Pure Essence in Winspear Opera Houseby Foster + Partners

From the architect. The new Winspear Opera House in Dallas redefines the essence of a opera house for the twenty first century, breaking down barriers to make opera more accessible for a wider audience.

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Courtesy of Foster + Partners

Located in Dallas Texas the Winspear Opera House was designed by Foster + Partners under Pritzker prize-winning architect Norman Foster and Senior Design Partner Spencer de Grey. The realisation of the entire builiding and design process was, in a grand way, made possible by a $42-million donation from Margot and Bill Winspear, for whom the complex is named. It was constructed specifically for performances of opera and musical theatre, with equipped stages for ballet performances, as well as other forms of dance. The facility is the home of The Dallas Opera and the Texas Ballet Theatre where a broad range of cultural performances can be seen, such as music, dance, Broadway shows, concerts and lectures.


One of the main features of the Opera House is the Annette and Harold Simmons Signature Glass Façade that arises to the full 60-foot height of the building and folds around it creating a transparent barrier between the opera house and the surrounding Performance Park. The translucent façade provides a mesmerising view from within the Opera House of down town Dallas and parts of Uptown.

In response to the Dallas climate, the Grand Portico creates shade over three acres of the Performance Park as well as creating a direct communication between inside and outside by intensifying the transparency. Under the shade a new area for visitors and nearby residents was created to get together and relax. The goal of the environmental strategy was to create a major new public space for Dallas.

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Courtesy of Foster + Partners

The Grand Porticos orthogonal grid was developed by Flora Street. The strict angles were arranged to follow the motion of the sun and block most direct sunlight on the façade thus creating a cooler micro climate around the building and drastically improving the energetic efficiency of the Winspear Opera House.

Under the canopy there is the Annette Strauss Artists’ Square, an open air performance space for an audience of 5000, as well as a smaller outdoor performance space with a café terrace and the main entrance with access to the parking garage. Together with Sammons Park these spaces are an important part of the project that connect it to the city at an urban scale.

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Courtesy of Foster + Partners

The inviting open space winds around the rich red glass drum of the 2,200-seat concert hall. The Margaret McDermott Performance Hall was designed with an environmentally friendly concious and it represents a 21st century interpretation of the traditional opera house and sets a contemporary standard against which subsequent opera houses need to be measured by.

The passage from the Grand Plaza to the auditorium was executed to heighten the drama of attending a performance. The grand staircase, that flows from one side to the other around the drum, connects all the lobby spaces and also provides a zone where the audience can stop, discuss and contemplate.

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Courtesy of Foster + Partners

A feel of intimacy is created within the Auditorium with the breathtaking vertical stacking of its seating balconies around a horseshoe plan putting the audience as close as possible to the stage. The dramatic design and the feel of closeness are further re-enforced with the choice of used materials, the accentuated white-gold balcony fronts contrasting to the rich dark red interior. The acoustics, designed by Bob Essert of Sound Space Design, are also enhanced by the compactness of the auditorium.

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Courtesy of Foster + Partners

A essential design feature of the Auditorium is the 318-rod chandelier located inside the performance hall, named The Moody Foundation Chandelier. It is shaped as a inverted cone with 318 acrylic rods hanging 50 feet bellow the ceiling. Previous to each performance the Moody Chandelier towers into the ceiling followed by an exclusively adapted piece “The Light” by American composer Philip Glass. Once pulled up into the ceiling, it leaves the effect of a star lit night with each rod twinkling as a star. The chandelier can be lit in any colour as each rod is illuminated by three primary coloured LEDs.

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Chandelier Grid. Image via Archdaily.com

The final piece of the auditorium was completed in 2009 when Guillermo Kuitca, a famous Argentinian artist, was commissioned to design the stage curtain. The curtain design shows an abstract interpretation of the seating plan for the Winspear’s Margaret McDermott Performance Hall.

Courtesy of Foster + Partners

The Winspear Opera House, with the Grand Plaza as a fundamental piece of the entire design, references the urban grid of Dallas. The covered public space creates shade over squares of lawn and flowering with the Donor Pool as the focal point. This black granite water installation lists the names of donors who made the building possible and thus helped reviving  the Dallas Arts District by bringing to life the heart of it, the Winspear Opera House.

Architects : Foster + Partners

Location : 500, 2403 Flora St, Dallas, TX 75201, United States

Project Year : 2009

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