designMENA Summit: Janus Rostock on Dubai Opera

Creating a performance space in the heart of a public realm where the audience members themselves are part of the spectacle was the subject of an address by Atkins’ Janus Rostock at this year’s designMENA Summit.

The presentation – on the subject of the globally-acclaimed Dubai Opera House – was one of the highlights of the event, held at the Conrad, Dubai, which attracted the region’s top interior designers and architects to hear presentations, debates and discussion across the entire spectrum of design and build.

Rostock, who joined Atkins in 2006, said the company was first awarded the project in 2012.

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“It was a short – but very intense – period to take the project through to its conclusion,” he said.

“The masterplan for the district was the key as we had to integrate the design into it. The site is in the middle of a large number of towers but there was no public realm. We wanted to open up the area and so create a plaza and a performance space.

“The challenge we faced was – how to create a cultural icon in a place which has little in terms of reference?”

The design team – which Rostock emphasised involved many of the staff at Atkins – came up with the idea of basing the building on a sea-going dhow as this vessel was an important part of the heritage that established Dubai as a trading hub in previous centuries.

“For inspiration we looked to [the original hear of Dubai] The Creek and although the design references the dhow it does not do so in too literal a way.”

The building is designed to be extremely transparent, with 1,270 individual glass panes with 98% of the façade glazed, so the surrounding urban environment is visible to concert goers when they are not in the auditorium.

“The whole theatre experience starts when you buy the ticket,” said Rostock. “You then get ready and make your way to the venue. There, at the Dubai Opera, you become a performer for the neighbourhood as you go along the plaza and into the building itself. There are lots of opportunity for ‘people watching’ in the design.”

Rostock explained how the seating can retract and convert the concert arena into a ballroom.

“Half-way through the project the client said he wanted the building to double up as a banqueting hall and we said no, no, no, that can’t be done,” he explained. “But he then said ‘if you can’t do it I’ll find someone who can. So we made it work”

The design allows for the rows of seats to retract into the ground using technology more usually employed in lifts on an aircraft carrier. The configurations of the stage can also be altered to give an intimate space or open the area up so the audience and the performers are occupying the same space.

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