Top 4 of Extraordinary Buildings

Top 4 of Extraordinary Buildings

Whether you are an Architecture lover, professional or just curious about the story behind the many buildings that surround us, you may find our edition of the most extraordinary buildings in the world interesting. This month, we are interested in 4 opera houses, that are considered the most wonderful and beautiful ones in the world. Discover or re-discover them now! 

1. Sydney Opera House by Jørn Utzon 

sydney opera house building
Source photo: By Bernard Spragg. NZ from Christchurch, New Zealand – Sydney Australia., CC0,

The Sydney Opera House is a multi-venue performing arts center located in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. It is one of the 20th century’s most famous and distinctive buildings

The project’s actors 

The opera was designed by the Danish Architect Jørn Utzon, who won, in 1957, the international competition to design a national opera house for Sydney’s Bennelong Point (Facts: There were 233 entries, representing Architects from 32 countries). The building was completed by an Australian architectural team headed by Peter Hall. The Structural Engineer on this project was Ove Arup & Partners, a British multinational professional services firm headquartered in London. 

The design & construction

The construction started in 1959 and was completed in 1973, with an opening and inauguration of the premises on the 20th of October 1973. The Sydney Opera House is a modern expressionist design with a series of large precast concrete “shells”, each composed of sections of a sphere, forming the roofs of the structure, set on a monumental podium1

You may ask yourself why the project was not completed by Utzon himself? 

Let’s go back to 1965, when the Sydney Opera House was under construction. As the official website of the Sydney Opera House tells us, Davis Hughes, Minister of Works at that time, began questioning Utzon’s designs, schedules and cost estimates. It cost to Utzon to be forced to withdraw as chief architect in February 1966, as Hughes stopped paying him. 

Protests and marches were going through Sydney’s streets to demand Utzon’s reinstalment as Architect of the project. However, in April 1966, it is Architect Peter Hall that was assigned to design the Opera House’s interiors. 

The story does not stop here! Utzon was re-engaged in 1999, more than 20 years after, to develop a set of Design Principles. 

Jørn Utzon, in 2002, about his Design Principles: My job is to articulate the overall vision and detailed design principles for the site, and for the form of the building and its interior. 

The recognition & awards

Jørn Utzon received the Pritzker Architecture Prize, architecture’s highest honor, in 2003. It is the same year that the Opera House celebrated its 30th birthday. 

There is no doubt that the Sydney Opera House is his masterpiece. It is one of the great iconic buildings of the 20th century, an image of great beauty that has become known throughout the world – a symbol for not only a city but a whole country and continent. 

Pritzker Prize’s citation

1: Description founded on Architectuul.comSaut de page 

2. Palais Garnier by Charles Garnier

palais garnier building
Source photo: By Juanedc from Zaragoza, España – Academie Nationale de Musique, CC BY 2.0,

The Palais Garnier or Opéra Garnier is an opera house at Place de l’Opéra in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, France. By so far, it is the oldest build we are going to present in a Top of Extraordinary Buildings’ edition. It is also one of Paris’ most visited monuments. 

The history goes back to 1858, following the Orsini’s assassination attempt on Napoleon III.  For the safety of Emperor Napoleon III and because he wanted to mark his passage in the architecture of Paris and build a sumptuous hall to his glory1, he demanded the construction of what we know now as the Palais Garnier. The construction started in August 1862 and was completed and opened the 5 January 1875.

The project’s actors

It is on 30 of December 1960 that the Second Empire of Emperor Napoleon III officially announced an architectural design competition for the design of the new opera house. There were two phases to the competition and Architect Charles Garnier’s project was one of the 170 others submitted in the first phase to be selected. Garnier’s project was awarded the 5th place prize and became one of the 7 finalists selected for the second phase. 

It was on 29 May 1861 that Garnier’s project was selected for its “rare and superior qualities in the beautiful distribution of the plans, the monumental and characteristic aspect of the facades and sections2

The design & construction

The design and plans of Charles Garnier are representative of the Napoleon III style. What does this style mean? As we can see in the book Caractéristiques des styles by Robert Ducher, the style is highly eclectic and include elements from the Baroque, the classicism of Palladio, and Renaissance architecture blended together.  


2: Quoted and translated in Mead 1991

3. Harbin Opera House by Ma Yansong 

harbin opera house building
Source photo: By Pressimad – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The Harbin Opera House, also known as the Harbin Grand Theatre, is a multi-venue performing arts center in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, China. Harbin is a UNESCO-listed “City of Music”, it is the city that hosts the renowned annual Harbin Summer Music Concert and the metropolis where China’s first ever orchestra was established. The Harbin Opera House is the centerpiece of Habrin’s Cultural Island. This Cultural Island is arts hub that include the Harvin Labor Recreation Center and Harbin Great Square

The construction of this fabulous center started in April 2011 and were completed with an opening and inauguration in 2015

The project’s actors

The story began in 2010 for the prestigious Harbin Opera House that is compared to the Sydney Opera House by CNN1MAD Architects won the international open competition for Harbin Cultural Island, the desire of the clients was this following: to design a new cultural landmark for the city of Harbin, to include two performance venues2

It is the founder and Architect Ma Yansong that design the structure. 

The design & construction

There is a lot to say about the design of this opera house! As we can all observe, the architectural form of the grand theatre is a continuation of the natural environment of the Cultural Island at it becomes part of the landscape, like mentioned by ArchDailyMa Yansong wanted its snow-white structure to be the opposite of modern landmark buildings in Chinese cities. His envision of the Harbin Opera House is split in two things: be both a tremendous performance venue, as well as a dramatic public space that embodies the integration of human, art and the city identity, while synergistically blending with the surrounding nature3

About the construction, it is interesting to know that a building like the Harbin Opera House could not have been made a decade ago. Thanks to new technologies, such as the construction app GAMMA AR, many buildings are more easily built these days. Here, a combination of technological and engineering leaps, computer wizardry and fearless deep-pocketed clients has meant that now, for the first time, architects are able to give free-rein to their wildest imaginations4

The recognition & awards

The Harbin Opera House received lots of recognition reflected by 3 prestigious awards:
– ArchDaily 2016 Building of the Year Award
– WAN Performing Spaces Award 2016
– 2017 IALD Award





4. Guangzhou Opera House by Zaha Hadid

Guangzhou opera house building
Source photo: By Mr a — Own Work, CC BY 3.0, 

The Guangzhou Opera House is an opera house located in Guangzhou, People’s Republic of China. The opera is the biggest performing center in southern China and is one of the biggest theatres in the nation alongside with Beijing’s National Centre for the Performing Arts and Shangai’s Shangai Grand Theatre. The construction started in January 2005 and was inaugurated the 9th of May, 2010.  

The project’s actors

It was in April 2002 that an international architectural competition was launched. Coop Himmelb(l)auRem Koolhaas and Zaha Hadid each will produced detailed designs1. It is the British-Iraqui Architect Zaha Hadid and her “double pebble” design that was announced winner of the competition in November 2002. The Guangzhou Opera House is the first Chinese project of the first woman winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize

“The Guangzhou Opera House project is a landmark of my architectural career, while my experiences in China since the 1980s have also been seminal to my art creation.” 

Zaha Hadid about the project

The design & construction

By leaving such a project to an innovative and creative woman like Zaha Hadid, the promise to build an original opera that fits to the environment is complete! The Architect leave her signature style with a “twin boulder” design. The structure is conceived as two rocks washed away by the Pearl River 

The design interplay between architecture and nature with an open access to the riverside and dock areas, which create a new dialogue with the emerging town2




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