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Wexford Opera House
Architect:OPW Architects with Keith Williams Architects
Award Type:Irish Architecture Awards
The Wexford Opera Festival is one of Ireland’s leading cultural institutions. It now has a exceptional new home. Contained within a bold contemporary form that rises theatrically above the low skyline of Wexford Town, its entrance and streetscape are by contrast modest and discrete. The circulation spaces and bars are comfortable, sociable and designed to be flexible in accommodating a variety of associated uses. Particularly memorable are the break-out areas with panoramic views out over the town and the sea. The highlight of the building is its wonderful new auditorium, which is traditional in spirit and contemporary in its expression, delivering a quite beautiful and memorable performance space.
The Wexford Opera Festival has always been centred in Wexford town and the principal issues were scale and fit, (how to insert a huge flytower into a Medieval street scale), retain the street scene, as well considering the effect upon the historic silhouette of Wexford’s skyline when seen from across the river.
The architectural team also had to consider how best to insert a very large and highly complex spatial programme into a steeply sloping backland site barely large enough to accommodate it.
The new 7,235sqm purpose-designed opera house contains two theatres; the principal auditorium of 780 seats, and an adaptable auditorium of 175 seats providing performance in a variety of formats, together with all pubic and support facilities necessary for a fully functioning producing theatre dedicated to opera.
In architectural terms, the new opera house may be seen as a series of formal set-pieces centred around the main auditorium, fly-tower and the smaller second theatre forming a nucleus at the heart of the organisation. The nucleus was then enveloped by an architectural collar containing the supporting spaces which locks it into the irregular edges of the backland plots of urban block in which it is situated.
At the outset Wexford Festival Opera set the design team a range of difficult challenges to meet its complex and demanding brief requirements. Furthermore, the irregularly formed site, located in the centre of the old Viking town with a single access through a narrow one-way mediaeval street presented an additional complexity for the designers.
The brief required the team to provide an architectural design that would reflect the international prominence and acclaim of the highly regarded annual opera festival with its discerning audience. Complex, critical and demanding acoustic performance criteria were set for the main auditorium. In addition, it was required that the building would meet the client's requirements for non-opera performances and accommodate local events. There was a strong desire to provide attractive and intimate public circulation spaces with the use of natural daylight affording strong visual contact with the town from the building where possible.
It is a credit to the design team that they “shoe-horned” the demanding space and circulation requirements for the building on this difficult sloping town centre site. The design solution has fully met all the requirements of the brief and set a new quality benchmark for design of small opera houses on the world stage.
The architectural and critical acoustic qualities of the building have received very favorable acclaim nationally and internationally from our audiences, music critics, musicians, performers, back-stage personnel, staff and our 300 volunteers who man the building during the opera festival.
It is not an overstatement to say that the design quality of the building has far exceeded Wexford Festival Opera's ambitious expectations.