New public spaces
The roh is set in the context of public spaces within the city. Covent Garden piazza is an example of a public space that has changed from being a high-class residential area to a wholesale market and then back again to a popular meeting place, a swapping of 'front' and 'back' that is typical of a city like London. It is part of the brief for the project that it should reconnect the roh to the new life in the piazza. To this end the project makes a new 'mid-block' connection between Bow Street and the corner of the new arcade. Pedestrians can walk through, past the box office, roh shop, roh information, and cafe without actually entering the theatre. This is a dramatically shaped route in section with daylight filtering down from the Floral Hall.
The existing portico remains the main entrance to the theatre. The entrance from the square is a secondary, informal, way in, where the earliest theatre built in the eighteenth century had its entrance. Between the two entrances and under the Floral Hall are the cloakrooms and wcs in a space that is continuous with the route between the piazza and Bow Street.
Built by a developer and therefore for a minimum cost, the old roh was very short of foyer space. The Crush Bar was aptly named - it was impossible for the whole audience to gather in a single place. In the new project the renovated Floral Hall, which can hold a large proportion of the audience, becomes the main foyer. It is raised on a plinth to be level with the half-landing of the Grand Stair.
The hall's location on the south side of the auditorium has created the unusual situation of a foyer asymmetrical to the axis of the auditorium. The Floral Hall foyer thus becomes a building in its own right, separate from the theatre and with a life of its own.
Vertical circulation plays an important part in the public's movement through the theatre. In the past the 800-seat amphitheatre has been entirely separated from the rest of the auditorium with its own backstair access from Floral Street. It appeared that half the audience were favoured by the main entrance and the rest were relegated to a second-class arrangement for the 'gods'. In the new project the amphitheatre is linked dramatically to the rest of the foyer spaces. An escalator ascends directly from the Floral Hall to amphitheatre level where a bar looks back into the Floral Hall.
At the same level, an open-air loggia walk overlooks Covent Garden piazza, providing an additional attraction at the upper level of the foyers. We believe that the audience will want to move upwards as well as downwards during intervals, thus reversing the sense of social hierarchy that has always existed within the auditorium.
The Studio Theatre and foyer are reached from the same general ground- floor circulation area under the Floral Hall. This enables the small theatre to use the same cloakrooms and other facilities as the main theatre as well as having access to the Floral Hall.
Public access is an important theme in the project. Vertical access by escalator and lifts, disabled access to all parts of the building, access for the general public to areas of the foyers during the day are all vital ingredients of a more open Royal Opera House.