Our work at the Theatre Royal for Scottish Opera focused on the audience’s journey from ‘street to seat’ through an improved approach, entrance, intuitive internal way-finding and the provision of enhanced audience facilities in the form of new open and welcoming foyers.
The form of the extension is seen as an echo of the splendid elliptical Victorian theatre space (Category A listing) within which is an overlapping twist of stairs. A key planning strategy has been to manage the audience movement from each of the existing back of auditorium floor levels to the bars, support spaces and these linking stairs.
To provide a column free interior to that volume, the edge structural articulation of the various plan levels plays various roles, cantilevering in one direction towards the free standing middle of the plan, sheltering the ground level approach and finally shaping the roof line expression. Requiring significant depth to carry out these roles, the lateral length of the structural columns are exploited to frame a perimeter of bays around the foyer, enclosed by an in and out metal cladding and curtain wall screen, wrapping the structure and associated acoustically tempered ventilation boxes.
Over the four-year gestation of the project we worked closely with the client through various reiterations of the form and external expression of the building, constantly testing the developing plans. Uniquely Scottish Opera’s stage joinery workshop fabricated and installed the high quality joiner work.
This significant city cultural project as envisaged by Scottish Opera has been seen by the office as an opportunity to create a major new piece of civic architecture within our practice’s home city.
Built in 1867, Theatre Royal is Glasgow’s longest running theatre. Scottish Opera bought it from Scottish Television in 1974, turning it into Scotland’s national opera house. Since then much work has been done to preserve and restore the category A listed Phipps auditorium, including a major refurbishment in 1997 to bring back the original French Renaissance gilded design. But none of this helped solve the day to day problems of cramped and poorly functioning Victorian public spaces, very limited accessibility, inadequate facilities, poor ventilation and large numbers of restricted view seats.
Our audiences expected more. The theatre needed bringing firmly into the 21st century.
The opportunity to fix these problems presented itself when commercial property developments around the theatre resulted in a gap site right next door becoming available.
Our vision was for spacious, accessible foyers which could easily cope with 1500 people during an interval but which, as well as serving performances, would be a relaxed and inviting ‘third place’ for casual daytime use. There was a need for modern, dedicated and flexible education rooms which would support projects to engage the local community and introduce the performing arts to people of all ages. And it was important to us that audiences would respond to finding their way around the theatre intuitively.
Rather than design to the gap site, Page\Park proposed knocking down the unremarkable existing café and offices to make full use of the 450m2 site that would create. Their elliptical design, with the first floor overhanging the pavement, meant that foyer space could be maximised. The top floor would boast Glasgow’s only publicly accessible roof terrace. The creation of ‘window bays’ caught the imagination of our supporters, providing a welcome boost to our fundraising.
The natural materials palette of the interior includes a sweeping double spiral staircase clad in birch-ply. When it came to the bespoke joinery, it proved almost impossible to find a company willing to take on the complexity of the ceilings and staircases. Our own carpentry workshops – more used to creating scenery than buildings – took on the work, skilling up to make and fit the bespoke joinery panels that are a major feature of the building. Doing this blurred the lines between client and contractor, and at the time felt like a real risk, but the quality of the finished building is testament to the workshop’s talents and the transferability of skills.
We love the building Page\Park and the team have created for us. Since the foyers opened, we’ve been delighted by how graciously and effortlessly they are able to host a full-house audience. They also provide space that invites people to gather and the café and box office have been well-used since day 1. People naturally gravitate to the window bays with their drinks, looking out on their own unique Glasgow postcard view. Everyone is delighted by the lifts, and many choose to linger on the staircase on the way down – seeing and being seen, which has always been one of the pleasures of theatre-going.