New Southwestern Ontario cultural hub features sights and sounds

The outside of the new Performance Arts Centre. Photos courtesy Diamond Schmitt Architects
A rendering of the outside of the new FirstOntario Performance Arts Centre shows the new addition to the Brock University campus.
Photos courtesy Diamond Schmitt Architects

Downtown St. Catharines, Ont., is the new home to the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre—an 8825-m2 (95,000-sf) project encompassing four unique performance venues. The honey-coloured brick facility runs along St. Paul Street with a glazed curtain wall allowing passersby a view of the lobby.

The four soundproof theatres—Partridge Hall, Cairns Recital Hall, Robertson Theatre, and Film Theatre—vary in size and performance application. Each has its own set of specialized building materials to assist with acoustics and provide the unique esthetics of each space.

Partridge Hall, the largest theatre, can accommodate acoustic and amplified concerts without having to change the architecture of the space. This is achieved through:

  • curved solid wood scallop panels;
  • acoustic fabric;
  • balcony and fascia soffits;
  • curved wood balcony fronts;
  • wood ceiling reflectors;
  • curved wood pivot panels at the stage sides; and
  • tip-and-fly acoustic wood panels on the ceiling above the stage.

All these features work in conjunction to create a complete aural experience for patrons.

Most of the acoustic elements in the Partridge Hall are composed of wood or fabric. Some can even be altered to accommodate the unique acoustics of the specific performance. For instance, the large scallop panels are able to pivot at the sides of the stage to flare out toward the audience. One side of the scallops is red oak panelling, while the other is an absorptive velour fabric. Depending on the orientation, the panels are able to absorb or reflect sound. This can be adjusted to suit the needs of each performance without disrupting the overall esthetic.

The inside of the Partridge Hall shows the abundance of acoustic wood used in the design.
The inside of the Partridge Hall shows the abundance of acoustic wood used in the design.

There are many other fixed wood options around the stage to direct sound toward the audience. Additonal adjustable absorptive fabric curtains hang near the catwalk level and along the hall. These are on a motorized track and can be drawn whenever more sound should be absorbed than reflected.

In addition to the acoustical elements, the hall must maintain a certain noise criteria value set by the acousticians.

This is implemented by sound and light locks to the entrance of each hall with acoustically sensitive door and wall treatments. The hall also features slow moving air into and out of the large volume concealed behind the wood scallops, under the stage, at the sides near the stage front, and by large perforated metal diffusers in the darkened ceiling.

The Cairns Recital Hall was modelled after the shoe-box design—resembling some of the most famous concert halls in the world. Its wood-lined volume has variable acoustic banners for clear sound diffusion.

The Robertson Theatre contains retractable seating and a glass wall, showcasing the skyline. The retractable seating makes the theatre versatile and useful for a variety of different performances.

The 199-seat Film Theatre has raked seating and surround sound to provide a dynamic and effective film viewing space.

The FirstOntario centre will help make downtown St. Catharines a cultural, artistic hub.
The FirstOntario centre will help make downtown St. Catharines a cultural, artistic hub.

The FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre is closely partnered with Brock University’s Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts, located in a newly renovated heritage building next to the new centre. This partnership allows the art school access to Cairns Recital Hall and the Film Theatre for performances, screenings, and lectures. In return, the school gives the arts centre access to costume shops, scenography, and rehearsal and music studios.

The new arts centre was constructed according to the Facility Accessibility Design Standards—exceeding the Ontario Building Code (OBC) requirements. This includes automatic doors, lowered box office, bar, and coat check counters, removable seats to accommodate wheelchairs, an infrared sound system, large single washrooms, and braille on the elevators.

The $60-million performing arts centre and $40-million academic facility were both awarded to Diamond Schmitt Architects by separate tender, but they have formed adjacent, programmatically linked facilities. It is this partnership and location that have created a dynamic arts hub for downtown St. Catharines.

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