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Valencia Opera House, El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía, Spain




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In October 2005 the Valencia Opera House was officially opened by Queen Sofia of Spain. It is named for the Queen as 'el Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía'. The opera house was designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava who was actually born in Valencia.

For Calatrava, the completion of the opera house is the culmination of 14 years' work. The architect commented "Because of the time spent, its size and because it involves music, this project is the most intense and the one I've devoted most time on, so far. It represents a correlation between spectator, musician and artist".

The actual building is a masterpiece of modern architecture and descriptions of it have varied from 'a blend of seagoing vessel and spacecraft' to 'some sort of prehistoric trilobite' or a 'giant warrior's helmet'.

"The roof or 'feather plume' consists of two 'shells' which embrace the building on the outside."

Whatever the perception of the building there is no doubt it will become a symbol of the city of Valencia just as the Sydney opera house in Australia has.

In the past Valencia – Spain's third-largest city – has lagged behind Madrid and Barcelona for art and architecture, but the new Palace of Arts will certainly give the Guggenheim in Bilbao a run for its money. The building cost an estimated €120m to construct.

VALENCIA OPERA HOUSE INTERIOR

The opera house is actually part of a larger complex mostly designed by the same architect (Santiago Calatrava) called the City of Arts and Sciences (la Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències), a €400m complex, constructed on the old dried-up Turia riverbed featuring a planetarium and a science museum.

The Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía has three different halls: including a main performance space (1,800 seats) that can act as a symphony orchestra concert hall or a ballet and theatre stage as well as opera venue. Another of the halls, the 'Aula Magistral' (master class room), has a capacity of 400 spectators and is designed for conferences, lectures, roundtables and children's theatre.

The Upper Auditorium (amphitheatre) has a capacity for more than 1,700 and can host special musical events with optical effects, artistic videos and pop music. The building is capable of seating up to 4,000 people in three different halls (three events can occur simultaneously).

VALENCIA OPERA HOUSE DESIGN

The setting of the building is all important, as it stands in over 87,000m² of gardens with 10,000m² of reflecting pools and interlinked surrounding paths. The building itself is over 70m in height and has a total floor area of around 40,000m².

The roof or 'feather plume' is the most structurally spectacular detail, 230m in length and consisting of two 'shells' which embrace the building on the outside. These are constructed of laminated steel with an approximate weight of 3,000t and feature delicate mosaic ceramic work (trencadís) on the outside, which along with the white concrete gives the outer surface of the building a daytime and night time luminosity. The roof is held up by two supports, one at its western end and the other in the midsection, with the eastern end of the roof totally projecting.

"The opera house was designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava."

The building, taking into account the curved shapes which give it its lenticular form, is 163m in length by 87m wide. It was designed with the dual intention of acting as a multi-hall auditorium and creating a striking urban landmark for the city.

The opera house resembles a ship with round portals, or the cracked shell of an egg in which the main auditorium itself is the yolk.

The most eye catching features are two narrow sheaths that seem to billow atop the oval base like an abstract feather or ribbon blown upward by the wind. Calatrava's innovative design will also allow spectators to watch rehearsals through glass panels and enjoy the view from the boat-like opera house's 'decks.' The nautical theme ties in very well with the siting of the building in the Turia riverbed and its closeness to the ocean.

CONSTRUCTION

The developer of the building was Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias S.A. The construction contractors were Dragados and Necso and the stage engineering was the responsibility of Waagner-Biro Bühnentechnik AG. The acoustics were the remit of Alfonso García (García B.B.M. S.L.).

The construction required over 77,000m³ of concrete, 275,000m³ of earth movement, 1,750 linear meters of piles, 38,500m² of granite, 20,000m² of 'trencadís' (fractured ceramic tile mosaic), 3,360m² of glass, 20,000,000kg of structural corrugated steel and 10,000,000kg of structural steel. There are also 1,450 doors in the building.

BUILDING SPACES IN DETAIL

The Main Hall (seating 1,800) is the core around which the building generates both its formal and structural aspects. It is located within the structural support of the building created by curved surfaces and interior boxes of white concrete.

The meeting foyer lies around the main hall providing a perimeter route to access the rooms beside the hall; spiral ramp staircases mean that there are exits from the hall at different heights. The longitudinal section is generated through the sight lines of the audience towards the stage and the opera boxes are set out at four different heights on the vertical faces.

The Master Class Room is located on the western side of the building. Access to it is by the main side stairs which converge on the building's different terraces. Over this hall there is a cafeteria and below this are the dressing rooms. This room is specially designed for live performances by small music ensembles and can be used for holding conferences.

"The Upper Auditorium has a capacity for more than 1,700 and can host special musical events with optical effects."

The Amphitheatre has seating for 1,500; its facilities include advanced sound, cinema and video systems for live performances and shows, and for projecting cultural events on large screens, including the opera performance in the main hall at the same time.

There are also a number of other rooms necessary for staging productions. These include assembly and repair workshops for carpentry, mechanics, lighting / sound and wardrobe. There are also storage areas for scenery, flats, stage props and wardrobes, as well as storage for the sets of the different companies using the facility.

There are also various types of rehearsal room, such as joint rehearsal rooms for song, dance or orchestra. These areas are connected to the dressing rooms, rest areas and cafeteria. In the private area, there are offices for general administration, artistic and technical direction, large rehearsal rooms, stage production room, VIP dressing rooms, individual dressing rooms for soloists and dressing rooms for extras, choir and orchestra.

Front elevation of the Valencia Opera House The front elevation of the Valencia Opera House.
Roof structure of the Valencia Opera House The roof structure is laminated steel clad with concrete and mosaic tile.
Main perfromance hall of the Valencia Opera House The opera house's main performance hall.
Inauguration ceremony of the Valencia Opera House The Valencia Opera House inauguration ceremony.
Valencia Opera House roof design The feather plume structure of the opera house's roof.