Emaar’s opera house project in Dubai will be a multi-purpose facility

Dubai's multibillion-dirham opera house in Downtown Dubai will be built using technology to allow the 2,000 seat theatre to be converted into a banqueting hall or exhibition space.

A model of Emaar’s 2,000-seat opera house on display at Cityscape. Sarah Dea / The National
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A multibillion-dirham opera house in Downtown Dubai will be built using technology that allows the 2,000-seat theatre to be converted into a banqueting hall or exhibition space, the designers say.

The facility will be built in a way that 900 of the 2,000 seats can be removed with the use of hydraulic technology and stored in vast garages beneath the theatre until they are needed, according to the designers of Emaar's 60,000 square metre theatre and opera house that is shaped like a traditional sailing vessel.

At the Cityscape Global exhibition in Dubai, the three firms involved in designing the opera house demonstrated how the interior could be reconfigured from a concert hall seating thousands, to a traditional theatre, a venue for weddings or exhibitions.

It will be possible to move the 900 seats in segments on wagon systems and tuck them away for storage through a huge space in the auditorium.

“Everyone’s been to a school gym and sat on a rickety bleacher. And you know it folds away and it feels like you’re sitting in a gym. We’re trying to hide that,” said Tom Davis, the director of specialist designer Theatre Projects Consultants.

“What we do is use a series of mechanisms that collapse into each other. It’s a process called spiralling. The seats are compressed into a cassette at the bottom and then into a column. It has been used before in a number of venues, but the challenge for us is to do it on this scale and to world standards.”

The design means that 60 per cent of the building will be taken up with back-of-house operations, including seat storage areas while only 40 per cent will be used as the auditorium or lobby, according to Emaar’s consultants.

The opera house is set to open in 2015. It was announced in March last year by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, as the centrepiece of Emaar's new 500-acre cultural district close to the Burj Khalifa in Downtown Dubai.

“You could see not only shows like Cirque du Soleil or the Lion King in this venue, it could receive pretty much any show in the world,” said Dene Murphy, the founder of South Africa-based Mirage Leisure and Development, which advised Emaar on the Culture District.

Mr Murphy said most big shows required at least two years’ notice before they could be booked, so Emaar had already been in discussions with a number of acts.

“Promoters need to understand that this is a credible place to come to, so that this place becomes part of the world circuit,” he said.

He declined to give any details about the cost of the project.

The consultants reported that Emaar had already started piling work on the Atkins-designed project and a general contractor was expected to be appointed over the next few weeks.

Emaar said the cultural district would include a modern art museum, galleries, two “art hotels”, flats and serviced apartments, a retail plaza, restaurants, waterfront promenades, recreational spaces and parks.

Plans to build an opera house are not new. Earlier proposals to build a 2,500-seat opera house, designed by the Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, on an island in the Dubai Creek that was announced in 2008 were shelved during the property crash.