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Thursday31 July 2014

Royal Opera House production workshop

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Thanks to Nicholas Hare Architects, Covent Garden now has a facility fit for producing world-class sets.

Location Purfleet, Thurrock, Essex
Architect Nicholas Hare Architects
Completed November 2010

The ideal conditions for making scenery are a tall, large building with a strong roof structure to enable the scenery to be suspended, something the Royal Opera House scenery artists have never had, until now.

Next month they will move into a £6 million production workshop, designed by Nicholas Hare Architects, in Purfleet, Thurrock.

With its distinctive propped arch roof form, the building recalls an aircraft hangar. It is 75m by 45 m and 18m tall internally. These vast dimensions allow canvases to be both laid on the floor and fixed to a vertical frame.

The building also includes facilities for woodwork, metalwork and work with fibreglass.

“As far as I know it will be the largest purpose-built facility in the UK,” says David Pritchard, head of production at the Royal Opera House. “It’s been designed solely for our use. We used to work from two industrial units [on the Olympic Park site] and these weren’t tall enough or big enough and the roofs weren’t strong enough to fix hoists on to stand the scenery up. So the first time the scenery was stood up was in the opera house itself and there have been problems with doing this in the past.”

The production facility is the first of a collection of buildings included in a masterplan by Nicholas Hare Architects, which will turn the site into a production campus for the performing arts. 

The roof structure

“What determined the vaulted form of the building,” says founding partner Nicholas Hare, “is that height was needed in the centre where the scenery is put up but height was not needed elsewhere.”

Allowing even daylight with reduced glare into the building was also crucial. The form of the building allowed for continuous rooflights to be positioned between the deep primary structural steel truss members.

Translucent triple-skinned, 32mm-thick, 1,500mm-wide polycarbonate rooflights allow diffused light into the workshop.

Artificial light is provided by rows of fluorescent tubes suspended from the underside of the trusses.

To provide the building with good acoustic qualities, profiled sound-absorbing perforated aluminium panels have been clipped to a subframe that is in turn connected to the trusses.

The steel trusses for the structure were prefabricated in Ireland and shipped over and sized for the largest of the three spans. Each of the 10 trusses used in the building’s structure was split for ease of transport and erected and welded together in five 16m-long sections. These sections were bolted together on site, creating an arch length of 82m. The buttresses used galvanised circular hollow sections connected to the main section of each truss.

Sedum roof

The sedum roof provides good insulation and thermal stability, as well as contributing to biodiversity, which has helped the building to achieve an “excellent” Breeam rating.

The sedum roof also helps to reduce water run-off. The roof doesn’t have a gutter; instead water runs off the roof into a pebble margin with a ground drain beneath.

Project team

Architect Nicholas Hare Architects, Client Royal Opera House, Quantity surveyor and project manager Gardiner & Theobald, Structural engineer, M&E, acoustics Arup, Main contractor McLaren Construction, Contractor’s architect Chetwoods, Contractor’s structural engineer WSP, Structural steelwork Graham Wood Structural, Roof finish & rooflight FKRS, Sedum roof finish Bauder Total Green Roofing System

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