By Michael Grey
Last month, the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts opened at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. The project is located on an historic site on the shores of Lake Ontario.
Designed by Oslo, Norway’s Snøhetta in joint venture with the Ottawa firm N45 Architecture as the Architects of Record, the facility had to accommodate the design challenges of fitting on a compact piece of land, within the new building while integrating two historical structures within the new building. The majority of the new building is located within a courtyard housing a historic brewery built in the 1830s. The interior of the performance hall is finished with terrazzo flooring, precast concrete ceiling panels with wood veneer, and wood millwork repurposed from the original brewery. This required the removal of the existing pine, hemlock, and spruce floors, which was later re-milled for the building’s interior. Structural columns and beams from the historic structure were also used, in addition to ceiling cladding for the interior.
The 7432-m2 (80,000-sf), $65-million centre features a performance hall with adjustable acoustics and seating for 560, rehearsal space, lobbies, and support spaces. The hall’s acoustics were an important element to the project and were designed by New York’s, Arup. Theatre project consultants (TPC) assisted with the design, layout, and backstage operation of the hall, while MGAC Canada served as the owner’s project managers. Using virtual lab technology, the acoustical team was able to determine which acoustical elements should be incorporated into the design.
Architects and sound engineers employed 3D computer modelling algorithms to shape the theatre’s interior and achieve optimal levels of sound diffusion, surface texture, and specular reflection. The hall was primarily built for orchestral music, but the acoustics also lend themselves to amplified music, films, and other types of media presentations.
While classical theatres are traditionally designed as symmetrical spaces, modelling strategies ultimately determined an asymmetrical ceiling layout in a symmetrical space could provide successful acoustic performance.
Retractable, motorized acoustic drapes allow for customized acoustics in the performance hall, absorbing sound and decreasing reverberation time during concerts or other performances. This also means the performance hall does not rely on electronic amplification for increased sound quality. Further, the main Emerita Karen Hitchcock Rehearsal Hall features 9.1-m (30-ft) ceilings and the same acoustical design as the main performance hall, allowing an easy transition for performers.
In the two-storey lobby, glazing provides views out to Lake Ontario and lighting has been integrated into the ceiling and pillars. The façade, in addition to portions of the ceiling planes, is clad in stainless steel.
Aside from the performance and rehearsal space, the centre has a 100-seat studio theatre for the university’s Drama Department and houses the Department of Film and Media and includes a film production studio and editing suite, as well as a 90-seat screening room. In addition to student concerts, the Isabel will also host international performers for the Kingston community.
Michael Grey, MBA, PMP, is MGAC’s managing director for Canada. He is a registered architect and is also Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) accreditation. He has worked for the City of Ottawa, the Royal Bank’s development arm, TD Canada Trust, Kia and Mazda, and was recently the owner’s representative project manager for Queen’s recently-completed Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts.