Silent Architecture

Nevill Holt Opera, Leicestershire, Great Britain

Architect: Witherford Watson Mann
Text: Eszter Götz
Photos: Jim Stephenson / Architects Journal

The current owner of the old castle of Nevill Holt bought the house in 2000 and has spent the last 12 years on its restoration. Under the ownership of David Ross, Nevill Holt has become known for both its opera festival and its outstanding collection of modern British art and sculpture. The new building of the summer opera festival has been hided into the stable of the castle: the long ironstone building is quite grand for a stable; for a theatre, on the other hand, it is compact and intimate. Designing a festival theatre required a distilled response, focused on the unity of stage and auditorium: there was no scope for a fly-tower, nor for a foyer with a grand stair. Every addition or adjustment within the auditorium had to be judged on its merits, to work in relation to the ironstone walls, and the doors and windows that pepper them. The stage, the heart of the space, has an intimate feel, as if the performer is in the audience with a generous rooflight located above. A darker stained wood is used to form rotating proscenium screens, the dress circle balustrade, the seating and the floor. This is a neat, visually recessive palette that allows the walls of the existing stables to be clearly, but quietly, reinforced.

Architect: Witherford Watson Mann
Design team: Chris Watson, Stephen Witherford, William Mann, Graham Mateer, Yannick Guillen
Historic building consultants: Julian Harrap Architects
Theatre and acoustic consultants: Sound Space Vision
Structure: Price & Myers
Main contractor: Messenger Bcr