Completed in a little over three years, the Copenhagen Opera House opened with a royal gala performance on 15th January 2005. Built on a spacious brown-field site, the building is a landmark venue and this book provides the complete technical background story to an opera house set to become a benchmark for future design and planning. Sixteen chapters by relevant experts involved with the project cover everything from the planning of the auditorium and studio stage, the stage engineering, stage lighting and control and architectural lighting through to acoustic design and sound technology plus technical summaries.
This slim paperback, which describes the background and technical design of the new Copenhagen Opera House, retails at the staggering price of £32. I can only suppose that this is justified on the grounds that it is a specialist book, which will only appeal to a limited readership, and I fear this may be the case.
The Copenhagen Opera House, which opened in 2005, was a gift to the nation by Denmark's wealthiest man, Mr Maersk Moller. It was designed and constructed in less than four years at a cost of 335 million euros and would appear to be a model of what can be achieved when the dead hand of bureaucracy, associated with most publicly funded projects, is removed. It would have been fascinating to be told more about how this was achieved, but references to OJEU selection procedures, design delays while funders and planners prevaricate, or the escalating construction costs and delays, which beset most major capital projects, are all notable by their absence. We are told that the project was completed on time and on budget, which is a considerable achievement on which all concerned should be congratulated, but was this made possible because the budget and timeline were realistic in the first place? It would have been good to know more.
I suspect the reason for this reticence is that the book has been written and coordinated by Richard Brett of UK theatre consultants Theatreplan, who acted as theatre consultants for the project. It is therefore something of a PR exercise, however worthy, and inevitably puts a positive spin on the whole process. A more impartial 'warts and all' account of the design and construction process would have been more informative, particularly to those of us who wrestle with these issues for a living.
The book is divided into a series of chapters, with different authors, describing the various technical and design disciplines including the development of the design of the two auditoria, stage engineering, production lighting, sound and communications, control systems, acoustics and architectural lighting. From my own non-technical and design oriented viewpoint, the information on the evolution and installation of the technical systems is really too detailed but I am sure there are those with specific professional interest in these areas who will think otherwise.
To my mind, the biggest gap at the heart of this book is a proper description of the role played by the architects for the project, the well known Danish firm of Henning Larsen Tegnestue. Although I have not visited the building, it appears to be an extremely successful design, which combines an inspiring building in a prominent harbour side setting with two theatres which work well both dramatically and technically. We should expect no less, but those who have attempted it know how difficult it is to achieve in this most complex of building types, particularly when working to such a compressed timescale. The design succeeds in resolving the complexities of the brief in a highly rational and apparently effortless way. I for one would have loved to know more about the story of how this was achieved and particularly to have better quality drawings and photographs of the building, but perhaps that is for a different book.
Tim Foster, Architect
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