The Harbin Opera House in Harbin, China, is the winner lighting project of the 34th Annual International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD) International Lighting Design Awards – Radiance Award for Excellence.

A stunning lighting project

Harbin, China, known as “the ice city,” now houses an impressive opera house. Responding to the surrounding frozen landscape, the design team worked with the motto of “lighting the rhythm of the frozen music.” The building boasts a crystal-like transparency, blending in with nature and the topography. Therefore, the lighting designers wanted to reveal the purity and clarity of the space while enriching the visitor’s experience.

The team devised three ways of lighting the main atrium in one piece of roof, developing a hierarchy. At the lobby entrance, a “welcome mat” of light; in the middle, a super indirect light; and on the wooden shell at the end of the lobby, a vertical glow. So, all light fittings are completely hidden in the architecture, creating a pleasant rhythm of light unobstructed by technical details. The wooden shell is a focal point of the lobby; washed lighting from above gives the whole lobby a warm inviting atmosphere. On the canopy outside, spotlights were placed in slots, directing light on the ground to avoid reflection and allow people inside to see out.

Lighting details

To create a twinkling effect on the pyramidal glass roof, the designer selected a quarter of each faceted unit. Sunlight adds a twinkle to each pyramidic unit, creating different glass reflections throughout the day. At night, the filmed glass is grazed from below by LED light bars, seeming to glow from within and attracting visitor attention. Custom RGB LED fixtures are hidden behind the acrylic diamond panel and transition from starry white to warm amber. Also, they change according to the event or the seasons.

Within the smaller theater, guests can look at the exterior of the building through a panoramic window behind the stage. This seamless connection to the outdoors mimics the gleaming ripple effect of the lake outside. The gleaming ripples of light on the walls are created by narrow-beam in-ground fixtures, carefully placed at the aisles along the walls. The irregular wall texture works with the light to create drama, rhythm, and pleasing shadows.

To achieve purity in the space, it was important to designers that guests see the light and not the fixtures. The concept designer worked with a software expert and an industrial designer. Together, this team calculated the illumination of each space, while making expert recommendations. In this way, visitors can explore the beauty of the space without awareness of any lighting fixtures.

A breathtaking lighting integration and a stunning technical achievement. The lighting design could not support the architecture any better. The audacity of the design amazes.

Dongning Wang, IALD Yansong Ma
Qun Dang
Hayano Yosuke Huiying Liu
Wei Guo
Ge Zhu
Qiang Chen
Yang Chen
Xiao Xia
Cheng Zhang
Junjie Wang
Beijing United Artists Lighting Design Corp Ltd
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© Adam Mørk