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Fire Erupts at Zaha Hadid's Opera House in China

May 12, 2009

By Alex Pasternack

Correction appended May 13, 2009

A fire has charred part of an opera house designed by Zaha Hadid currently under construction in Guangzhou, China. It is the second major building blaze in the country this year.

While the fire appears to have caused minimal structural damage, investigators are still trying to determine the extent of damage to the 753,000-square-foot, steel-and-concrete complex. There were no injuries or casualties, according to a spokesman for Zaha Hadid.

A fire has charred part of an opera house designed by Zaha Hadid currently under construction in Guangzhou, China.
Photo courtesy Architecture BBS
A fire has charred part of an opera house designed by Zaha Hadid currently under construction in Guangzhou, China.
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Based on accounts from people at the scene, the fire began around 7:30 a.m. on Saturday and may have been ignited by welding operations, reports Sina, a Chinese Internet news portal. Firefighters and five fire engines arrived at approximately 7.50 a.m. and extinguished the blaze twenty minutes later, at 8:10 a.m.

In a statement released on Sunday, the construction company indicated that the fire originated on scaffolding outside the larger of the complex's two theater buildings, and said an investigation into the cause of the blaze was under way.

"We must wait for these investigations to be completed before we know if the opening date will need to be altered," said a statement from Hadid’s firm.

The opera house, which was scheduled to open in late 2009, sits on the banks of the Pearl River in a new business and cultural district for Guangzhou, the relatively affluent capital of the province of Guangdong, or Canton. Composed of two central buildings that resemble water-carved stones—an 1,800 seat opera house and a 400-seat theater—the $200 million complex would be Zaha Hadid's largest project to date.

The building was seen partly as vindication for the British Pritzker winner, after one of her first projects, the Welsh National Opera house in Cardiff Bay, was nixed in 1994 amid political and economic concerns. More recently, an opera house that Hadid designed for Dubai and a theater for Abu Dhabi have been put on hold due to the global credit crisis.

The fire in Guangzhou is the second this year to afflict a foreign-designed building under construction in China. In February, on the final day of China's New Year's festival, a blaze ignited by fireworks engulfed Beijing’s Television Cultural Center (TVCC), a building containing a hotel and theater designed by Rem Koolhaas's OMA as part of its headquarters for China Central Television.

Although the TVCC building was near completion, fire suppression systems were not enabled at the time of the fire. An investigation determined that the building did not suffer heavy structural damage.

On Internet message boards, citizens have pondered the ominous symbolism of the fire, and raised questions about building safety in China. To add to the debate, the government recently confirmed that the collapse of school buildings last year during the May 12 earthquake in Sichuan province resulted in the deaths of more than 5,300 children.

Correction: The complex is 753,000 square feet, not 750,000 square meters as originally stated.

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