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Cardiff Bay Opera House

  • Cardiff, Wales
  • 1994 – 1996
  • Cardiff Bay Opera House Trust
  • Competition / Research
  • 25000m2
  • Auditorium: 1900 Seats

Our concept for the Cardiff Bay Opera House achieves simultaneity of two typically exclusive paradigms in modern design: monument and space. The project takes part in the continuous building mass, giving shape to the Oval Basin Piazza. At the same time, the building projects a strong figurative landmark against the waterfront.

The dichotomy of the typical perimeter block externally shaping a larger public urban space while enclosing a secluded internal space is dissolved into a continuum between the two. This is achieved by three complementary moves. First, the raising of the perimeter and second, the opening up of the perimeter at the corner pointing at the pier head and revealing the expressed volume of the auditorium as the main solid figure within the perimeter of the site. Finally, it is achieved through the continuation of the public urban space by means of extending the plaza with a gentle slope into the site, establishing a new ground plane over the main foyer areas.

Thus, the project provides a raised plaza suitable for outdoor performances and offering an enhanced vista back into the Inner Harbour and Bay.

The building concept is based on the architectural expression of the hierarchy between serviced and servicing spaces: the auditorium and other public and semi-public performance and rehearsal spaces spring like jewels from a band of rationally lined-up support accommodations. This band is then wrapped around the perimeter of the site like an inverted necklace, where all the jewels turn towards each other creating a concentrated public space between each other, accessible to the public from the centre while serviced from the back around the perimeter.

This central space is experienced from the courtyard open to the sky, as well as from the foyer areas under the raised ground floor. The auditorium and the main rehearsal studios penetrate this floor. Cuts in this plane mark the two axes crossing the space from the two main entrances: the main pedestrian entrance from the Oval Basin Piazza and the concourse entrance with drop-off from Pier head Street.


Zaha Hadid Architects


Zaha Hadid with Patrik Schumacher, Brian Ma Siy, Edgar Gonzales

Design Team

Wendy Ing, Paola Sanguinetti, Nunu Luan, Douglas Grieco, Graham Modlen, Woody Yao, Paul Brislin, Voon Yi Wong, Simon Koumjian, Anne Save de Beaurecueil, David Gomersall, Nicola Cousins


Anne Minors, Theatre Projects

Quantity Surveyor

Brett Butler-Tillyard

Model Makers

Ademir Volic, James Wink


Richard Cowell, Nigel Cogger / Arup Acoustics

Structural Engineers

Jane Wernick, Colin Jackson / Ove Arup and Partners


Simon Hancock / Ove Arup and Partners


Edward Woodman