OPEN Architecture’s much-anticipated Chapel of Sound looks just as impressive as the early renders promised. The rock-like concert hall provides a one-of-a-kind performance space near the Great Wall of China.
“OPEN’s founding partners Li Hu and Huang Wenjing were driven by a desire to minimize the footprint of the concert hall in the valley, creating a structure that was in dialogue with impressive natural landscape, while also feeling undeniably man made,” says the firm. “The resulting rock-like structure is composed of an inner and outer shell with the space between operating like a truss, and was ultimately achieved through close collaboration with international engineering firm, Arup. Formed from concrete, each striation cantilevers out from the previous layer to create the inverted cone shape.”
In November of 2019, Beijing-based architect OPEN poured the concrete for the roof of their spectacular Chapel of Sound. The boulder-shaped concert hall sits in a rocky valley at the foot of Jinshanling Great Wall on Beijing’s northern border.
Inside the rocky outcropping is a semi-outdoor amphitheater, an outdoor stage, viewing platforms, and supporting spaces.
The last pour of structural concrete for the flat roof took about 24 hours, with workers finishing the surfaces with handtools as they pushed to complete their work before the Beijing winter settles in. The building is slated to open in the summer of 2020.
The spectacular 790 square-meter semi-outdoor concert hall is made of concrete mixed with an aggregate of crushed local mineral-rich rocks, shaped acoustically for music performances. Openings in the roof and walls pull in the sky and surrounding landscape as well as the sounds of nature–light and rain, bird song, and the chirp of insects gently fill the chapel.
The interior shape was inspired by the contours of shells, wooden instruments, and the human ear. Through digital optimization, the acoustic properties were tweaked to produce the best possible sound quality. The openings of the building are placed strategically to avoid unwanted reverberations while simultaneously allowing in natural sounds and views.
The Chapel of Sound was recently recognized in the 66th annual Progressive Architecture (P/A) Awards, chosen as one of ten projects to receive the commendation. These awards focus on innovative, ongoing work that promotes new ways of thinking about architecture. The Chapel of Sound not only reimagines the typology of a concert venue, but asks us to reimagine the definition of a concert itself.
“It’s a different paradigm than a new opera house—it is looking at an open-air site being an opportunity for a sound experience that anyone can take part in.” —Claire Weisz, FAIA
“The layered form of the building takes inspiration from the sedimentary rock formations of the surrounding mountains, while asserting the human hands involved in its construction and avoiding mere mimicry of natural rock,” said Open Architecture, which is led by architects Li Hu and Huang Wenjing.
“Against the backdrop of the rough and cave-like space, details designed with care and warmth offer quiet comfort as visitors take respite in both natural and musical sound.”
“When there is no scheduled concert, no choir or instruments playing, the hall still remains a destination, one at which to quietly listen to the sound of birds singing, insects chirping, gentle breezes rustling through nearby trees, or raindrops on the floor,” said the architecture studio.
“Inside this mysterious space, nature orchestrates an ever-changing symphony. It is a chapel of sound.”
OPEN is a passionate team of designers collaborating across different disciplines to practice urban design, landscape design, architectural design, and interior design, as well as the research and production of design strategies in the context of new challenges. We believe in the innovative power of architecture to transform people and the way they live, while striking a new balance between the manmade and nature.
OPEN was founded by LI Hu and HUANG Wenjing in New York City. It established its Beijing office in 2008. Some built and ongoing projects by OPEN include: the Gehua Youth and Cultural Center, Garden School/Beijing No.4 High School Fangshan Campus, Tsinghua Ocean Center, Pingshan Performing Arts Center, Tank Shanghai, UCCA Dune Art Museum, Chapel of Sound, and Qingpu Pinghe International School.
OPEN has been widely recognized for its innovative work. Recent awards the firm received include the 2019 P/A Awards (USA), 2018 AIA Education Facility Design Award of Excellence (USA), 2018 Civic Trust Awards (UK), 2017 Iconic Awards Best of Best (Germany), 2016 Interior Design’s Best of Year (USA), 2015 AIANY Design Award (USA), 2015 London Design Museum’s Design of the Year Nomination (UK), and the Winning Prize of the WA Awards for Chinese Architecture, among many others. OPEN has been invited to participate in many important international exhibitions, such as CHINA HOUSE VISION in Beijing, China in 2018, “Soul of the City” in Verona, Italy in 2017, the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial in 2015, and the Chinese pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2014.
Architect: Open Architecture
Principles-in-charge: Li Hu, Huang Wenjing
Design team: Zhou Tingting, Fang Kuanyin, Lin Bihong, Kuo Chunchen, Hu Boji, Yang Ling, Li Li, Chen Yang
Structural & MEP engineers: Arup
Lighting consultant: Beijing Ning Zhi Jing Lighting Design
Theater consultant: JH Theater Architecture Design Consulting Company