Placido Domingo opens Dubai's boat-shaped Opera House

Credit: Atkins
We had a very special opportunity to transmit Dubai Opera’s inherent spirit and energy well beyond the venue itself, and this will add vibrancy across the public realm
– Janus Rostock

Spanish tenor Placido Domingo will tonight (31 August) officially open the nautically-themed new Dubai Opera House, with developer Emaar stating the venue will rival the Sydney Opera House for cultural impact.

The singer, known as “the King of Opera”, will give the very first performance at the configurable 2,000 seat venue, which will host theatre, concerts, art exhibitions, opera, orchestra, film, sports events and seasonal programmes.

Architecture studio Atkins were inspired by Dubai’s maritime history – specifically Arabian sailing vessels – for their design. The ‘bow’ of the structure contains Dubai Opera’s main stage, orchestra and seating areas, as well as a sky garden and rooftop restaurant. The elongated ‘hull’ area features the waiting areas for spectators, a taxi-drop off area, and parking amenities.

“Trading vessels have played their part in introducing culture and ideas to the city and they're part of the reason Dubai is so welcoming and culturally diverse today,” said design director Janus Rostock. “We looked into Dubai's heritage and traditions for inspiration to find an architectural language which would celebrate the city's past, as well as supporting its future.

“This theme resonated strongly with our client and it has resulted in a building which is very much embedded in the place, culture and history of the emirate.”

Facing Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, the wider opera district will eventually feature luxury hotels and residential areas, a retail plaza, waterfront promenades, recreational spaces and parks.

A key consideration in the building’s design was its impact on the surrounding neighbourhood. The foyer will be very visible through special anti-reflective glass, transforming theatre-goers into performers for the local community by blurring the lines between the interior and the plaza.

“We had a very special opportunity to transmit Dubai Opera’s inherent spirit and energy well beyond the venue itself, and this will add vibrancy across the public realm,” said Rostock.

The biggest challenge of the project was the innovative configurable elements, that can change the size and shape of the interior venues depending on the needs of the performers. This is achieved with a number of moving floors, walls, stages and ceilings.

Richard Smith, Atkins’ technical director, said: “Dubai Opera’s shape and the stringent theatrical design requirements needed our building services engineers to use four types of advanced virtual modelling to predict the performance of the building and its systems and to optimise the design solutions.

“In building services terms, this is a really complex project which demanded outstanding teamwork and technical ability to deliver.”

Emaar have previously said they want the opera house to rival its famous Sydney rival. The company has set its sights on positioning Dubai at the forefront of modern leisure design. Among the projects it is developing for the emirate are The Tower by Santiago Calatrava – which is expected to be the world’s tallest building when completed.