December 05 2012

Opera House, Copenhagen: Architectural Backstage Stories

Opera House, Copenhagen

Crafted to accommodate world-class artistic performances
facilitated to the highest acoustic standards

“Democracy is a necessary kind of compromise.” …”To create ‘democratic air’ is kind of a contradiction, because art has to be free.” … “A symbiotic result is a good compromise.” – Jan Christiansen, City Architect of Copenhagen

Architecture is seductively scaled to its function and context. Nevertheless, the economic and political reality also constrains its materialization. The ideal for aesthetics can be easily disqualified by democratic compromises. Although communication is a condition for compromise, in some cases, money talks, literally.

The Holmen dock, at the upper west side of the canal promenade in Copenhagen, is magnate Sir Mærsk McKinney Møller’s property, who later declared his intention of donating it to the state.  Additionally, he offered economical support in order to have a new opera house built. Pleased by the astonishing news, the authorities accepted the proposal, and made it tax-deductible, which, for the government, meant practically buying the building. On top of that, the location seemed to be in difficult reach if considering huge crowds. Although away from central locations, the opera would still be strategically aligned on the imaginary axis facing Amalienborg Royal Residence, the new Royal Theater, and the Marble Church, a favorable coincidence, to brighten up the case.

The experienced Danish architect Henning Larsen was invited to exhibit his ideas for a new performing arts house that would amplify the future artistic experiences. The envisioned design was mainly defined by the weightless elegance of a floating roof and a transparent front sphere. The massive construction covering 150,000 sq. feet on 14-floors would have to be hidden thirteen meters below the sea level, tune up to voluminous rooms, and open up to scenic vistas over the canal. The number of seats was cautiously calculated so that in any case, the quality of sound would not be hampered.

Interiors, lighting, acoustics, and engineering were carried out by separate parties, in close collaboration. The Ramboll engineers respected the cantilevered roof lines by copying techniques applied to airplane wings. It should not be omitted that the roof area is as wide as three football fields. The acoustic professionals in Arup assured sufficient mass interior paneling to reflect bass frequencies and minimize noise disturbance from adjacent spaces. Speir and Major configured the lightning grids and the Islandic designer Olafur Eliasson singled out the foyer with his sparkly elegant lamps.

Opera House, Copenhagen Opera House, Copenhagen

Interiors & Rooftop Terrace

The construction timeline was intensive; the whole project was sped up since Sir Møller’s age might have diminish his chances to see the finished building. Given the facts, the design phase was still ongoing while the foundations were set in 2001. The architectural choice over the facades’ design seemed to provoke a dispute regarding financial responsibility. Conservative spirit, Sir Møller rejected the use of glass given its limited product lifecycle. Larsen envisioned the mingling silhouettes in the foyer seen from the outdoor plaza and from across the canal. The dramatic site would share its intimacy with the animated waterfronts. Finally, the transparency was kept, yet framed in a metal grid, which certainly distorted the architect’s initial overall picture. The forced design choices infuriated Henning Larsen, who later pleaded to resign, but the financial and legal involvement would not permit it at that stage.

What we have now is a compromise which failed, and this makes me sad.” – Henning Larsen

In 2005, the opening staged a grand artistic venue with numerous art-world enthusiasts. The uproar in the media and the critical reviews would all be left behind as the main purpose was celebrating the lyric representations and the fantastic accommodating spaces.

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Denisa Petrus

Denisa Petrus, following a Constructing Architect Bachelors Degree at VIA University, in Denmark, recently graduated after completing her final project at the Polytechnic University of Valencia, Spain. Her international educational background and practice as project architect in Dublin helped her gain a expanded perspective over the streamlining process from design to construction. She aims to further develop her commitment to the sustainability paradigm by starting a Master in Sustainable Architecture degree in the near future. Currently settled in Copenhagen, Denmark, a genuinely environmentally-conscious city, Denisa is constantly inspired by its` vitality and pragmatic approach. Her blogs sketch and summarize the Scandinavian urban experience, a symbiosis between contexts and behavior, esthetics and technology.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 5th, 2012 at 9:52 am and is filed under Architecture, Environmental Design, Government/Politics, Land Use, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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