London’s Royal Opera House (ROH) has been reinvigorated following a major transformation by Stanton Williams and a team of over 30 contractors to enhance the experience for the public, staff and performers. The result, launched this September, is a physical manifestation of cultural change at the ROH through the realisation of its ‘Open Up’ project. This aims to enliven the Opera House throughout the day as a welcoming, multifaceted and inclusive cultural and social hub.
Constructed over nearly three years with the venue remaining operational throughout, this complex project balances the desire to attract new audiences for ballet and opera with the need to respect the ROH’s heritage and unique character. The majority of the interventions have been to the ROH’s 1990s extension (designed by Dixon Jones/BDP), with only minimal works to the main auditorium which was designed in 1858 by EM Barry.
Throughout, Stanton Williams has created an elegant and contemporary setting, finely crafted from a limited palette of traditional materials including American black walnut, Crema Marfil marble, patinated brass and polished plaster. Together, these form a calm backdrop for animation by the enhanced front of house events and activities which will now take place within the ROH.
Stanton Williams’ key move has been to extensively reconfigure the previously restricted ground floor to provide 50% more foyer space, in tandem with a redesign of the Bow Street and Covent Garden piazza entrances. This creates greater street presence and transparency in order to encourage more visitors inside - whether or not they are seeing a performance. For the first time, the Opera House will be open every day from 10am, welcoming visitors to the new café, restaurants, shop and events offered throughout the day. Combined with a new terrace overlooking Bow Street and a refurbished Amphitheatre Terrace over the Covent Garden Piazza, these developments increase the opportunities for public engagement.
The enhanced foyer flows down a new staircase to the lower ground level to provide an extended space for Stanton Williams’ other major intervention, a stunning transformation of the Linbury Studio Theatre into the Linbury Theatre, which becomes the West End’s newest and most intimate theatre. The auditorium has been completely reconfigured to create an exemplary, second public performance space for opera and ballet that also serves as an artistic and creative hub for the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet companies.
The extensive escalator wall in the ground floor of the Bow Street foyer area will be animated using surface treatment, digital technology and lighting.
One of the project’s biggest challenges was the logistical complexity of carving out new space for the interventions whilst the building remained in use. Time restrictions were also in place due to the surrounding residential accommodation. Thanks to careful phasing and decanting throughout the lengthy construction programme, Stanton Williams and the team were able to ensure that not one ROH rehearsal or main auditorium performance was missed.
Alan Stanton of Stanton Williams said:
“The Royal Opera House's 'Open Up' project does just that, by opening up what had previously been a fairly constrained set of spaces to the world outside. The Bow Street extension presents a welcoming public face to the building while the expanded and interlinked foyer spaces breathe new energy into front-of-house areas. The new Linbury Theatre is a high-quality performance space that will make an important contribution to the work of the Royal Opera House as one of the world's preeminent opera houses."
Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House, Alex Beard, said:
“We are delighted to open the doors to a transformed Royal Opera House. Our brand new entrances, extended foyers and terraces, new café, new bar and restaurant, Linbury Theatre, refurbished Clore Studio as well as extensive programme of daytime events, activities and festivals, make the Royal Opera House London’s newest day time destination. Open every day from 10am, we want as many people as possible to experience our art forms and get a taste of the remarkable creativity at play here."
The elegant, newly created spaces will be brought alive with a year-round day time programme of events, activities and festivals giving a taste of the Royal Opera House: from the mastery of backstage theatre craft, to guest artist performances and immersive events. The new front of house displays will include stunning costumes charting some famous moments in the history of The Royal Ballet and Opera.
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