Opera for the 21st century

Royal Opera House, London

Theatreplan’s technical design helped future-proof this classic venue


By the 1980s it was clear that the facilities at The Royal Opera House (ROH) were becoming inadequate. In 1995, £58.5m of National Lottery funds was granted to the ROH to assist rebuilding. But how could the venue be propelled into the twenty-first century?


Theatreplan’s founder Richard Brett had worked on different aspects of the ROH from the mid-1970s. He was therefore a natural choice to be asked to join the in-house theatre consultancy team and to bring his special experience to the redevelopment project. Theatreplan, working alongside the architects Dixon Jones and their collaborators Building Design Partnership (BDP), finally began the refurbishment in 1996 with the house subsequently closing completely for the project in 1997.

The Theatreplan team bore responsibility for all the technical aspects of the redevelopment, including the stage machinery, stage lighting and the design of the stage wagon system. We determined the brief for the technical installations to reflect the needs of the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet, both for the immediate repertoire and long term, developing this into schedules and drawings showing the layouts required. Likewise, we worked not only with the architects but also the integrated structural and services engineers to plan the construction of a new stage, fly tower, side stages, fit-up areas, delivery bays, storage areas, rehearsal rooms and technical support spaces on the limited site. We assisted the head of the sound department in the design of the communications system and sound system infrastructure, and prepared the necessary specifications.

We also used our negotiating skills when limitations arose. For example, we worked with the engineers to establish a suitable structural approach for the double height fly tower, determining the best approach to access in the fly tower and to scenery storage. Furthermore, we liaised with the architects and the authorities on lighting positions in the Grade I-listed auditorium, ensuring that adequate provision was made for the extensive lighting requirements of international opera and dance. Full detailed specifications for the requirements and performance of all the equipment and systems were prepared. We put these out to tender to pre-qualified specialist contractors in each particular technical area (stage elevators, stage wagons, power flying, stage control system, dividing doors, etc.).


Civic Trust Award
RIBA Award


“London has been given the 21st-century opera house technically the equal of any in the world.” Ken Powell, Architect’s Journal

  • Seating capacity: 2268
  • Project venue type: Opera House 
  • Project build type: Technical upgrade 
  • Location: UK 
  • Completion date: 1999 
  • Project value: £178 million
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