A centre of excellence for the backstage arts

High House Production Park in Thurrock has become a thriving centre of excellence for the backstage arts. Its latest addition is the new Bob & Tamar Manoukian Costume Centre for the Royal Opera House, dedicated to the specialised construction and storage of costumes for opera and ballet.


Nicholas Hare Architects (NHA) were commissioned by Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation to develop a masterplan for a 14-acre derelict farmhouse site close to the Dartford crossing on the Thames. The project was born out of necessity – with a sense of purpose and urgency – as the London 2012 Olympics required the Royal Opera House (ROH) to move its scenery workshop from Bow and find a new permanent home.

Rather than move to a nondescript shed on an industrial park, the ROH and Thurrock developed a vision for a creative arts production park that would be anchored by two ROH buildings and visitor facilities housed within 10 grade II listed historic buildings and courtyard gardens. Artists’ studios, small creative business units, a backstage arts training facility and residential accommodation would follow.

The business plan for the park was designed to support its sustainable long-term development. The Park project involved extensive consultation and complex funding arrangements and was funded and supported by the Arts Council of England, EEDA (East of England Development Agency), CCS (Creative and Cultural Skills), SFA (Skills Funding Agency) and Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation.

The NHA masterplan created a new square as a focus for the main buildings. The square is linked by a gentle ramp to the old farmhouse buildings. All buildings on the site would have to be designed to a very high environmental design standard to achieve BREEAM ‘Excellent’ ratings. Attracting visitors and students (of all ages) and developing strong ties with local residents were a key aspect of the brief.

The first aspects to be completed were the landscape and public playground to form an infrastructure that could facilitate change and development. The historic buildings and courtyard gardens were carefully restored, primarily for community use. The project won the Regeneration category in the RICS East of England Awards in 2011.

The first buildings

The first new building on the Park was the Bob and Tamar Manoukian Production Workshop for the ROH, designed by NHA. The building has proved a resounding success, both in terms of its primary creative and technical purpose, and in terms of education and public interest. “The workshop has exceeded all our expectations as a work place and is the envy of other Opera Houses around the world,” comments David Pritchard, Head of Production, ROH. The ROH arrange weekly tours of the Production workshop which are regularly booked out. They also hold open-air screenings in the courtyard garden of live events from Covent Garden and hold conferences and events on the site. The building itself was awarded the RIBA Spirit of Ingenuity Award in 2012.

Other building projects have followed, which have helped to establish the critical mass of creative activity on the Park. They include the new Backstage Centre – a national skills centre for the backstage arts – and artists’ studios and live-work units, all of which are fully let.

The ROH Bob & Tamar Manoukian Costume Centre

The new Costume Centre was opened by Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Greg Clark MP in October. It was commissioned by Thurrock Council and funded through a grant from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) in partnership with the Royal Opera House, South Essex College, Thurrock Council, Bob and Tamar Manoukian and the Foyle Foundation. It is the second ROH building on the site designed by Nicholas Hare Architects.

The Centre brings together a number of specific spaces for distinct functions:

A purpose-designed warehouse will house more than 20,000 costumes for ROH productions currently in the repertory, together with dedicated spaces for shoes, hats and wigs.

The ROH workshops provide ideal conditions for making and repairing costumes. “The workroom is such a fantastic space for making costumes, being so large, warm and bright – the light really is perfect for detailed work,” comments Fay Fullerton, Head of Costume, ROH. In addition, in a unique partnership with South Essex College and University of the Arts London, the ROH has established a new BA degree course in Costume Construction, based in the first-floor workshop in the new building.

The ROH Collections
A special part of the building provides secure storage for the ROH’s precious collections. These include costumes worn by famous artists, furniture, props, artwork on historic musical instruments. This part of the building is sealed against moths and has temperature and humidity control.

High standards

These various spaces are housed in an innovative structure of steel and cross-laminated timber, which exploits the different properties of each material. The rectangular structure is clad in black-painted timber. This material echoes the appearance of the old farm buildings and complements the grey-weathered timber cladding of the Production Workshop. Standing between the Production Workshop and the Skills Academy, the Costume Centre completes the third side of the Park’s central square. Like the Production Workshop, it has been designed and built to the highest environmental standards, achieving a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ standard.

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