At all times of the day, the Royal Opera House building should be a place to glimpse the remarkable forces at play behind the scenes; a place to relax and have a coffee, lunch or a drink in the midst of the one of the world’s most beautiful opera houses; a place to see artists at work; and a place to showcase its guiding principles of excellence, theatricality and curiosity.
The design represents a physical manifestation of cultural change at the Royal Opera House. Seen as an inclusive and multifaceted cultural and social hub, the new ground floor public areas are expanded, providing a café, new shops, and informal event/ exhibition spaces. In addition, there is a remodeled entrance from the Covent Garden Piazza and a new glazed entrance pavilion on Bow Street. At the lower level is the new Linbury Theatre and associated foyer as well as learning spaces and new female toilets. A new restaurant, bar, and terrace at the amphitheatre level give visitors spectacular views over Covent Garden.
As a heritage-listed and fully operational building, the opportunities for visually opening up the perimeter of the building posed a significant challenge. A new glazed extension is erected beneath the historic, glazed Paul Hamlyn Hall. Requiring significant structural alterations and reconfiguration of the existing foyer ventilation system, an excavation of the basement beneath creates a double-storey height void.
The glazing at street level has been detailed with reference to the historic ironwork above. Panels possess a similar proportion to the framing on the Paul Hamlyn Hall, and junctions between the glass are pronounced with projected capping. Fabricated from brushed stainless steel, the extension structure is defined by its crisp detailing and the use of a dark patinated brass for the entrance at the northern end.
To the west, at the Covent Garden Piazza entrance – once considered the ‘back door’ – where over 50% of patrons now enter the building, the available opening is constrained by two retail units and, above, by the stage trucking area. To overcome this, Stanton Williams proposed the introduction of a new curved glass screen. This contains a new revolving door and a large, floor-to-ceiling digital screen behind the glass entrance. The new entrance is designed to sit within the piazza colonnade, welcoming the many visitors who pass through Covent Garden each year.
New foyers – The redesigned Bow Street and piazza entrances are linked by an expanded foyer that flows through the ground floor and down to a new, lower ground floor foyer for the Linbury Theatre. These foyer levels are connected by a double-height space that can be used for impromptu events and performances. Stanton Williams achieved a significant increase in foyer space by redistributing the cloakroom and women’s toilets within the ROH and rethinking how the box office operates.
Improved foyer facilities include a larger shop (designed by Drinkall Dean) and a new café, with greater legibility achieved by opening up views through space where possible. Relocation of the main staircase enables greater public use of the upper floors throughout the day.
The new Linbury Theatre – This replacement of the existing studio theatre delivers improved comfort, character, accessibility and technical performance whilst maintaining the intimacy of a 400-seat auditorium. Finely crafted in American black walnut with upholstered seating throughout, the state-of-the-art facility is fitted with adjustable seating configurations and electroacoustic technology.
As well as being used as an experimental space by both The Royal Ballet and Royal Opera companies, the new theatre will be open for public performances in addition to the main house from December 2018.
Refurbished Amphitheatre and Amphitheatre Terrace – On the upper floor, Stanton Williams has opened up the Amphitheatre foyer and introduced a new bar and 230-cover restaurant designed by Studio Linse which will be open to the public rather than just performance-goers.
The Amphitheatre Terrace has been partially enclosed with new sliding glazing and roof lights to form a new glass conservatory usable all year round. As well as providing views of the piazza, the terrace now offers tantalising glimpses into a number of back-of-house areas including the costume department to a wider public.