Lyon Opera House

  • Lyon, France
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Located in a prestigious site, the Opera, a veritable contemporary landmark, will turn the City Hall district into the focal point of Lyon, silhouetted against the sky when viewed from the River Rhone, like the glass roof of the Grand Palais seen from the Seine. It will be simple and monumental: its monumentality will derive from the semicylindrical glass arch that doubles the height of the existing building; its simplicity will stem from the homogeneous treatment of the glass louvers forming a barrel vault.


This vocabulary aims to strengthen the identity of the city by creating a new urban symbol. The pure semicylindrical form may be seen as a complement to the pyramidal Credit Lyonnais tower in the Part-Dieu area.


The primary structure of the vault is composed of round arches, painted light gray, set atop the arcades of the existent facade, which has been retained. On the underside, it supports an inner skin of vaulted glass, covered, on the outside, by a layer of screen-printed, louvered glass. The play of screen-printed patterns has an effect of dematerialization as the intensity of the sun’s angle of incidence changes.


This double layer of glass, a filter of superimposed thicknesses, enables air to circulate in between, and, owing to the size of the interstice (80 centimeters wide), provides a response to problems of upkeep.


Each horizontal purlin in this structure conceals a line of red light which, at night, adds a regular rhythm to the surface of the vault.


Opposite the Place de la Comedie, the west tympanum, set back from the Muses, an expanse of glass covered by a horizontal grid of blinds and light walkways, reveals the back-lit sky.


At the back of the building, on Rue Luigini, a semicircular sheet of gray perforated steel, slightly smaller in diameter, preserves the transparency of the vault and, through its geometrical form, corrects the non-parallelism of the facades of Chenavart’s building.


The existing wall at the base of the barrel vault determines and modulates the effects of transparency, juxtaposition, and divergence from the new constructed parts.


The main entrance on the Place de la Comedie will still be through the peristyle, which extends around three sides of the building and tempers the urban continuity between the outside and the inside.


The building in enclosed in a curtain-like wall, the vertical rhythm of which reiterates that of the existing piers. The uniform use of glass panes, all identical in size, provides the necessary effects of transparency.


The space maintained between the facades is infiltrated by a network of metallic staircases, used to evacuate the public. This system, independent of the existing envelope’s rhythm, descends from the heights of the main auditorium.


The existent bays lining the Pradel and Serlin facades are concealed by metallic gray, perforated steel louvers, an allusion to the system used on the glass roof.


On the peristyle, the reception areas are glazed throughout and thus visible from the street.


Access to the main foyer is gained through opaque revolving doors, brief transitions before the public catch sight of the auditorium’s massive, smooth, black envelope, suspended in the void from a height of 30 meters. This monumental body, suspended in mid-air, as if pushing back the limits of being attached, seems to be floating in a state of levitation.


A complex, aerial network of passageways immediately suggests the possibility of moving around the different parts of the Opera, without revealing exactly how they are connected to the building.


From the semi-circular lobby on the ground floor, two symmetrical staircases skirt the rounded form of the amphitheater as they lead down to the lower foyer. Here, a long, curved bar stands opposite the semicircular, steel-capped hall. It seats 200, plays host to recitals, plays, and concerts, and gives latecomers a chance to watch a live video of the show being performed in the main auditorium four floors above their heads.


Reaching the auditorium involves a gradual progression alternating between escalator, suspended walkway, escalator, and suspended platforms … the route only becomes evident once it has been embarked upon. This progression, created by a series of close and distant encounters, leads us beneath the “belly” of the auditorium to the doors through which it is entered.


We find ourselves on the first level of the auditorium, situated above the lateral colonnades, and connected to the metallic staircases and platforms, 14 meters above the lower foyer of the amphitheatre and 16 meters below the smooth-surfaced, vertical wall. On each level, superimposed access platforms are attached to this wall.


As the telescopic doors disappear behind acoustic airlocks, we discover the concert hall itself. Like a finely crafted stringed instrument, this casket in wood and leather has retained the convivial atmosphere of an Italianate theater, as well as increasing its seating capacity from 900 to 1300. The frontal arrangement, with the superimposition of six identical balconies, offers a completely democratic view of the stage.


In-depth research using simulation software has gone into the design of the acoustics of this new space.


During the interval, the public have a choice of two foyers: the first has undergone a sophisticated renovation program to preserve its 19th-century spirit; a mirrored floor reflects and multiplies the gilt decoration and lights; the second, on the upper level, behind the west tympanum, offers a panoramic view of the city.


Located beneath the upper foyer, the terraced public restaurant occupies a privileged position: opposite the City Hall, behind the statues of the Muses, on the springing-line of the vault. Elevators provide direct access to it from the peristyle, enabling it to function as a completely independent facility.


It will be possible to install staff entrances on the peristyle on the sides of the building. From the lobby on the ground floor, a complex vertical circulation system leads to the different entities.


Located in the infrastructure, the spaces reserved for choirs revolves around a large studio whose volume occupies the combined height of Levels –3 and –4.


In the superstructure, nestling against the stage house, the artists’ dressing rooms can be seen through the glass wall. Right at the top of the building, the ballet studio exploits the space beneath the vault to the full.


With the exception of the auditorium, the entire building is treated soberly using the elements of a contemporary vocabulary in a register alternating between transparency and opacity.



Jean Nouvel