Santiago Calatrava’s £82m opera house in Valencia is a symphony in concrete and glass: the largest auditorium in Europe and the centrepiece of an arts and sciences complex designed by the local virtuoso
At the new £82m opera house in Valencia, Santiago Calatrava has put on the one of the most virtuoso performances of his life. But then, he is playing in his home city, and has much to be proud of: the 1706-seat auditorium is reputedly the largest in Europe and is the culmination of the Spanish architect–engineer’s £270m City of Arts and Sciences development.
What he has come up with is as much a feat of sculpture as of architecture and engineering. Its extraordinary rounded cut-away form evokes, among other things, a Star Wars helmet and a space-age cruise ship with a spinnaker sail billowing over the prow and rows of portholes along either side. In more practical terms, the building is sheathed in a hemispherical concrete shell that is cut away at front, back, sides and top to expose the tiered inner structure. Swooping over the entire assembly is a huge elongated leaf frond, or spinnaker, that culminates in a gravity-defying point. The smooth, white finishes of the concrete and the shadows created by the cutaway forms achieve an intense sculptural effect in the bright Mediterranean sunshine.
As well as the 1706-seat auditorium, the 44,100 m2 building packs in a 380-seat chamber music hall and a 1520-seat audiovisual venue. These auditoriums are encircled by layers of promenade decks that are open to the public and offer glimpses of the city.
The building sits at the end of a row of five Calatrava buildings that make up the City of Arts and Sciences. Its closest neighbour is an Imax cinema, which shares similar monumental, hemispherical forms in concrete and glass.
Recalling his first involvement in the project, Calatrava says he won an architectural competition for a telecoms tower in 1991, but the regional government switched the brief to an arts and sciences complex in 1996. The complex transforms Valencia into a cultural centre to rival Bilbao, Barcelona or even Sydney.
“It was very moving to me,” says Calatrava, “that this story culminates not with a burst of microwaves emitted from a tower, but with our citizens gathering in a new public space, to be surrounded with the music they love.”
Client Valencia regional authority
Architect, structural and services engineer Santiago Calatrava
Acoustician Alfonso Garcia
Contractors Acciona, Dragados