The Pearl Busan Opera

The architecture of this project oscillates between historic lineage and the most advanced contemporary atmospheres. Advanced computational techniques collide with romantic desires to produce an elegant space for the performance of operas, historic as well as novel ones. 


The entire project oscillates between protective layers and programmatic elements. The outmost protective layer creates a connection between the island and the urban landmass. It also incorporates the entire back of the house area. Nested within this volume is the main attraction: The Opera house. The house itself is organized in layers. On the one side to provide the audience chamber with excellent sound insulation, on the other hand, it allows us to create an effective structure for the ovular shape of the building as well as a clearly organized circulation for the front as well as the back of the house.

The Plinth

The curvilinear gestures are based on ellipses, this concept is applied in a rigorous fashion all over the project, from the basic form of the Opera house itself to the underlying plinth housing workshops, wardrobes, etc to the bridges connecting the opera island to the landmass. The swirling nature of the bridges and walkways invite the visitors not only to connect to the opera but to experience the promenade circulating the building. To this extent, it is possible to incorporate a manifold of the program within the plinth of the opera such as shopping, restaurants, and conference areas. The plinth itself includes an atoll, which allows the experience of the seaside like on a tropic island protected by shallow waters. The plinth also serves as a protective measure for the opera, as it forms an effective protection wall towards typhoons and possible Tsunami.

The Bridges

The elegantly swirling bridges and walkways, invite visitors to follow, in a natural fashion the meticulously designed circulation patterns of the project. Moving from the park on the landside, to the opera on the island appears as a natural part of the entire event. To experience an evening in the opera also includes the approach to the building.  This approach was used as part of the entire design agenda: The closer you get to the opera, the higher the articulation of the space becomes. The bridges are kept on a low amount of articulation, only joints and gaps necessary for the expansion and contraction of the bridges are visible. Once standing in front of the Pearl several connection bridges flow into the interior of the lobby. 

The Lobby

The bridges clearly mark the entrance to the building. Once in the Lobby, the visitor perceives an increased level of articulation of the space. The rich opulence of historic opera buildings of the Baroque and Historian era of the 19th-century echoes in this space in a contemporary mood. Whilst the building appears from the outside in neutral white and only sparks here and there is gold, the lobby takes the visitor on a trip to romantic notions of color, with gold as means of expression connecting the architecture of this building with the historic lineage of opera design.

The Audience Chamber

The highlight however is the audience chamber itself. Following the concept of increasing the articulation, the deeper you go into the building, the audience chamber is the heart and the crown jewel of the Pearl – the new Busan Opera House.

The chamber was meticulously explored in terms of acoustic qualities. All the tiers are formed according to their reflective qualities in the space. Special attention was given to the wall articulations and the position of all the arches and loops to provide for excellent acoustics and undisturbed visibility. One example: The curvature of the panels on top of the stage was chosen in accordance with the necessity of reflection from the orchestra pit exactly underneath it. The voluptuous nature of the space becomes part of the opera experience, which includes before the play, during the play, the pause, and after the play. The lavish, opulent form of the audience chamber includes elements in line with the history of opera. One characteristic element of this interior is the chandelier. Once more an element of history is exploited for its qualities in a contemporary architecture environment. This line of thought is also applied in the second performance area which is accessible via the main lobby, on top of the opera. This allows for direct access to the roof garden. The roof garden makes an excellent outdoor area for the pause, with a spectacular view over the entire Busan Bay and the sea. On summer nights it can serve as an outside performance area, making it possible to recreate outdoor performances in the tradition of Versailles or the Viennese court. The formation of the roof garden as well serves the acoustic quality of outdoor performances. Both performance spaces were developed together with one of the world-leading acoustic engineers, to make sure that the acoustic qualities of the audience chambers are on the highest possible standards. The high articulation of the space is crucial in terms of creating an excellent diffuse sound within the space of the audience chamber. A fact that is widely known due to the analysis of, for example, the Wiener Musikvereinssaal, a highly articulated performance space from the Historian era.  Additionally, the design incorporates flying balconies. These flying balconies allow for better reflective nature of the back wall of the chamber, the gap between the back wall and the balcony results in a better sound, due to the reflection from the back.


The computational design techniques used in this design provide the designer with the ability to simulate environmental pressures on the building. Also in this case a series of analyses provided us with criteria of decision for the position of the building as well as the usage of prevailing winds in order to reduce the necessity for artificial air conditioning. The two main elements, the plinth, and the opera building form a Venturi wing which allows compressing the air in the underbelly section of the house and distributes this pressure all over the house to provide for fresh air. The advantage of this system is to avoid mechanical measures to pump air through the building, which on the one side reduce the energy consumption of the building, and on the other reduce the risk for disturbing noise inside the audience chamber.

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