Ar­chi­tec­tural ac­co­lades


Mul­ti­ple id De­sign Award-win­ner ar­chi­tect Janus Ro­s­tock shares se­crets be­hind de­sign­ing the Dubai Opera

Janus Ro­s­tock, De­sign Di­rec­tor and Head of Ar­chi­tec­ture at Atkins shares the ar­chi­tec­tural se­crets be­hind Dubai Opera, win­ner of the id De­sign Awards 2016 Pub­lic Build­ing and De­sign of the Year.

Gra­ciously ac­cept­ing his awards for Best Pub­lic Build­ing and Project of the Year, Janus Ro­s­tock, the vi­sion­ary ar­chi­tect be­hind Dubai Opera was the talk of the even­ing at the re­cent id De­sign Awards. His stun­ning ar­chi­tec­ture – one of the city’s most ma­jes­tic land­marks com­ple­mented by an in­te­rior de­signed by WA In­ter­na­tional, Dubai and Au­di­to­rium Arts Ar­chi­tec­ture, UK – has once again put Dubai on the map for the 21st Cen­tury’s most in­no­va­tive and com­pelling ar­chi­tec­ture. Ro­s­tock takes us be­hind the scenes of its cre­ation and re­veals how his his­tory of com­pelling projects pre­pared him for his re­cent mas­ter­piece.

“To me, Dubai Opera is my main achieve­ment to date; it has been a fan­tas­tic jour­ney. But it is not a jour­ney that I made on my own – it is a jour­ney that has only been made pos­si­ble be­cause of great clients, great team work [and] great col­lab­o­ra­tion on all fronts. It has been a great hon­our to be part of this col­lab­o­ra­tion,” Ro­s­tock ex­plains.

With over 20 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence in ar­chi­tec­ture, Ro­s­tock spe­cialises in the vi­sion­ing of com­plex mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary projects and mas­ter­plans across the Mid­dle East, Africa and Europe.

Hav­ing re­ceived his M. Arch from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts School of Ar­chi­tec­ture in Copen­hagen, and hav­ing spent a year at l’École d’Ar­chi­tec­ture de Paris Belleville, he then worked for multi-award win­ning Hen­ning Larsen Ar­chi­tects and KHR, two of the most pres­ti­gious de­sign of­fices in Den­mark.

Ro­s­tock moved to Dubai and joined Atkins in 2006, where he was part of the team de­liv­er­ing the Dubai Prom­e­nade and Cape Town Water­front master­plan. He re­turned to Den­mark in 2008 to launch Atkins’ Ar­chi­tec­ture & De­sign depart­ment in Copen­hagen, be­fore re­turn­ing to the UAE in 2011.

“Our de­sign phi­los­o­phy at Atkins is cen­tred around peo­ple,” says Ro­s­tock. “This emerged par­tially from my up­bring­ing and back­ground in Copen­hagen, which is a very pedes­trian-friendly city; it is also prob­a­bly com­ing from the Danish way of liv­ing, which is about so­cial demo­cratic val­ues and equal op­por­tu­ni­ties. Those things in­flu­ence the way I see the world and how I guide my team as we de­liver projects in the re­gion.”

And as the re­gion’s only true mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary ar­chi­tec­ture and en­gi­neer­ing com­pany in the re­gion, Atkins has been in­volved in the re­gion’s most sig­nif­i­cant projects, in­clud­ing Burj Al Arab and Dubai Metro. In this pres­ti­gious new project, they col­lab­o­rate with Mi­rage Leisure & De­vel­op­ment as the turn-key de­vel­op­ment man­age­ment com­pany.

The com­pany’s nu­anced ap­proach can be seen in the em­brac­ing and el­e­va­tion of pub­lic in­ter­ac­tion at Ro­s­tock’s lat­est ar­chi­tec­tural marvel – Dubai Opera, de­vel­oped by Emaar, which started as a master plan cen­tred around cre­at­ing a walk­a­ble neigh­bour­hood.

Built over four years, the iconic 2000-seat per­for­mance venue boasts eight floors spread over 35,000 square me­tres. And it fea­tures no less than three modes: a tra­di­tional prosce­nium arch theatre with a horse­shoe au­di­to­rium look­ing through the arc to the stage; a con­cert hall where the prosce­nium arch has dis­ap­peared and the au­di­ence is in the same space as the per­form­ers; and a flat floor space with no stalls and a 36-by-56-me­tre flat floor.

Vis­i­tors to Dubai Opera, the emi­rate’s first pur­pose-built per­form­ing arts theatre, are greeted by a unique three-storey glass sculp­ture. En­ti­tled ‘Sym­phony’ and cre­ated by Czech com­pany LASVIT, it was in­spired by Dubai’s mar­itime cul­ture and is com­posed of thou­sands of in­di­vid­u­ally crafted glass pearls, with its over­all shape be­ing in­formed by fish­ing nets in a vor­tex of bub­bles ris­ing from the depths of the ocean.

