The completion of the ‘Open Up’ project looks to make the Royal Opera House a social hub throughout the day, with the reconfigured Linbury Theatre now providing a second venue for opera and ballet
The project, which encompasses a reconfigured ground-floor lobby, basement theatre and second-floor restaurant and terrace, tops and tails several of the key public spaces in the venerable institution, to allow it to function effectively as an all-day venue.
The build took nearly three years to implement, with the venue remaining operational throughout – without a rehearsal or performance missed – through careful phasing of the works. The aim of the project, which was funded entirely through philanthropy, is to attract new audiences – not just for performances but to use the building’s café, restaurants and shop. These, for the first time, will be open every day from 10am: helping to break down the sense of the building being just an exclusive venue for evening opera-goers.
The main auditorium, along with much of EM Barry’s original 1858 building, remained largely untouched during the works, with the majority of the interventions made to the 1990s Dixon Jones/BDP extension.
So the previously restricted ground floor has been reconfigured and redesigned, along with the Bow Street and Covent Garden piazza entrances that link through it. Both entrances now offer more prominent, transparent points of access to the building and enhanced street presence in a bid to draw visitors in – and ‘a physical manifestation of cultural change’ at the institution.
These redesigned entrances are linked through an expanded ground-floor foyer, made possible by decentralising cloakroom and toilet facilities to different floors and by the removal of the ticket office. Most tickets are now booked online, while any on site bookings or enquiries will be dealt with à la TfL, by mobile members of staff available all day in the foyer. There is room for a larger shop designed by interior designer Drinkall Dean and a new café.
The foyer also cuts down now – with the removal of a chunk of floorplate and via a new stair – to a new, lower ground floor foyer for the Linbury Theatre – a reconfiguration of the former Linbury Studio Theatre. This curved cut-out creates a double-height vertical space and gives a sense of modest deco-type grandeur to the space, while increasing the sense of airiness and generosity.
The new foyer is a great improvement on the previously much more constrained space, which also had to accommodate ticket and cloakroom queues. Material-wise it has a slightly generic stone and glass ‘foyer’ feel – is this an opera, an art gallery or a bank? – but it is beautifully finished and finely detailed: with nice elements which include the chunky, square bespoke lighting fixtures designed by Stanton Williams. In a clever move too, the stair up to the glazed Paul Hamlyn Hall above has been moved through 90 degrees, creating a space much stronger sense of gravity and statis than before – a perfect place for people-watching milling crowds of opera-goers before a performance or looking down at those passing down to the foyer of the Linbury Theatre below: all part of the theatrics of a night out. The Linbury Theatre itself is a transformation: the 400-seat auditorium is now lined in American Black Walnut – rich, warm and enclosing the stage an intimate way.
On the upper floor, the Amphitheatre foyer has also been opened up, and a new bar and 230-cover restaurant designed by Studio Linse has been introduced. The Amphitheatre terrace has been partially enclosed with sliding glazing and rooflights to form a new conservatory. This now has a sense of a grand terrace, overlooking Covent Garden piazza, while also giving glimpses into a number of back-of-house areas including the costume department. However with some of the terrace screened off for private events, it shows how ‘opening’ up means other thresholds are put in place for those who still pay a premium.
Overall this is a very natural feeling improvement of the kind that makes it difficult to remember what the spaces were like before – a credit to the architectural moves both large and small that Stanton Williams has made.
Royal Opera House by Stanton Williams
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 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 pre-eminent opera houses.
Alan Stanton, partner, Stanton Williams
Royal Opera House by Stanton Williams
Client Royal Opera House
Architect Stanton Williams
Restaurant interior designer Studio Linse
Retail interior designer Drinkall Dean
Project manager Equals
Cost consultant Gardiner & Theobald
Construction Manager Rise
Level 5, retail & Clore contractor 3 Interiors
Lighting designer Studio Fractal
Wayfinding/signage Endpoint Services
Structural engineer Arup | Robert Bird Group
Acoustic engineer Arup Acoustics
Fire engineering Arup Fire
Crowd movement Arup
Theatre consultant Charcoalblue
Access consultant All Clear Designs
Planning consultant Gerald Eve | The Planning Lab
Heritage consultant Donald Insall Associates
Catering consultant Kendrick Hobbs
Approved inspector AIS
IT consultant Fixation Networks