Aluminium Helps Build 'The Birth of Venus'

The versatility of aluminium in construction makes it possible to create architectural works of art.
2 February, 2017
In Zhuhai, a Chinese border city and gateway to Macau, the waterfront skyline features a striking new architectural vision.
The city's opera house, which hosted its first performers in December, takes the shape of two smooth shells. From a distance, the shiny disc shapes jut into the sky with the appearance of a space-center array, but when one gets closer, the innovative shapes are clearly defined. The building draws its inspiration from classic art.
"I was standing on the shore in Zhuhai, and the first idea that came to me was the sun rising over the eastern sea. But the building needed two parts, so I thought of the moon shining over the sea," said architect Chen Keshi.
Then he remembered "The Birth of Venus" painting, a 15th-century work by Sandro Botticelli, and the scallop shell at the shoreline that is integral to the work.
Image: Wikipedia
That's when the architect envisioned an opera house that relies on the Asian moon scallop, which is familiar to local residents in the Pearl River Delta as well as the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.
Image: Baidu
So began an eight-year journey to complete the opera house, which opened in autumn of 2016. The construction saw many changes, including its aluminium exterior, which was originally designed as Italian marble. Among the many concerns about the design and its feasibility was how it would hold up to the frequent tropical cyclones of Guangdong, and even earthquakes that might potentially hit.
Ultimately, the right blend of materials and design were achieved, and construction of the USD $160 million opera house on Zhuhai's Yeli Island was complete. The two shells, one at 90 meters high and one that measures 60 meters, house separate venues. The larger one accommodates a 1,550-seat concert hall, an auditorium and a stage; it will host large-scale productions and performances, such as the symphony, ballet and live theater. On its façade, an LED lighting system will project operas live across the exterior, with waves washing across the surface with a mysterious grace similar to the aurora borealis.
The smaller shell holds a 500-seat venue designed for a more intimate audience – fashion shows and art exhibits are the idea – but it also can be used for elegant corporate and community events. The entire facility, which sits atop 57,680 square meters of reclaimed land at the waterfront, also includes a mixed-use first floor featuring drinks or dining spots, retail shopping, art galleries and related amenities.

The odyssey to completion of the aluminium-clad "Birth of Venus" project also included quite a few financial questions. Among them was whether or not the relatively small population of 1.5 million people, small at least by China's standards, will be able to support the opera house with any hope of breaking even, or if the facility will always be funded, at least in part, by government arts subsidies.
Image: Baidu
"When the sun rises in the east, it is very beautiful," the architect told Macao Magazine. "Culture equals competitiveness. Some cities are very wealthy but are not famous because they are not known for anything. Why do millions of people go to Paris and New York? It is because of culture, which is everlasting. Great Britain used to make cameras, then the Japanese took the technology from them. Germany made cars; now we Chinese make them. But culture cannot be stolen."
Banner image: Baike