviting building that generates activity in the central harbor is emphasized. The design of the Opera welcomes the audience in the foyer facing the harbor to the west with the grand arrival plaza at the end of the most important axis of the old Frederiksstaden (Frederik’s Town). The arrival plaza stretches into the harbor, thus creating the space necessary for outdoor activities. To underline the location of the Opera in the harbor, a separate island is created around the building. The Opera is not intended to stand alone on Dokøen, as blocks of flats to the north and to the south will flank it when the new quarter is completed.
The grand, covered arrival plaza oriented towards the western evening sky welcomes the audience approaching by boat or from the wide harbor promenade at Dokøen. The concept of the arrival plaza gives the city a new covered space without columns providing a multiplicity of functions.
The Royal Theatre now has an option of performing on a floating stage in the harbor with the audience placed on the plaza under the roof. The opera guests are arriving to and departing from the plaza, which is also used during intervals. Furthermore a café facing southwest provides an experience of not only the Opera, but also the harbor and the view of the city.
The space between the cantilevered roof and the granite surfaced plaza is projected into the harbor with a 180o panoramic view along the harbor from Knippelsbro over the city centre with its towers and spires to the northern harbor entrance towards the Sound.
Together with the big open foyer and the sculptural auditorium the new opera plaza forms a unity in close dialogue with the city, the harbor and across the water to the fountain and the gardens of Amaliehaven continuing the Amalienborg axis
Plan at Ground Level
Section through the project
An opera house comprises a variety of functions and rooms divided into two main areas: Front of House and Backstage. Front of house consists of the foyer and the auditorium, whereas backstage holds the stage area including workshop facilities, dressing rooms, costume shops, administration offices and rehearsal facilities for singers, choir, soloists, orchestra and ballet.
The spectacular floating cantilevered roof is the unifying element of the Opera, and its architectural function is to bring together and control the various specialties. The interaction of the auditorium shell and the public harbor space is the key element of the design. From a distance you can see the golden maple-paneled auditorium shell through the foyer façade whereas the fly tower indicates the position of the stage. The foyer and the auditorium are floating between the arrival level and the big roof, thus increasing the scale towards the harbor.
From the arrival level, the audience is led through two wide staircases to the main balcony on the first floor, where two staircases lead to the upper balconies and to the banquet area, which holds 200 guests on the fourth floor. Two long bars with leather fronts are serving the audience on the first two levels, whereas two smaller bars serve the upper balconies. The arrival level and the main balcony are furnished with leather furniture.
Radial bridges connect the balconies of the foyer with the shell thus creating a parallel to the ‘see and be seen’ experience in the auditorium, as you can overlook the foyer filled with people from the balconies. Turning around provides an almost scenographic view over the harbor with the Copenhagen skyline against the evening sky.
Lifts and cloakrooms are placed on each balcony on both sides of the auditorium, and from the ground floor in the northern part of the foyer stairs lead down to the cloakrooms in the basement.
The form of the auditorium is inspired by the magic of a conch: round and smooth it embraces a world of fantasy and mystery, the roar of the sea, conjuring up images of a musical instrument. An image that obtains tangibility through the choice of material: stained, lacquered maple, inspired by a violin.
The auditorium with its classical form with parterre and horseshoe balconies (three for the audience and a technical gallery on top) creates an intense vertical room surrounded by an audience which makes the ‘see and be seen’ experience a part of the opera magic. The intimate room with steps and unbroken, vaguely curved rows of seats accentuates the meeting between art and audience. The auditorium holds from 1,400 to 1,700 guests depending on the size of the flexible orchestra pit.
The studio stage (a.k.a. Takkelloftet, meaning the rigging loft) has a separate entrance from Takkelloftsgraven. The foyer being oriented towards Holmen makes the studio stage an independent entity, but at the same time it forms part of the other stage facilities. The studio stage foyer affords a view to the north towards the harbor, to the east towards Philip de Langes Allé, and to the south along Takkelloftsgraven towards the spire of Vor Frelsers Kirke (Our Saviour’s Church) in Christianshavn. The studio stage is a totally flexible black box, which holds 200 seats partly on a retractable podium, partly on 13 mobile towers moving on air cushions permitting an infinite number of configurations.
The orchestra rehearsal room is one of the biggest rehearsal rooms of the Opera, holding 120 persons including soloists and choir. The box-in-box structured room is placed 14 m below sea level under the auditorium close to the orchestra pit, which facilitates the transportation of musical instruments. The light design of the room consists of a white artificial daylight along the walls and a more yellow indoor working light in the ceiling.
The staff enters through the stage door facing the Takkelloftgraven. From the manned reception area you reach the dressing rooms, costume shops, and the administration offices, all located around the stage area and connected by an open five-storey corridor with skylights giving a soft light on the white in-situ concrete walls all the way down to the ground floor. The open corridors enable artists and especially guest artists to orientate easily and quickly. Rehearsal rooms for choir, soloists, singers and ballet dancers are placed on the fourth floor under the big roof with a magnificent view across the harbor to the city.
The royal box is placed in the left side of the auditorium according to tradition. The box has direct access to the private royal lounge where the Queen and her guests will stay during intervals.
Materials and colors are primarily chosen from the light end of the color scale in order to relate to the surroundings and to adhere to the simple Nordic tradition. The outdoor surfaces are sandstone, granite, metal and glass emphasizing the various building elements of the Opera.
The island podium is covered with natural stone with various surfaces. The plaza paving is Chinese granite, and the foyer flooring is Perlatino marble. The floating metal roof has a ribbed structure to add character to the extensive surface, which makes the Opera significant and easily recognizable from the air.
The facades of the main building are covered with the natural stone Jura Gelb, with a beautiful, smooth surface broken by bands of windows and narrow light slots. This is contrasted by the open foyer towards the harbor, the walls being mainly in glass, the natural stone floor and the metal ceiling corresponding to the plaza and the roof. Also the two top levels have transparent glass facades accentuating the floating roof.
Project Details and Credits:
Address: Holmen, Copenhagen, Denmark
Year of construction: 2001-2004
Client: A.P. Møller and Chastine Mc-Kinney Møller Foundation
Architect: Henning Larsen Architects
Theatre consulting: Theatreplan LLP
Acoustical consultant: Arup Acoustics
Engineering: Rambøll Danmark A/S
Subconsulting engineering: Buro Happold
Landscape architect: Schønherr Landscape
Lighting architect: Speirs and Major Associates
Managing contractor: E. Pihl & Son
Photos: Adam Mørk/copyright: Henning Larsen Architects
More on this project:
They say God is in the details. The architects have gracefully supplied us with a generous amount of information about the planning details as well as the acoustic approach to the auditorium. We are hereby annexing to this article.
Theatre planning and stage technical installations
The Acoustic Design of The Opera Copenhagen
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