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25 Years Ago: Cardiff Bay Opera House design competition

On this day 25 years ago, Zaha Hadid Architects was announced winner of the design competition for Cardiff Bay Opera House.

Blueprint Magazine (1994): “Suddenly, the subject of millennium projects has come to life. Until now competitions for cultural institutions have resulted in choices so obvious that one wonders why they were held at all. Zaha Hadid’s victory changes all that… It will be the work of an architect unlike any other (and) the most significant building by a woman on the planet.

“These facts do not in themselves make Hadid’s scheme good, but it is not just an exercise in gobsmacking novelty. She has managed to take the most rigid of architectural types, the monumental opera house, and strip it, flip it and fold it into a dazzling spatial event…

“Progressing from inside out (not that anything so straightforward is possible), Hadid’s design becomes less and less predictable. Ancillary spaces in long strips are pulled away from the body of the auditorium, leaving the latter as a freestanding object… External space is drawn in to the centre of the building and the piazza outside runs inwards and folds upwards to become the roof of the ground floor foyer. At the site’s perimeter, the building floats away from the ground.

“Like all ‘grands projets’, the building has to be a monument and Hadid’s design fulfils this duty, but she has also created what she calls ‘a new, fluid space that doesn’t rely on traditional geometry’, a virtually seamless flow within which the monumental parts of the building bob up and down.

“Throughout, there is a virtuoso interplay of object and space, openness and enclosure, solidity and lightness. Most importantly the grand scale of Cardiff Bay, the urban scale of the piazza and the smaller scale of the opera house interiors continuously interact. Nothing is allowed to sink into comfortable cliché. With these devices the opera house promises new insights into the familiar and a heightening of experience, which is what theatre ought to be about.”