The competition called for facilities for the Welsh National Opera (WNO) and the Cardiff Bay Opera House Company (CBOH) on a site in the abandoned docklands of Cardiff. The opera house was intended to be the major focus of a redeveloped waterfront.

From the competition brief

The project responds to the civic scale structure of Cardiff as exemplified in Cathays Park by establishing a clearly defined public space at the water’s edge. It will be the focus of future development. The scheme terminates Bute Avenue and complements the equally important line of James Street with its existing urban fabric. The western site boundary, with its urban scale facade, establishes a visible edge to the urban grid of Bute Town.

The northern portion of the site that resolves the intersection of Bute Avenue and James Street is treated as a Theater Plaza and the main entry to the opera house. A light and projection tower, that will be seen along the length of both Bute Avenue and James Street, marks the space as the focus of a regenerated waterfront. The southern portion of the space, Pierhead Square, around the Oval Basin, is surrounded by rows of trees that frame the basin and give it a quieter atmosphere and a focus to the Bay.

As a consequence of the urban design strategy, described above, the front of house accommodations are related to the orthogonal grid of the plaza, while backstage and administrative facilities are related to the diagonal grid of new development. The auditorium and its attendant foyers provide the hinge that mediates between the two grids.

The eastern edges of the plaza and square are defined by a shop-lined arcade at ground level and a top-lit lobby/promenade above. This would become another element in the tradition of urban arcades found in Cardiff.

Cardiff Opera House

Wales Millenium Centre, Cardiff, Wales


The orthogonal relationships of existing buildings and urban fabric, and the long axis of the Oval Basin, rather than its oval shape, generate the form of the open space.


East Bute Street

Bute Ave

James Street

Theater Plaza

Pierhead Square

Pierhead Street

Cardiff Bay

The collision of this geometry with the diagonal grid of new development to the north and east is resolved within the building, rather than in the public open space.