As the fifth largest city in China, Guangzhou claims a stunningly singular centerpiece for its cultural development: Guangzhou Opera House located on Haixinsha Square, overlooking the Pearl River, opening access to the riverside and dock areas.

Two boulder-like asymmetric volumes, stretch forth with that space-age fluidity that has become Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid’s signature style. The smaller of the two contains a 400-seat multifunction hall for rehearsal rooms and other auxiliary facilities, while the larger a 1,800 seat grand theater, entrance lobby and lounge. A mix of age-old bespoke methods and high-tech skills went into the construction of this main steel structure: its 59 steel joints of all differ from each another by sand-cast by techniques used for a mediaeval bell foundry. In contrast, they were assembled with great accuracy using laser and GPS positioning systems.

The project has taken over five years to produce, though Hadid has likely had it mulling in mind for decades, “I first traveled to Guangzhou in 1981 - at the beginning of my career - and the contrast to the Guangzhou we see today could not be greater,” she says.

As Hadid’s first permanent building in China, the Guangzhou Opera House joins a larger master plan of civic and commercial projects, acting as both catalyst and figurehead of Guangzhou’s cultural development distinguishing it as one of Asia’s cultural centers.

The project comes to fruition at a thrilling time in history. Zaha Hadid explains: “The dynamism of China's development is breathtaking; throughout the entire country, you can sense the enthusiasm, ambition, and boundless energy of the upcoming generation. It is very rewarding experience to see the completed Opera House and I am very grateful to the city of Guangzhou. There are very few places in the world today where architects can find such forward looking, enthusiastic clients with such passion for innovation.”

Of particular note (to opera aficionados) Zaha Hadid Architects collaborated with acousticians Marshall Day Acoustics and theatre consultants to not only integrate the latest acoustic technology but also, more specifically accommodates both Western and Chinese opera styles, which have radically different acoustic requirements. “With western opera the focus is on natural acoustics, whereas in Chinese opera, the drama and story have priority and audio equipment is used in almost every occasion,” explains Hadid “…All the three acoustic parameters - reverberation, sound pressure (volume) and clarity - need to be balanced, and we worked very closely with Marshall Day to optimize the performance of the space. One example; we molded dips into the glass-fiber reinforced gypsum (GFRG) panels towards the front of the auditorium where it required the sound pressure be toned down. The deeper and closer together these dips are, the more effective they are at toning down the pressure. For western productions, the space is designed to ensure perfectly balanced acoustics with concealed lighting and audio equipment that can be revealed as needed.”

Such is the orchestrated seamlessness that is conveyed especially in the external structure. “Like pebbles in a stream smoothed by erosion, the Guangzhou Opera House sits in perfect harmony with its riverside location,” says Zaha Hadid Architects of the inspiration for the soft lines, gleaned from river valleys and the way they are transformed by erosion to conceptually engage the principles of geology and topography.

“A poetic analogy,” Hadid simply states. “So when designing the building, we were not thinking so much of metaphor, but more in terms of analogy - the landscape analogy - where features of a natural landscape are expressed within the architecture.”

With a soft launch in May 2010 for the National Arts Festival, and an inaugural performance by Akram Khan, a British-born Bengali contemporary-dance sensation, in February 2011, Southern China welcomes its most important venue for performance art that is a vision of serenity.