From the outside, the new foyer extension to the Scottish Opera at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal might seem the ultimate contemporary statement, but in some ways, it takes its design cues from the past.
Nicola Walls, head of arts and culture at Page\Park architects, the local firm responsible for the project, explains: “This was a Victorian theatre and we wanted to bring some of the glamour of that period in terms of the material palette, but in a contemporary fashion.”
For instance, the gold colour of the Rimex stainless steel surface that adorns the exterior was a direct reference to the brass detailing in the original interior and its elliptical form is influenced by the curved balcony fronts in the auditorium.
Page\Park was selected from a shortlist of six practices and the brief was, adds Walls, about “opening up opera as an art form and improving the facilities to satisfy modern audience expectations”. She goes on to talk about the journey “from street to seat” which meant a better entrance and enhanced audience facilities.
The demolition of the former Café Royal building, where the extension meant the journey could begin from the street corner.
Democratising the space is most clearly evident in the creating of a single central staircase that rises up through all levels of the theatre, as opposed to the Victorian ideal of a number of different staircases leading to the upper balconies. The actual entrance into the theatre has been relocated onto the central axis of the stage where theatregoers will find a curved leather-clad wall.
So as not to diminish the drama of the staircase within the interior, columns around the edge support it. These cantilever in one direction towards the middle of the otherwise freestanding element, sheltering the ground-floor level and forming the shape of the edge of the roof.
The space in between the columns provides a number of bays around the foyer. At balcony level, an external roof terrace has been created, affording amazing views of what was hailed in the Victorian era as the second city of the empire. This is also becoming a destination in its own right, underpinning the idea of getting the public to view this as their space, not just something for the opera fans.
“The focus of the project was the front of house,” continues Walls. “The building is now open to the public every day and having the foyer and the box office open will tempt people in to buy a ticket and address the commercial realities.” The new box office and cafe is at stalls level and is intended to complement the new bar facilities, which can be found at the upper levels.
Testament to its success as a commanding piece of civic architecture, the project has already scooped the prize for Cultural Building of the Year at the Royal Incorporation of Architecture in Scotland (RIAS) awards.
Page\Park’s theatre foyer extension dominates the Glasgow stage