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  • Royal Opera House Open Up project gets planning approval

Royal Opera House Open Up project gets planning approval

Changes to our building will deliver spaces fit for the 21st century.

By Alex Beard (Chief Executive)

18 March 2015 at 3.20pm | 47 Comments

I am delighted to announce that at its 17 March 2015 meeting Westminster City Council’s Planning Committee approved our application to Open Up the Royal Opera House’s Covent Garden home for the benefit of a growing public.

The Open Up project will enhance significantly the experience of coming to the ROH for the public, artists and guest companies; will create new opportunities to inspire audiences with our art forms; and will help this wonderful place come alive throughout the day as one of London’s great cultural assets. The project will strengthen the infrastructure for sharing our work through broadcast and digital media. It will also help to improve our financial sustainability through improved retail and catering facilities.

The main features of the Open Up project are to:

· Create new entrances from Bow Street and the Covent Garden Piazza, improving circulation and way-finding, introducing more daylight, enabling visitors to see clearly what is available in all parts of the building and how to get there

· Enlarge and open up the main foyer at ground level to create a better experience for everyone. A café, free wifi, content showcases, public events and impromptu performances will be freely available to all during the day

· Completely refurbish the Linbury Studio Theatre, enhancing its comfort and character, while improving technical facilities and acoustic qualities. This will create a world-class mid-scale auditorium for The Royal Opera and The Royal Ballet, and a London home for a wide range of leading UK opera and ballet touring companies

· Enclose part of the terrace at Amphitheatre level, creating a more generous foyer while adding covers for the restaurant, and improving connections with the Covent Garden Piazza below. Create a terrace off the Paul Hamlyn Hall overlooking Bow Street

· Refurbish the Clore Studio Upstairs, while enhancing technical facilities enabling it to be used for a wider range of events, for live audiences and for streaming online to a growing public

We have selected celebrated architects Stanton Williams, after an international competition, to help realize our objectives. Their respect for our heritage, appreciation of our London context, and award-winning flair will deliver a Royal Opera House fit for the 21st century.

Find out more about the full Open Up project.

By Alex Beard (Chief Executive)

18 March 2015 at 3.20pm

This article has been categorised Off stage and tagged architecture, building, Linbury Studio Theatre, Open Up, ROH, Stanton Williams

This article has 47 comments

  1. Matthew responded on 18 March 2015 at 4:32pm Reply

    When will work start and how long will it last? Will it affect performances on the main stage ?

    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 18 March 2015 at 6:24pm

      Dear Matthew

      We will be sharing timings of the work as soon as we can, and will keep our patrons informed throughout the project.

      Best wishes

      Ellen

  2. John responded on 18 March 2015 at 4:40pm Reply

    Being able to circulate in the Amphi terrace is very refreshing particularly in fine weather but it can get very crowded. I would hate to see this reduced to make way for more "covers".
    Any improvement to Linbury is to be welcomed, with so hope less cramped seating.

    • Lottie Butler (Former Assistant Content Producer (News and Social Media)) responded on 14 April 2015 at 4:56pm

      Dear John,

      The majority of the terrace will remain for guests to use, though we will be partially glazing it so that it can be used when the weather is less favourable. In addition we will be creating a new terrace on Bow Street from the Paul Hamlyn Hall which should help deal with the overcrowding you mention. The Linbury seating is planned to be much less cramped and much more comfortable.

      All the best,

      Open Up Project Team

  3. Karen responded on 18 March 2015 at 7:07pm Reply

    I hope the lift situation will be incorporated into the new plans. As a wheelchair user, the lifts are woefully inadequate and not able to cope with the volume of visitors.

    • Lottie Butler (Former Assistant Content Producer (News and Social Media)) responded on 14 April 2015 at 4:57pm

      Dear Karen,

      I’m afraid that the main auditorium lifts are not part of the scope of the Open Up Project. However, the Linbury lifts will be able to access all levels of the auditorium, meaning that wheelchair users can choose from a wider variety of seats.

      All the best,

      Open Up Project Team

  4. James Flattery responded on 18 March 2015 at 7:40pm Reply

    I agree with John and I am concerned that you are going to reduce the space of the terrace. It would be helpful if you could confirm what your plans are regarding that to allay the fears of amphitheatre patrons.

    • Lottie Butler (Former Assistant Content Producer (News and Social Media)) responded on 14 April 2015 at 4:57pm

      Dear James,

      Please see our response to John. I hope that this alleviates your concerns with regards to the overcrowding.

