London’s Royal Opera House has been reinvigorated following a major transformation by Arup in collaboration with architect Stanton Williams, and a team of over 30 contractors to enhance the experience for the public, staff and performers alike.
The result, launched this September, is a physical manifestation of cultural change at the Royal Opera House, (ROH) through the realisation of its ‘Open Up’ project. The development aims to enliven the opera house as a welcoming, multifaceted and inclusive cultural and social hub.
Arup are delighted to have provided multidisciplinary design services for the project. With an integrated and holistic approach, we supported the seamless integration of major alterations to public areas and the Linbury Theatre.
The Royal Opera House believes opera and ballet should be experienced by everyone and the project has made the venue a destination open to everyone, every day from 10am. Bars, cafés, restaurants, free events and unique front of house displays will transform these dedicated new spaces and welcome more visitors to the ROH's revitalised home.
50% increase in foyer space achieved
£50.7mconstruction cost (all funds raised from philanthropy)
Intimate performance acoustics
We worked closely with Stanton Williams and the ROH to improve the acoustic experience in the new Linbury Theatre. Shape optimised, profiled timber balcony fronts now direct reflected sound back to performers, creating a tangible bond of acoustic intimacy between audiences and artists. Profiled diffusion and wall panelling were designed to ensure a frequency response within the room that supports vocal operatic performance and acoustic music. These fronts and timber wall panels were adapted to house key services and cable management, providing the flexibility to accommodate a range of productions.
Making the vision a reality
Constructed over an almost three-year period, this complex project balanced the desire to attract new audiences with the need to respect the ROH’s heritage and unique character.
One of the 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, Arup together with the wider design and construction team ensured that no single rehearsal or main auditorium performance was missed.
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.
The majority of the interventions were to the ROH’s 1990’s extension (designed by Dixon Jones/BDP). Building Services were re-modelled around the new and existing structures and services, while ensuring essential infrastructure remained fully operational. We worked closely with ROH’s technical department to model works sequences, using BIM to visually communicate strategies.
Redesigned Bow Street entrance
A projecting glazed pavilion has been introduced at ground-floor level to replace the solid base beneath the much-loved Floral Hall elevation. This creates greater street presence and legibility by increasing visual permeability into the ROH’s ground and lower ground foyers. A new entrance leads to the expanded foyer, whilst above the pavilion, a new external terrace further animates the celebrated Floral Hall.
Stanton Williams also amplified the Covent Garden piazza entrance, which was previously underplayed with the introduction of a larger and more transparent revolving door and surrounds. The increased visual presence combined with digital displays were designed to encourage more people to enter from the piazza colonnade into the enhanced foyer space beyond.
Bright and spacious 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 this 50% 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 the space where possible. Relocation of the main staircase enables greater public use of the upper floors throughout the day.
Our detailed knowledge of this world-renowned institution gave us the confidence that ambitious changes in a live Opera House environment could be realised whilst productions continued throughout construction, and with minimal disruption to patrons, staff and daily operations ”Harry Thurman Associate, Building Engineering
A venue for the public all year round
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 is partially enclosed with 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 glimpses into a number of exclusive back-of-house areas including the costume department to a wider public.
“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. We want as many people as possible to experience our art forms and get a taste of the remarkable creativity at play here”
Alex Beard, Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House
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The final construction cost is estimated at £50.7m, with all of the funds raised from philanthropy. 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 theatrecraft, 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.