First person The refurbished Royal Opera House should be an exhilarating addition to Covent Garden. So why is it so dull?
No, this is not yet another attack on the Royal Opera House. Although I have in the past commented on its administration, I am encouraged by the approach of the present chairman and those appointed by his board to usher the opera house into its rebuilt headquarters.

Nor am I critical of the rebuilding of the Royal Opera House itself: quite the reverse.

I attended the recent topping-out ceremony, held in the graceful and rehabilitated Floral Hall, and was exhilarated by the experience. There was a buzz. Something was happening. Something new was coming to an already vibrant area that would make it even more vibrant. Those of us who love cities felt that new exhilaration was on the way. Soon, it seemed, the Floral Hall would be a place that people would flock to, even if they had never heard, or wanted to hear, a single note of Mozart or Verdi.

I had been taken round the interior of the opera house, and admired the way that the lovely Bow Street facade and charming auditorium had been retained, and additional spaces and facilities added to bring about a modern theatre in a beloved traditional setting.

After centuries of slumming it, the artists and technicians will at last have suitable space in which to work and rehearse. What those who work in modern, state-of-the-art buildings take for granted is now contained within a heritage structure.

What disappoints me is the new facade on the corner of Bow Street and Russell Street.

I recognise that designing the facade was a challenge. The design had to fit in with, or at least not clash with, the very familiar exterior of the opera house and provide a fluent continuation beyond the highly individualistic Floral Hall. At the same time, it had to meld into the recently redeveloped complex around the Covent Garden market buildings which, despite the presence of twee shops selling merchandise that no one in their right minds would buy, is a triumphant success that has turned the district into a much-frequented tourist area.

If the redesign of the facades on Bow Street and Russell Street was a challenge, it was also a chance to add interest to a bustling area that climaxes with a great artistic centre that is also an architectural gem.

The new facades of the Royal Opera House are incapable of causing offence because they have insufficient character to do so

In my opinion, this chance has not been seized. What we see as we walk northwards along Bow Street from the Strand and Aldwych is not exciting and innovative. It is not charming. It does not blend, either obtrusively or unobtrusively, into the Floral Hall or the piazzas. It seems to ignore them, to be oblivious to them. It is just plain dull.

What we have is slab-faced facades of indeterminate colour that make no statement at all about the exceptional nature of the area. It is a great disappointment.

I am sure the architect thought very hard, discussed and considered the nature of the difficult problem it faced. And yet the outcome of all this effort gives the opposite impression – that the architect did not try at all and simply came up with a solution that is not a solution, just a new kind of problem.

Chances to create a new exterior in a famous area do not come often. Short of some catastrophe, what we have now is what we and succeeding generations will be stuck with for the indefinite future.

The new facades are not ugly. Ugly might at least have been interesting. They are not offensive. Indeed, they are incapable of causing offence because they have insufficient character to do so.

When I walk along the South Bank of the River Thames facing the extraordinary southern facade of Charing Cross Station, I stop and stare. I marvel every time I see it, whether in daylight or after dark. Pass the rebuilt facades of Bow Street and Russell Street, and you don’t even notice them. No buzz. No vibrancy. No exhilaration. Just a polite yawn.