Could Southern China’s new cultural beacon eclipse the Sydney Opera House?

Sydney’s official Chinese “sister city” Guangzhou commissioned the design of Darling Harbour’s tranquil Chinese Garden of Friendship for the 1988 bicentennial celebrations. But with Guangzhou’s new state-of-the-art opera house now open to the public and boasting superior acoustic planning to that of the Sydney Opera House, are the sister cities set to become sibling rivals?

Designed and constructed over the past eight years, Guangzhou Opera House and performing arts complex is one of the major triumphs of award-winning Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid, whose firm is also responsible for the Beethoven Concert Hall in Bonn, the New Dance and Music Centre in The Hague, and the JS Bach Chamber Music Hall in Manchester. Hadid’s practice is renowned for strikingly contemporary yet naturalistic forms, as seen in the two-boulder structure of the Guangzhou building and in projects as innovative as the Chanel Mobile Art Pavillion, which has toured to Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York and Paris.

Hadid’s team worked closely with acousticians from the Melbourne-based Marshall Day firm to ensure that the 1,800-seat Guangzhou hall caters for both Western and Chinese opera, two artforms with vastly different requirements in terms of vocal projection.

The venue, which will stage more than 200 shows a year, officially opened its doors on February 24. The debut performance was a contemporary dance production by British-Bengali Akram Khan, whose fluid gestures and East-meets-West approach complemented the aesthetic of Guangzhou’s new architectural marvel.

Overlooking the Pearl River, it is the largest performing arts centre in South China, described by Hadid’s firm as “a lasting monument to the New Milennium”. It also looks to ancient design principles and Zen philosophy, the flowing exterior inspired by traditional Chinese gardens like the one Guangzhou gifted Sydney.