      All the best,

      Open Up Project Team

  5. Kate Milone responded on 18 March 2015 at 8:29pm Reply

    Am old enough to remember the last refurbishment! As a patron it is the amphitheatre area which is the most problematic. It does get severely overcrowded. It doesn't flow and everyone is forced to move in one direction. Hopefully Stanton Williams will do get things.

    • Lottie Butler (Former Assistant Content Producer (News and Social Media)) responded on 14 April 2015 at 4:58pm

      Dear Kate,

      Stanton Williams are aware of the overcrowding concerns and this will form part of their design plans for the amphitheatre level.

      Best wishes,

      Open Up Project Team

  6. Jonathan responded on 18 March 2015 at 9:45pm Reply

    No doubt we opera-lovers are all justly nostalgic for the 19th century and its artistic fruits, but I hope nonetheless the ROH will at some point seek planning permission for seating for average-shouldered adult human beings born following the passing of David Lloyd-George's 1909 welfare reforms, which greatly reduced childhood malnutrition and created the average British physique which exists today.

  7. Bob Wild responded on 18 March 2015 at 10:21pm Reply

    Can we see detailed plans anywhere? Perhaps on the Westminster council website as with other council websites? Will the work done affect ticket prices? And finally, congratulations from me to Rob Holliday on getting the 2nd trombone job with the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House! Nice one mate!

    • Lottie Butler (Former Assistant Content Producer (News and Social Media)) responded on 14 April 2015 at 4:59pm

      Dear Bob,

      Congratulations to Rob indeed! Further details of the project can be found on the Open Up section of our website here: http://www.roh.org.uk/about/open-up

      The work will not affect the ticket pricing, and will aim to make the building more enticing and welcoming.

      Best wishes,

      Open Up Project Team

  8. Jeanne-Marie Marshall responded on 18 March 2015 at 10:40pm Reply

    It doesn't seem that long ago that ROH was refurbished, I remember coming to the reopening gala and being balled over by the magic of the Floral Hall which has sadly been turned into a 'school cantine' . Does the theatre really need more 'covers'?

    • Lottie Butler (Former Assistant Content Producer (News and Social Media)) responded on 14 April 2015 at 5:01pm

      Dear Jeanne-Marie,

      The aim is to offer a better service and atmosphere for those who do use it. We hope to reduce congestion in the busiest areas of the opera house and, as such, make the experience more pleasant for all.

      With best wishes,

      Open Up Project Team

  9. Glenda Yiung responded on 19 March 2015 at 4:17am Reply

    So Beautful!

    • Lottie Butler (Former Assistant Content Producer (News and Social Media)) responded on 14 April 2015 at 5:01pm

      Thank you Glenda, we are glad you like it!

      Open Up Project Team

  10. Janet responded on 19 March 2015 at 8:05am Reply

    To open to public and regular attendees more reasonably priced seats and food is required otherwise number of visits have to be limited.

    • Lottie Butler (Former Assistant Content Producer (News and Social Media)) responded on 14 April 2015 at 5:02pm

      Dear Janet,

      The project will enable an increased and more varied catering offer.

      All the best,

      Open Up Project Team

  11. Tzctroh responded on 19 March 2015 at 9:58am Reply

    When are you improving sitting arrangements in the main auditorium?

    It beggars belief that you spend all this money in goodness knows what but inside, where it matters, sitting is uncomfortable, crowded and unsuitable to enjoy a performance. Even in the stalls one is always at risk to be obstructed by somebody sitting in front.

    You should address the basics first before going into some other matters.

  12. Sad to see the row of trees outside the Bow St entrance with their lovely lights won’t survive.
    Are you really going to pedestrianise Bow St as shown in the illustration?

    • Lottie Butler (Former Assistant Content Producer (News and Social Media)) responded on 14 April 2015 at 5:03pm

      Dear Fran,

      We would support the pedestrianisation of Bow Street, but this doesn’t come under our ownership.

      All the best,

      Open Up Project Team

  13. osmin responded on 19 March 2015 at 3:20pm Reply

    Rather hope there will be more Ladies lavatories included! Also hoping some alterations to the coat check area as it is a real scrum at the end of a performance with the flow going in opposite directions.

    • Lottie Butler (Former Assistant Content Producer (News and Social Media)) responded on 14 April 2015 at 5:04pm

      Dear Osmin,

      The ladies WCs will be relocated to the floor below and increased in number. The cloakroom will be split across the opera house, meaning that people will leave their coats near where they are seated. It is hoped that this will alleviate the crush at the end of the performance.

