Ian Ritchie Architects

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Royal Opera House, Tower Bridge Theatre

Commissioned by the ROH in 1995, this 2,350 seat opera house would have been occupied between 1997 and 2000 during the temporary closure and reconstruction of its Covent Garden venue.

The building was programmed to be built in 16 months. This, and its extremely low construction cost (equating to £6,000/seat) and demountability, challenged conventional construction thinking and opera house design. The Royal Opera House, supported by the London Borough of Southwark, The Royal Fine Art Commission and English Heritage, commended the design and it was granted planning permission.

Tower Bridge Theatre: External perspective (night)

The auditorium, stage and proscenium opening satisfied current and anticipated future needs of major opera, ballet and lyric productions. Back stage facilities included two full size rehearsal rooms to allow 5 simultaneous productions to be performed in repertory. Additional facilities included ballet rehearsal/warm up studio and chorus rehearsal space. The front of house facility included public foyers and a community café. Height and width of the auditorium were designed to limit its bulk without compromising operatic acoustics. The external volume of the building was conceived as a separate enclosure surrounding the auditorium.

Tower Bridge Theatre: Flank wall, gabion, stainless steel meshThe main body of the building appears solid, composed of woven stainless steel retaining stones, cabled in a “quilted” manner, and punctuated by deep window openings formed by steel plate.

The Tower Bridge and the Tower of London influenced the siting, form and external appearance of the project. Our conceptual thinking was informed by the history and sense of gravitas expressed through stone, the spatial and light qualities of the river space, the spectacular views, night-time illumination of the Tower and Bridge, and adjacent public riverside park.

Facing the views north across the Thames, a colourless asymptotic curved double-glazed facade enclosed foyers at different levels and an open air terrace under the roof. The crystalline quality of the low-iron glass created a ‘jewel case’ facing The Tower. The main body of the building appeared solid, composed of stones enclosed by woven stainless steel and cabled in a ‘quilted’ manner, punctuated by deep window openings formed by steel plate.

The woven stainless steel referenced medieval chain mail. The stone fill reflected the colour palette of the adjacent landmark structures and gave the building its sense of gravitas. Seen tangentially these walls would have been metallic, yet would appear as stone when seen perpendicularly. At night, tangential lighting would transform the walls into a filigree of shimmering stainless steel. The main acoustic and insulation layer lay behind the stone and walls were completed by a 6mm folded steel plate inner wall, metaphorically referencing the way London is built adjacent to the Thames. The building’s roof and walls were free of visible plant or equipment.

Unfortunately, due to internal conflicts the ROH Board’s chief executive resigned and it was decided not to proceed with the project.

Journal Articles
07/1996 DER ARCHITEKT
05/1996 AIT
12/1995 PERSPECTIVES
11/1995 THE GUARDIAN
11/1995 BUILDING DESIGN
11/1995 ARCHITECTS' JOURNAL
10/1995 THE INDEPENDENT
10/1995 FINANCIAL TIMES
10/1995 BUILDING DESIGN
07/1995 THE TIMES

Royal Opera House, Tower Bridge Theatre

London, UK

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