The Busan Metropolitan Opera House competition provides an opportunity not only to develop a new performing arts hub for south-eastern Korea, but also to re-consider the icon in architecture and its presence in the 21st century city. The contemporary understanding of the opera house is as a monumental object that is detached from the city, and designed to be appreciated through selected vistas. In the opposite of this, ‘Intermezzo’, designed by INDEX Architecture, seeks to adopt a language of continuity with its context. More images architects’ description after the break.
While patiently respecting the complex programmatic organization that a major performing arts centre requires to function properly, the design positions itself as an interstitial landscape occupying the fluid and ephemeral space between land and water. Ultimately, ‘Intermezzo’ aims to provide a world class opera, commercial and entertainment facility, as well as an iconic landmark operating as a catalyst in the re-connection of the urban fabric of Busan with its historical relationship to the sea.
Busan has traditionally formed the main gateway from Korea to the sea and the broader world. Although it is only the country’s second largest metropolis and only 1/5th the population of the Seoul megacity, it has played a major role in the development of Korea and its history. Busan emerged as a seat of regional power during the Gaya confederacy between 42-562 CE forming the royal burial grounds of the Gaya leaders, as well as a key trade route and cultural pathway to the islands of Japan. During the Middle Ages Busan was designated as the official trading terminus with Japan, and despite repeated invasions from across the Korea Straight, housed a large Japanese community (which was eventually settled in the Choryang-dong area adjacent to the competition site). In 1876, Busan became the first international trading port in Korea and has steadily grown to become the 5th largest in the world, handling almost 13 million containers in 2010 alone.
In addition to international trade, Busan has developed a reputation as both a capital of international business and tourism. The city has hosted major economic forums such as APEC, as well as major international sporting events including the Asian Games, FIFA World Cup, and has recently launched a bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. Busan has a number of popular city beaches and its warm summer climate attracts tourists from Korea and abroad to the areas around Haeundae and Gwangalli beaches, both of which feature a large number of high-end shopping and residential precincts.
Throughout its history and in the contemporary consciousness of the nation, Busan has become the gateway for Korea to the world – an outlook it shared by its sister cities Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro and Barcelona. The design of a new icon for its waterfront must take into account this disposition and seek to reflect through its design the unique position of Busan as a place between Korea and the world.
The proposed design draws on the operatic or instrumental convention of the ‘Intermezzo’ to inform its design concept. In the European tradition, an intermezzo or intermezzi formed an interlude or connecting piece between musical or dramatic stanza. Although often thematically or tonally different to the surrounding opera or musical performance, these pieces inevitably drew on elements of the main work to preserve the continuity of the overall performance, while offering a respite to the audience and performers. Within the context of architectural and urban design, this idea takes on particularly relevance in a location such as Busan, which has developed such a strong history and identity as a port and trade city. Busan marks the space between Korea and the world, with its urban fabric mediating this threshold between land and sea. Given Busan’s aspirations towards becoming a global destination in its right it may seem counter intuitive to propose an opera house celebrating its ‘inbetween-ness.’ However much in the same way that intermezzi such as the intermezzo for the opera Cavalleria Rustica by Pietro Mascagni or Felix Mendelssohn’s incidental pieces for A Midsummer Night’s Dream have become more famous than the main body of their respective performances, so is it expected that the proposal for the Busan Metropolitan Opera House will emerge as an icon that draws on its surroundings.
In architectural terms the design achieves through the use of a continuous landscape of the folded planes that emerges from the new island in the redevelopment district of North Port, Jung-gu. The programmatic volume requirements of a state of the art performance centre were located on the proposed island site and organized to provide logical circulatory pathways, connecting vehicle and pedestrian access to the two proposed bridges connecting the island to the broader port area. The two main theatres are positioned around a central atrium that forms an axial connection linking the city to the Korean Straight. The theatres themselves are orientated so as to provide one facing the mountainous outcrops behind on the landward side of Busan, and one facing away from the city and out to sea. Connections, pathways, views and vistas of the ocean, the city and its surrounding landscape form a network of trajectories that inform the positioning of the support program assembled around the theatres and the central concourse.
Intermezzo, as a formal proposition, is conceived from the idea that this programmatic assembly is enshrouded in a network of surface that forms a conceptual continuation of the landscape of the island, its bridges to the main land and the seafloor leading up to it. These surfaces are historical terrains insofar as they were formed through the mediation of the different environmental, programmatic and connective forces bearing down on the project. The final design operates as an animated landscape, blurring the edge between the land and the ocean, capturing water in pools and small streams, filtering daylight into its interior and projecting both light and sound back to the city of Busan. Architects: INDEX Architecture Location: Busan, South Korea Design Team: John Doyle, Laura Mártires, Edmund Carter, Ben Milbourne Status: Competition Submission Project Year: 2011 Site Area: 34,938 sqm Total GFA: 31,309 sqm