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Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.

Busan Opera House in South Korea by BaO & KJYAO & Pd’AA

September 17th, 2011 by Sumit Singhal

Article source: BaO & KJYAO & Pd’AA

Entry for the Busan Opera House competition 08-2011

Joined project: BaO + KJYAO + Pd’AA

BaO (Beijing), KJYAO (Beijing) and Pd’AA (London) collaborated on an exciting entry for the Busan Opera House competition in South Korea. The site of the competition is located on a reclaimed island in the middle of existing docks that, in the near future, will become a new cultural zone for Busan Metropolitan City. We propose an OPERA ON THE MOVE as a creative response to the evolving nature of opera in the 21st century, setting new standards of presentation and production in the performing arts. Our projects advocates both a programmatic dynamism (Opera = open cultural center for everyone) and a much more literal kind of move. We envisage that an element of Busan Opera House could detach itself from the main body of the building and sail across oceans to dock at venues around the world. If opera and theatre companies keep touring the planet to give performances, why couldn’t the building itself do so?


  • Architects: BaO & KJYAO & Pd’AA
  • Name of Project: Busan Opera House
  • Location: Busan port, South Korea
  • Credits: Benjamin Beller, Kuo Jze Yi, Pierre d’Avoine with Nikolay Shahpazov, Marie Daille, Civita Halim
  • Collaborators: Aran Chadwick_Atelier One (structural engineering), Bill Watts_Max Fordham llp(environmental engineering)


  • Status: Competition entry
  • Site: 55 130m² indoor
  • Client: Busan Metropolitan City
  • Program: 2000 seats Opera , 1600 seats multipurpose theatre, 450 seats small theatre, artists and technical backstages, lobbies, cafes, restaurants, music libraries, children area, artists rehearsal rooms, administrations, technical and storage spaces
  • Year: 2011



Our proposal is comparable, in its huge scale, to an ocean liner, able to separate into two distinct parts: a mother ship and a nomadic opera house boat. The mobility of the floating element creates the opportunity for new configurations and new programs, both within Busan and beyond. It would become a mobile Korean cultural icon and global phenomenon – a part of Busan itself, connecting directly with other great cities on every continent and forging new possibilities for the performing arts never before attempted or achieved.



The dramatic vista of a building splitting in two, or of the strangely awkward ship from Korea docking in different locations on the five continents excites our imagination. Opera On The Move advocates a playful architecture that is both setting for performance and choreographed performance itself.



On the Move

The brief clearly emphasizes Busan’s ambition to build an architectural icon recognized and recognizable globally. Our proposal takes this one step further by designing something entirely new – a generous, dramatic and powerful building symbolic of Busan and Korean culture, part of which physically connects Busan to the rest of the world.



The audacity of the main concept is more than a simple “architectural special effect”. The possibility of movement generates a multiplicity of settings that offer great flexibility of usage for the Opera House and permits the creation of new types of spaces, atmospheres, programs and conditions including events that usually never occur in Opera Houses.



When the building is in its ‘combined’ position (theatre at dock), performance spaces may be coupled, separated, linked or sealed. When the theatre casts off and is anchored 50m away in the harbor, the lobby expands and is transformed into a semi-outdoor dock, between the two main performance spaces, where informal events can take place. An outdoor auditorium also appears in the void created on the roof of the mobile theatre.



When the mobile theatre is offshore, the resulting negative imprint left behind in the main building may be reprogrammed. The void not only becomes a spatial memory of the missing object but also a programmatic indetermination where new possibilities are triggered. The contrast between the delicacy and softness of the Opera House auditoriums and this new dock-like quality with its roughness and harbor edge condition is manifest of our ambition to challenge predetermined consensus on “adequate and inadequate” spaces for performance arts.



Negative / Positive

The floating theatre is conceived as an abstract piece of building that resembles a strange geometrical sealed volume. The awkward “carapace” of the floating theatre is directly derived from its program (vertical fly box, main-sides-rear stage, auditorium blind box, sloping outdoor theatre on the roof) so as to expose a spatial organization that is usually hidden in traditional opera houses. When the floating theatre casts off, a formal play between voids and planes occurs. An outdoor stepped theatre appears on top of the mobile element as it separates itself from the lecture hall in the main building, an empty dock appears right in the middle of the Opera House, new circulation routes and vistas open up.



The play between solid and void, negative and positive is an important aspect of the formal language of the proposal, blurring distinctions between interior and exterior, and opening up the surroundings to a wider operatic potential. The mobile theatre, not only makes a positive connection between the city of Busan and the world beyond, but also, when it sails away leaves behind a negative space, creating a psychological ambiguity that adds to the iconic quality of Busan Opera House.



The unexpected inverted void suggests new programmatic possibilities where more contemporary types of performing and popular arts could take place (including rock concerts, festivals, poetry readings, improvisations etc). The cavernous imprint left by the theatre thus proposes an open-minded 21st century Opera House that would embrace and welcome any kind of spectacle.



Public Cluster

The idea of theatrical dialogues between voids and solids was further developed in the design of the building envelope. The Opera House is organized around three enclosed core performance spaces (Opera-2000 seats, floating multipurpose theatre-1600 seats, lecture hall-450 seats) around which are clustered a variety of auxiliary spaces including the functional back-of-house, technical and administrative areas as well as libraries, workshop rooms, training and convention center, leisure and commercial spaces, which expand the cultural and educational scope of the building.



Each element of the program has its defined box-like space. These are stacked, shifted, connected and juxtaposed, to a point that the accumulation and aggregation of all these usages form a porous three-dimensional envelope. Lobbies, foyers and generous circulation spaces are freely created in between the public cultural programs and the auditoria. Although the scale and the setting are monumental, the rich array of clustered forms with its planes and voids, its positive and negative spaces and ambiguous interiority transform what could be a dauntingly large building into a multitude of engaging spaces that makes the Opera House an active and lively place for everyone.



Offices presentation

BaO architects

BaO is a Beijing-based architecture studio founded by French architect Benjamin Beller. Through research, writing, installations, architectural design, urban and strategic planning in China and abroad, BaO aims to question, investigate current global and local culture in order to articulate a holistic and challenging architectural discourse

BaO’s approach go beyond the question of design by working extensively on programs, scenarios, strategies and tactics that challenge the notion of architecture as either pure aesthetic experience or down to earth functionalism.

As a trans-national, trans-disciplinary, trans-forming practice, we keep adapting and testing new territories while advocating bold ideas and critical thinking.




KJYAO is a professional architectural practice committed to architecture research and building design. We advocate playful and rational experimentation in architecture with the aim to build for a happier society. The office actively engages with clients, consultants and end users to form a shared and open working environment dedicating to building truthfully. KJYAO was established in Beijing in 2011 by Taiwanese architect Kuo Jze Yi and is the Pd’AA associate office in China.




Pierre d’Avoine Architects is based in Central London with an international portfolio of clients, and a strong reputation for inspiring work combining conceptual ingenuity and design innovation, built to high standards, with a strong supporting commitment to research and development across the fields of construction technology, environmental sustainability, and cultural contextualism which has been widely recognized.

Pierre d’Avoine Architects works on a broad front, including urban design and landscape, commercial, retail and residential development, the design of cultural and leisure environments, as well as interiors, exhibition and furniture design. The practice has aimed to maintain a rich mixture of work in the belief that architectural thinking flourishes best over a range of different scales and types of project. Over the years the practice has developed a critical response to the conditions of contemporary global culture, informed by its sustained contacts across the world, with work in Asia, Africa, Europe as well as the Caribbean.



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