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Urban context

House style

The expanded and renovated Royal Opera House now occupies an entire urban block. It also encloses and repairs London's first square. Because of this we have frequently described the project firstly as urban design and secondly as theatre modernisation. The project establishes a conventional urban hierarchy between the more generalised condition of Covent Garden piazza and the greater particularity of the surrounding streets. Urban continuity is expressed by the arcade which provides an almost continuous shopping frontage from James Street in the north- east to the corner of Bow Street and Russell Street in the south-east.

We have established a pedestrian mid-block connection between Bow Street and the piazza. This provides a second entrance to the theatre and gives access to the box office and the roh shop. More importantly, it draws the theatre and its foyers into the public life of the city. At the moment of entry the pedestrian is made aware of the escalator above and the idea of the Floral Hall as a series of linked vertical foyers. Not unlike the original, nineteenth-century, arcade this is an ambiguous space. The public are given passage through the block. They are invited to buy tickets and enter the theatre but are excluded during certain hours.

The inspiration for Inigo Jones' original arcade to the piazza came from Livorno. Here the arcade acts as a framing device to the piazza. Its 6m plan depth allows for the discontinuity between the form of the arcade itself and the buildings which sit immediately behind. Today, all that remains of Jones' original design is a nineteenth century copy by Clutton which distorted the original by adding an extra floor. We were presented with the dilemma of either copying the copy or replicating the original. We did neither; within the discipline of the 'type' and the language of neo-classicism we have invented the new elevation.

The urban-design intentions and the appearance of the project are closely related. The conventional distinction between street and piazza gives a sense of authenticity to the design - the idea of a regular and repetitive expression to the piazza versus the opportunity for more individual expression in the streets. On the other hand we were interested in the composite expression normally found in a large urban block. Rather than looking for consistency, we worked in various styles simultaneously, creating a collage - a historic neo-classical style on the square; modern street facades and repair and reconstruction to existing nineteenth century facades elsewhere.

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