Untold Stories at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Written By

Nicola Walls

3.4.2020 Thinking

We are heartbroken for the many theatres that we have worked with who find themselves now with empty buildings. The impact of social distancing on our physical spaces, and in particular cultural spaces and auditoria, is likely to be felt for some time. We are thinking hard as a practice about our role in supporting these various platforms for art in the future. Culture is a key part of all our lives and while digital platforms enable enjoyment on some levels, they don’t always match the immersive experience of participating in a live event in a bespoke space.

Triggered by this recent global, societal change and also the recent fifth anniversary milestone of the re-opening of the Scottish Opera Theatre Royal in Glasgow, we’ve been thinking about the ideas and stories that are embedded in that special project. Opened to the public in March 2015 our foyers were an extension to the category A listed existing building. That project challenged us to be bold. Not only in exploring how theatre foyers could act as an extension of city public space, but also to construct something that was forward thinking in terms of its design, construction and environmental approach to audience comfort.

This milestone has prompted us to reflect and share some of the untold stories embedded in the building fabric and our own memories of working on the project.

So, as we celebrate it 5th anniversary, here are ten stories about Theatre Royal that you might not have heard before:

1. Seven-hundred and fifty people were involved in the construction project that was completed in 2015.

2. The interior is entirely naturally ventilated, with air inlets carefully designed into the bespoke stainless steel façade, connecting in turn to ventilation columns that, with the concrete columns around the perimeter, frame intimate bay windows to the city and Campsie hills on the horizon.

3.Scottish Opera’s own set builders constructed all of the interior joinery that embellishes the foyer of the extension. The birch plywood and leather panels both cloak and reveal the insitu concrete structural frame and conceal all services routes to the foyers, making it truly a building that the Opera built.

4. Inside, the artist Alison Watt designed a tapestry based on the character Cio Cio San from Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly. It was woven by the Dovecot Studio in Edinburgh and now hangs in the foyer. The piece entitled Butterfly took nine months to create, with up to four weavers working at any one time.

5. Through work with our client Scottish Opera we became intrigued by the idea that our architecture could sing like a great opera. The façade motif was in fact loosely derived from an aria of Puccini’s Tosca.

6. We were appointed in 2010 to lead the extension of the theatre, adding new, more accessible and spacious foyers that reinstated the original axial entrance from the north into the auditorium. The geometry of the foyers was informed by the sweeping gilded balcony fronts at the heart of the auditorium, the curving floorplates encouraging movement of people through the building from street to seat.

7. The historic auditorium is constructed at an angle to its now principal street, Hope Street as it was constructed on land that belonged to the old village of Cowcaddens. The historic Cowcaddens streets were orientated at a different angle to the contemporary city grid.

8. In 1955 STV bought the theatre and converted it for television broadcasting. During this time the theatre hosted stars such as Paul McCartney and Shirley Bassey.

9. The category A listed Theatre Royal in Glasgow was first opened in 1782. Following a destructive fire it was rebuilt to designs by Charles Phipps and re-opened in 1880.

10. And finally, after a brief interval we’re continuing our work with Scottish Opera, this time to keep improving and refreshing their café space. We are working with the artist Fraser Taylor, Forsyth Joinery and Scottish Opera’s workshop to create a series of bespoke tables to sit within the window bays at the ground floor café.


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