Ro­s­tock’s plan wasn’t only to cre­ate an ex­ter­nal redis­tri­bu­tion of space; he wanted the peo­ple in­ter­act­ing with the space to feel as if they were per­form­ers – cru­cial parts of the build­ing and its func­tion.

“When you ar­rive you be­come the per­former of the neigh­bour­hood, and when you walk out dur­ing the in­ter­vals you ac­ti­vate the whole build­ing and it ac­ti­vates the neigh­bour­hood. For peo­ple to get those im­pulses is amaz­ing,” he ex­plains. “Those im­pulses trig­ger us to be cu­ri­ous and ex­plore. This not just an opera house; it is a per­for­mance venue, a cul­tural build­ing and cul­tural ex­change en­abler, which al­lows dif­fer­ent cul­tures to ex­press them­selves.”

Not only is Dubai Opera a vis­ual and the­o­ret­i­cal mas­ter­piece; it was de­signed with a truly unique fea­ture. “The site it­self gave us op­por­tu­ni­ties in terms of hid­ing all the back-of-house fa­cil­i­ties, and al­lowed us to cre­ate a 100% pedes­tri­an­friendly pub­lic realm on the top. This means it has a 360-de­gree lobby: it is a build­ing with no rear side. Most build­ings around the world have a clear front, a side and a back. Here, you are ar­riv­ing at the front door no mat­ter which direc­tion you ar­rive at the build­ing from. So that’s prob­a­bly part of the rea­son – and a clear in­di­ca­tion of how im­por­tant it is to us to de­sign at eye level.”

His favourite space re­flects his ex­pan­sive think­ing. “The lobby space – in all its trans­parency and its seam­less tran­si­tion be­tween the in­side and the

out­side – is my favourite. For me to be stand­ing on the in­side of the build­ing look­ing out, and see the en­tire city with­out feel­ing that the façade is a bar­rier, is the great­est ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Ro­s­tock’s se­crets to his suc­cess are humbly de­scribed: “It is ded­i­ca­tion, but the big­gest secret is gen­uine cu­rios­ity – not to dis­re­gard any idea un­til you have asked questions. It is also about ap­pre­ci­at­ing de­sign as a process. It is anal­y­sis, in­ter­pre­ta­tion and de­liv­ery of that in­ter­pre­ta­tion. The ‘ in­ter­pre­ta­tion’ is the secret in­gre­di­ent that I can’t re­ally de­scribe. It’s a re­sult of the peo­ple I have met, my up­bring­ing, travel, and the many great ar­chi­tects who have in­flu­enced me.”

Given his inim­itable con­tri­bu­tions to the Mid­dle East, Ro­s­tock’s re­flec­tions on de­sign in the re­gion are of great im­por­tance. “It is dif­fi­cult to put your fin­ger on, but I think many of the projects that we see (although de­signed by in­ter­na­tional con­sul­tants or ar­chi­tects) feel sim­i­lar be­cause of the re­gion’s nat­u­ral light. The low sun dur­ing the af­ter­noon is very spe­cial. It is amaz­ing to see ev­ery­thing be­com­ing golden, and I think that’s how many of us ex­pe­ri­ence our cities and our build­ings. It is un­like any­where else. To me, this is what gives iden­tity to the re­gion.”

He is clear about the role of ar­chi­tec­ture in the 21st Cen­tury. “We have a lot of re­spon­si­bil­ity as ar­chi­tects be­cause of our im­pact on the environment,” he says. “His­tor­i­cally, ar­chi­tec­ture has been used to steer the be­hav­iours of so­ci­ety; it is about cre­at­ing in­ter­ac­tion be­tween peo­ple, which can be ei­ther in­clu­sive or ex­clu­sive or some­where in be­tween, but the role of the ar­chi­tect is su­per-im­por­tant in terms of what legacy we leave be­hind. We cre­ate the fu­ture and we cre­ate the frame­works around us for the next 50 to 100 years – and there­fore it is not a small task and it is a big re­spon­si­bil­ity for us to cre­ate qual­ity. It is also very im­por­tant that what­ever we cre­ate is adapt­able, be­cause pre­dict­ing the needs of the fu­ture is very dif­fi­cult,” he con­tin­ues.

To­day, when he vis­its the site, his heart still skips a beat. “Dubai Opera is a dream come true. The mag­i­cal part of it is know­ing how it was sup­posed to work and what the per­cep­tion was sup­posed to be in terms of a build­ing that ac­ti­vates the city it­self. It is this in­flux of peo­ple when it’s open­ing, and when the per­for­mance is fin­ished, that’s mag­i­cal.” We look for­ward to his next per­for­mance.

“Dubai Opera is a win­ner on many lev­els, show­ing an out­stand­ing def­i­ni­tion of de­tail while hav­ing a mod­u­lated, ar­tic­u­lated bold mass and form that cre­ates a re­la­tion­ship with the sur­round­ings.” - id De­sign Awards Jury

Dhow hull-shaped ex­te­rior of Dubai Opera

Janus Ros­took

Mashra­biya de­tail on the glass ex­te­rior fa­cade

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