Overture: Introducing Opera in the Queen City

Overture (noun):
1. an orchestral piece at the beginning of an opera, suite, play, oratorio, or other extended composition.
2. an introduction to something more substantial.
3. an approach or proposal made to someone with the aim of opening negotiations or establishing a relationship.
The project scope for this studio is a Thermal Theatre, introducing the first opera hall to the growing city of Charlotte. The site is located in the Second Ward neighborhood of Uptown Charlotte, at the corner of S. Tryon and E. Stonewall. Uptown Charlotte is largely business-oriented with a mix of educational, cultural and residential areas. To the north the site is located near several art museums, a cultural center and a theater, effectively extending an existing cultural corridor. To the south it is bordered by I-277 with views to South End. The chosen location has the ability to play a very strong role in creating a prominent gateway to Uptown and the Levine Center for the Arts and has the potential to make a very strong connection between South End and Uptown. Its design must consider the existing cultural centers and welcome the business activities that currently dominate Uptown.

Traditionally, the opera has been a stage for the rich and political elites, an exclusive place to see and be seen through the procession to the opera hall. In order to combat this view, the design goals aim to promote the interaction between the general public and the patrons of the opera. Through the elongation of the theater procession with the placement of the café and box office on the opposite edge of the site, the space in between becomes a dynamic public space for interaction. The current site lacks vegetation that could aid in passive cooling strategies. The proposal addresses this by considering building orientation in order to condition the exterior space and create unique thermal experiences. The opera house has the ability to facilitate additional cultural performances and includes exterior venue space that utilizes existing topographical features to generate a variety of thermal qualities. All of these strategies are meant to better anchor itself as a prominent activity center within the city. Through these tactics, the proposal becomes the stage and audience of cultural activity within the heart of Charlotte.

A View of the Reflection Pond

The opera, as stated before, was a place for the elites and politicians to see and be seen. The procession to the hall, as seen in the Palais Garnier in Paris, was usually along a grand staircase where many of the social interactions would happen and where the noble elites would rub elbows with the politicians in order to have their issues, needs, and concerns voiced. While times have changed, the opera procession has not. Even in contemporary opera halls, such as the Winspear Opera House in Dallas and the Oslo Opera house, still design monumental stairs in which patrons can be seen circulating around the opera hall. While there is a level of transparency that now allows those who are not attending the opera to see into opera halls, there is still relatively little interaction between the patrons and the public.


Taking this into consideration, our design follows the approach of contemporary opera house designs by allowing transparency and blurring the lines of what is public and private. In order to began to blur the lines, the site was split in half so that half of the lot was given back to the city of Charlotte as a public plaza and half was set aside for the design of the Opera Hall. A wide, monumental ramp begins the procession to the main entrance of the opera hall which gives people a place to congregate outside as there is little space to congregate with in the opera hall itself. It is here that storefront windows have the ability pivot, opening the building up to the public and the patrons, blurring what is inside and what is outside. The ramp continues up to the third level allowing access to the seating there as well as a sloped lawn, which is created by the sloped roof of the restaurant and gift shop beneath the lawn, that looks back towards the plaza and the city which is a performance in itself. The procession turns around the backside of the building and steps down past the offices and rehearsal hall to wards College Street and the Westin Hotel.

The Approach to the Opera Hall from S. Tryon and E. Stonewall


The design also calls for an internal procession that connects all of the floors within the opera hall that happens along the glass facade facing the plaza. Suspended from the roof structure, the stair ascends from the ground floor to the top floor of the opera hall, activating the facade through the movement of people, reinforcing the idea that the opera hall not only contains performances within, it becomes a performance. With the circulation along the facade of the building, catwalks or pedestrian bridges that connects to the circulation along the drum of the opera hall. Each catwalk has a bar that services the floor and crosses over at a different points allowing views to the other catwalks.


The Main Entrance


The Lobby with the Pedestrian Bridges


One of the primary goals of this project was to create a thermal theatre that creates varying degrees of Oasis’ and hot spots throughout the project through sustainable means a materials. The use of concrete for the drum of the opera hall allows for the retention of heat during the winter months as a well as the retention of the cold during the summer months as a passive heating and cooling strategy. The canopy that surrounds the building is another passive strategy that allows the sun to warm up the building in the winter due to its low angle but blocks much of the heat in the summer as the angle is much higher. The canopy shades the public plaza as well which creates various hot spots and places of oasis during the day. The plaza is landscape with trees that blocks the high traffic noise levels of the neighboring Interstate 277. The trees also act as a barrier that diffuses high winds, which passively cools the air in the summer months through shading but allows sunlight penetration in the winter. The last major landscape feature of the plaza is the large reflection pool with water gets that cool the humid, hot air in the summer. The sound of the water splashing also mitigates the surrounding traffic noise.

Review05.06_Structure Axon


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