      All the best,

      Open Up Project Team

  14. Brian Pickering responded on 19 March 2015 at 3:44pm Reply

    It sounds as though it will soon be as unpleasant as the Royal Festival Hall. The House has sadly long been a catering facility with an auditorium tacked on.

  15. Paul White responded on 19 March 2015 at 6:55pm Reply

    Will you be improving the customer experience in the cloakroom area after a performance?

  16. Michael Sharpe responded on 20 March 2015 at 1:20pm Reply

    My first visit to the ROH was way back in 1949 when I sat,as I did for many years after,in the old gallery with it's uncomfortable but cheap bench seats. I saw that disappear when it was upgraded and amalgamated with the current amphitheatre and became increasingly more and more expensive. Now,not only because of the increased cost, but because of my age and severe lack of leg room,I have been forced to retreat to standing if I wish to attend the number of performances I habitually do at a price I can afford. This I have learned to deal with,but what really upsets me is the ever decreasing space where one can comfortably meet and engage with ones like minded friends during the intervals which is part of the pleasure in coming to the ROH .For some years it was my delight to be able to sit at a table in the crush room and socialize preperformance and during the intervals and to engage with passing friends and aquaintances. That pleasure vanished when it and large swathes of other areas of the ROH were given over to serving food at ridiculously inflated prices. The conservatory,where I initially retreated to,is an overspill of the crush room and quite often full of diners or only available for private funtions. The Paul Hamlyn Hall has become intolerably crowded, deafeningly noisy and also largely yet another catering venue.Now you propose to encroach even further on the limited amount of free space by adding "covers" the the amphi restaurant. The ROH has become one giant food emporium with a little entertainment on the side and I am forced to take sanctuary in the pit lobby as the only remaining civilized place when one can find a litlle peace and quiet,enabling one to digest not food but the pleasures - or lack thereof - of the performance one has come to witness. Now the plans are to entice more people into the building without,it seems to me,any guarantee that those new feet on the premises will translate into bums on seats. You are at pains to prevent the ROH from appearing eletist when that is exactly what it increasingly has become to the detriment of the core of your loyal and longstanding audiences who are becoming more and more disenchanted with the status quo.

    • Brian Pickering responded on 21 March 2015 at 10:55am

      Mr Sharpe makes my point in spades. My first visit was in 1955 (an unforgettable Otello) and so I have witnessed exactly the same progression. The loss of the Crush Bar was particularly nasty.

    • Lottie Butler (Former Assistant Content Producer (News and Social Media)) responded on 14 April 2015 at 5:06pm

      Dear Michael,

      The project will increase the area available to the audience at amphitheatre and ground level. As such, there will be additional seating whether you want to purchase food & drink or not.

      All the best

      Open Up Project Team

  17. Graeme Williams responded on 22 March 2015 at 6:35pm Reply

    Oh so many things I agree with!
    Circulation areas are becoming too obstructed by tables booked by patrons wishing to eat. "Canteen" was the description used - so appropriate.
    The seating, particularly in the amphitheatre is now rather narrow for modern body shapes but made much worse by patrons bringing in large coats and the week's shopping! Use the cloakroom - it's free!
    Try exiting somewhere like The Coliseum and you will appreciate that flow through the ROH is pretty reasonable EXCEPT by the cloakrooms which is a disaster area (perhaps that explains reluctance to use the cloakrooms). The cross flow of patrons coming down from above with those leaving the stalls makes for a real scrum. And why do some plus coat persist in coming back the same way. Go on through and exit left into Bow St.
    And finally - take fish off the menu! You can smell it through the whole theatre.
    Few...... that feels better!
    If the redesign improves those issues that will be worthwhile in itself although I expect it is dealing with matters at a "higher" level. Just don't ruin access and the pleasure for we patrons for three years or more!

    • Lottie Butler (Former Assistant Content Producer (News and Social Media)) responded on 14 April 2015 at 5:07pm

      Dear Graeme,

      The cloakroom will be split across the opera house meaning that people will leave their coats near where they are seated, which it is hoped will alleviate the crush at the end of the performance. The project will also increase the area available to the audience at amphitheatre and ground level, and there will be additional seating whether you want to purchase food & drink or not.

      All the best,

      Open Up Project Team

  18. Ann Lander responded on 2 May 2015 at 1:50pm Reply

    On your website it says that "The Clore Studio will be refurbished and a new, more comfortable seating system will be provided ..." Does this mean the benches will be replaced by seats? A few years ago I attended an Insight and had to squeeze in beside a very large lady who was taking up both her space and most of my own. I had to sit sideways on, balancing on my hip for the whole of the Insight which was extremely uncomfortable.

