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Salle Émile-Legault, Montreal, Canada

Tuesday 28 Feb 2012

A sensitive intervention

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Award Entry

Saia Barbarese Topouzanov creates a Magritte trompe-l’oeil for a campus performance hall 

At the heart of this project was an outdated performance hall to be transformed into a vibrant state-of-the-art venue, meant to attract a young public. Inaugurated in September 2011, the hall occupies the basement level of a building long used as a catholic church in Montréal, Canada, before being dismantled and moved to the north of the city. It is now an integral part of the St. Lawrence College Campus, which offers well-known music, dance and theatre programs.

Despite many fond memories associated with the former auditorium, it had become obvious to college authorities - as they launched their $7,5 million project - that they needed a revamped facility to allow students access to up-to-date equipment and rehearsal studios. Without essentially altering the size of the hall itself, the architects managed to introduce new sound and light systems and ensured that the 471 seats would have an unobstructed view of the stage. The slope of the floor was accentuated, while lighting equipment was positioned in the floating ceiling; all sound equipment was concealed in the lateral walls, within a shell-like structure.

In sharp contrast with the church’s monochromatic stone façade, bright orange signals one of the two access points. Inside, a strong shade of blue eventually takes over from the orange, and leads spectators towards the discovery of the performance hall, a hidden jewel-like room within the depths of an otherwise stern building.

The work of European artist René Magritte inspired the scene which awaits students and public alike as they descend towards the basement: clouds and blue skies form an unexpected trompe-l’oeil where the ceiling, the walls, as well as the seating take part in the illusion. As the lights fade out, actors, musicians and dancers along with the public are transported in another magical world, that of the stage.

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Saia Barbarese Topouzanov

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