Royal Opera House
Covent Garden, London
The Royal Opera House is an extraordinary place, but it is essentially a hidden place. To a casual visitor to Covent Garden, it is all but invisible. In our competion entry we embraced the new vision of the Royal Opera House as “more revealing, more playful and more fun”. We endeavoured to open up the Opera House, both laterally, from Covent Garden to Bow Street, and vertically, from the Linbury Studio Theatre to the Clore Studio. Creating a single, accessible volume at the very heart of the building was central to our thinking. Bringing the city into the Royal Opera House required radical changes to the interface between the public and private spaces within. It also required a cultural and management shift to allow a consistent public realm of shared spaces.
The brief clearly expressed the ambition to become “one Opera House with two stages”. However, during the early development of our ideas we found ourselves asking, why not be one Opera House with three stages? By inserting a vertical glass volume, the Clore Studio is brought into the public realm and can be embraced as a third house.
Our solution was to use space and volumes to invite access to and participation with the building and the activities of the ROH. We worked towards a simple flexibility, developing a series of clear volumes and adaptable thresholds.
In front of Floral Hall we made a contemporary portico allowing a permeable facade. The tapering of the fins contains existing structure and redirected air ducts but creates a delicate edge and thin canopy. A light metal balustrade contains a terrace off Floral Hall allowing people to flow outside during intermissions, reminiscent of the historic portico before the crush bar was added.
Freed of its existing mezzanines and open to the canyon, the fabric of the Floral Hall is revealed and revitalised. The Floral Hall can now be witnessed in its entirety from the ground floor as a freestanding historic fragment.
We have balanced the practical need for circulation against the desire to keep sufficient space to use the Floral Hall creatively. The Floral Hall has itself become like a tiered theatre, with its Bow Street facade as backdrop.
As our canyon rose above the Floral Hall, we saw an opportunity to continue upwards, in the creation of a new inhabited Fly Tower. There is direct access from the Floral Hall and the ground floor. It was conceived as a simple steel structure, glazed on all four sides, with the possibility of a crowning roof terrace.
Opera-goers could experience the delight of proceeding not to a cellar space for their dining, but to an elevated space with an incredible view of London. This element would also work as a beacon, which could be lit when the opera is on, like ENO’s globe.
Extending the public interface and creating new flexible spaces using sliding facades that enclose spaces and bring them into the Opera House or open them to engage the city.