  19. I am delightful to see the new look of the Royal Opera House in the 21st century. I have been visiting the royal opera house since July, 2010. I have never stop thinking going to Royal Opera House. I am return to La traviata in June . And I am return in July for La Boheme. I am plan more tickets in a next few weeks times. I am great support and beloved opera.

  20. Beverley Sinclair responded on 7 June 2015 at 3:17pm Reply

    It's good to see the last statement made by Joseph Maguire ending on a positive note.

  21. richard bernanos responded on 9 June 2015 at 8:20am Reply

    Why is the proposed extension so ugly?

    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 10 June 2015 at 10:39am

      Dear Richard

      Which part of the scheme are you unhappy about?

      Thanks

      Ellen

  22. Janis Shillito responded on 11 June 2015 at 9:37pm Reply

    There is an all-pervading smell of fish from the restaurant around the Floral Hall - any plans for getting rid of this?

  23. Rachel responded on 11 November 2015 at 3:09pm Reply

    It's very exciting to see even more investment in such a beautiful venue. It is clear that the ROH Open Up Team are very passionate about the building. I appreciate both the commercial needs of the building as well as some of the concerns of the patrons detailed above. It must be said, that the work has barely begun, so need we be so negative before we've even seen what it's going to look like?! I'm sure it will be beautiful and I am just so glad to see that the Opera House is deemed popular and successful enough to merit investment on such a scale.

    It is my favourite venue, home to my favourite ballet company. It is always a treat to be there, the splendour is arresting and, whilst it costs an awful lot of money to attend, it's always so magical - I often dream during my visits of what a fantastic wedding venue the Floral Hall would be! Yes, there may be areas that get very crowded and the food areas can feel a little 'canteen-y' as someone describes above, but such are the problems in all theatrical venues; if we want to continue enjoying theatre in these historical buildings, then we have to learn to enjoy their quirks too, as they simply were built for a different era and a different theatre-going culture. That being said, it seems that this project is looking to counter-act a lot of that. I'm sure a lot of thought is being put into the toilet facilities, access facilities as well as the general ambiance of the venue. All the best with the project and I look forward to supporting the venue for many years to come.

    Also - props to the stamina of the Social Media team for responding to so many of the comments above. It's a tricky task and, with the high level of workplace demands on reduced arts admin teams, it's great to see you so dedicatedly engaging with customers!

    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 11 November 2015 at 3:13pm

      Thanks very much Rachel.

      Best wishes

      Ellen

  24. Kaaren Hale responded on 6 January 2016 at 5:01am Reply

    The description of improvements sounds exciting, but the most important aspect of the opera house is that the production level remains world class, that it maintains excellence as well as it explores the canon of opera and ballet. the better and more interesting the works and performers. the more the public will respond. It is nice to expand access, but to also keep the history and ambiance in place. It is a balancing act. I would like to see more proposed visuals,
    Yours truly

  25. Jacquie Heathcote responded on 6 January 2016 at 8:41am Reply

    I wholeheartedly endorse one of the above comments about spending all that money on opening up other areas before addressing the appalling sight lines in the main auditorium.i shall never return to the ROH after a evening straining to see Carmen over the huge heads of two men.expensive tickets and sheer frustration with no apology when I complained!

  26. I was wear my waist coat with my tie and white shirt and look forward return to the Royal Opera House for Norma. The first part of Norma before the break, I was feeling too warm while I'm watch Norma. I was sitting B21 and I was like suffocated. Take my tie off and lose my button to cold down. I didn't bring bottle of water. I was tired and walk wobbly because the heat. I don't know if I passed out and injury in the seat area to face the stage. I'm return to see ll barbie Siviglia in the Royal Opera House. This time I will not wear my waist coat and my tie because the sweater. I bring my bottle of water to stop make me tired. Ice cream? No. Will they new air conditioned in the seat area during the £37 million rebuild?

    • Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media) responded on 17 September 2016 at 4:39pm

      Hi Joseph,

      Sorry to hear about your uncomfortable experience during this performance. We'd always advise getting the attention of an usher if you require assistance.

      Our Open Up project will be focusing on the Front of House areas rather than the auditorium and there aren't any plans to make any changes to the current air conditioning system. I have however passed your comments on to our Front of House team.

      Thanks,

      Chris

  27. It will need more air conditioned. I have already my new white shirt with short sleeve and a bottle of water to drink during the performance. Oh, I did brought my silver tie.

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