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THE EYE OF THE STORM, OPERA HOUSE
Seoul 2005
South Korea

PROGRAM : The New Performing Arts Centre (Opera House, Concert hall and Outdoor Concert Hall)
LOCATION : The Nodeul Island in the middle of the Hangang River
COMPETITION PROMOTERS : Seoul Metropolitan Government
COMPETITION ORGANIZATION : Dong Whan Kim, Director of Culture & Art Center Development
PERSPECTIVES : Philippe Steels
“THE EYE OF THE STORM”

On the 31st december 2010, we came from Paris to attend a magnificent Corean festival on the Nodeul Island, a small artificial island located along the Hangang River, for the inauguration of the New Performing Arts Centre in Seoul. We walk on the new wide wooden pavements of the Hangang Bridge, one of the oldest bridges connecting the North and the South of the River. This bridge, true main road for pedestrians, cars and trains, bisects the Island dividing it into two approximaly eaqual halves at the west and the east.

Whereas the crowd enters into the island, a wide ribbon in levitation (made of flexible, transparent and watertight polycarbonate linen) and whose bank following the outline of the island projects on the bridge a soothing light with warm colours such as the ones of a sunset, the water of the Hangang River makes dance in its gleams the whole turning structure of the building. On both sides, luminous reeds fold up at the mercy of the wind creating when the night falls a phosphorescent sheet close to the maximal flooding water level interacting according to the movements which fluctuate on the bridge. The floodable part of the island is thus transformed into an artificial lake for sounds and lights shows. Arrived at the last arcade of the bridge, the incessant flows of pedestrians, cars and trains seem to penetrate with poetry quasi-choreographic in the centre of the new urban signal.

After the orange Moebius ring, we are in the centre of a wide glass rotunda whose walls diffract by sequences each of our paces. Behind these « miror walls », we guess the sensual and pure shapes of the Opera House and the Concert Hall. This crystalline rotunda distributes all the access on both sides of the road. Actually, wide slopes invite the car drivers to access to the parking and logistic levels, whereas 4 huge stairs lead to the roof of the building, true fifth façade, from where the open air concert hall drives in its lower curve in weightlessness on top of the road.

Whereas the orchestra is in rehearsal, we continue our walk towards the places switched by the sound of the soprano and the violins. The both performing rooms of 1500 seats each are megaliths submerging from the floor. They are located at the extremities of the island and each of them is isolated from the road by two blocks gathering together annex functions like workshops and rehearsal rooms, public sanitary, offices and technical spaces. Their double layer of concrete protects the shows from feared sounds of low frequences coming from the freeway traffic. They are very white and diffuse a extraordinary light ! The roundness of these hulls makes us think of the most beautiful ships and plays with the shadows of the linen seams which projects itself at the surface.

Axed on the longlasting development, this in between « interior/exterior » forms a long elliptical galeria which enables to regulate the internal temperature of the centre according to the climate of the seasons. This galeria is glazed on all its periphery and offers to the spectators beautiful panoramic views on the whole city of Seoul. It is a great bio-climatical walking frame planted with blood orange maples which renew by photosynthesis the contaminated air of CO2 coming from the renewal of the oxygen in the rooms.

At both ends of the island surrounded by reflecting stretches of water the main centres are located under the tiers curves of the both rooms. We access from the exterior paths in a spiral which connect them to the pedestrians paths of the bridge. A eight meters high unstable superior galeria offers an additional peripheric space of museum to show rooms according to an elliptic shifted plan.

All the Performing Arts Centre seems to be in rotation on itself. It is like the anonymous bodies of each spectator look more and more like a genuine ballet of dancers in their own walking ways ! Actually, the steel curved structure of the peripheric galeria is in maximal torsion and looks like a true cyclone turning towards the sky ! The bent arches slope in a harmonious way and are tangent to the horizon. They all connect to an ellipsoidal beam at the top of the roof and with outside shutters between them through vertical poles and intermediary ellipses providing the neccesary surface rigidity. The architect explains us that this structure has the double function to act as a structural component and as a part of a hanging system of the transparent polycarbonate linen.

Let’s change of horizon and let’s go now to the roof ! Arrived at the top of the tiers of the exterior room, we see a new landscape. The roof of both performing rooms in white concrete opens itself like cover of magic boxes to welcome bars and restaurants. The highest point is the stage cage of the opera on which in the evening classics of Corean cinema are projected in open air. As an eye of cyclone, the great open air room of 6000 seats makes us think of the roman Colysée. It is a magic place for the great popular shows ! Moreover, this genuine esplanade is protected from the wind thanks to a orange linen whose general profile follows the cornices of the both interior rooms.

The Opera House and the Concert Hall are both created on oval plans inscribed in the ellipse of the ground floor. They are studied for a reverberation time of sound between 1,6 and 1,9 second. Moreover, they belong both a morphology of acoustic adjustable boards which enables to change the corrections parameters and to obtain a listening quality adapted to different repertories. The music lovers imagine already they are listening to the National Orchestra of Corea !

Both rooms are also drawn to secure an optimal spatial flexibility offering them different possibilities of configurations ! During the philharmonic concert in the Concert Hall, all the spectators are in total osmosis with the stage. It is the plan in assymetric arena which gather each other harmoniously at 360 degree around the musicians. The ambiance is warm, quasi cosy and enables a different relation with the orchestra by having the possibility to change its point of view and its listening angle. In the Opera House, the actors are in a more frontal position in front of a continuous pit of spectators. The outline of the room as a horseshoe put the attention towards the main stage. Two lateral stages and two backstages make the system more flexible for the depth of fields, the change of scenery or rehearsal.

Futurist, ecological, structurally innovator, at the edge of the progress on a stage and acoustic level, the new Performing Arts Centre is a concentrate of performances and a new dynamic architectural icon which contributes from now on to project a high cultural image of the city of Seoul all over the world.

COPYRIGHT : VINCENT CALLEBAUT ARCHITECTURES