Can London’s Revamped Royal Opera House Become a Public Amenity?

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The famed cultural institution, opening to the public today after a six-year renovation by Stanton Williams, is betting big on audience engagement.

In recent years, a wave of refurbishments, expansions, and adaptations has swept through London’s major cultural institutions, ranging from the National Theatre’s NT Futures project by Haworth Tompkins in 2015, to David Chipperfield’s work at the Royal Academy this spring. Though these projects vary in scale and scope, they are united in their tacit aim to re-engage with the public they serve. Stop by the main foyer of the National Theatre, the Design Museum’s Sackler library, or the V&A’s study spaces on any given weekday afternoon and you will find a blue-lit sea of laptops.

There is, of course, a simple “bums on seats” logic to this: drawing more people through your doors will ostensibly increase ticket sales. But it’s also indicative of a broader cultural evolution. Students, freelancers, aspiring playwrights, actors, and other participants in the booming gig economy are flocking to these spaces, while the places originally built for them to work—namely libraries— decline in number.

The completion of Stanton Williams’ “Open Up” renovation project at London’s Royal Opera House, which opens to the public today, is no exception. “This is a big change in culture for the opera house,” explains project architect Rawden Pettitt, who has overseen the project since Stanton Williams’ competition entry in 2012…

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