Diamond Schmitt takes centre stage

Nick Myall
Monday 20 Nov 2017

The walls of this unique theatre in Toronto can change colour to match the mood of the production on the stage

To adapt to changes in the live theatre market, the 1800-seat Toronto Centre for the Arts has been divided into two venues:  a 575-seat proscenium theatre and a flexible, 300-seat black box theatre. This architectural intervention required finding an appropriate dividing line within the existing auditorium and working with the infrastructure as much as possible.

“The reconfiguration represented a sustainable approach to design in that every effort was made to preserve and incorporate elements of the original theatre, while at the same time, dramatically altering its appearance and functionality,” said Gary McCluskie, Principal, with Toronto-based Diamond Schmitt Architects. Follow the link for a short video tour of the theatre …

Toronto Centre for the Arts from DiamondSchmittArchitects on Vimeo.

The larger theatre conceals the former upper balcony and adapts the seating and lower balconies of the original room to include a new stage. The smaller space occupies the original stage and fly tower. A double-wall construction with acoustic and vibration mitigation was built to achieve the required mass and sound separation.

A signature design feature was sought for the larger Lyric Theatre that would effectively reduce the size of the room, provide a distinct identity for the theatre and enhance the theatrical experience. An innovative solution that addresses all three objectives is a system of lightweight internally lit acoustic panels that surround the audience and define the new proscenium.

Chevron-shaped fabric-faced panels line the newly defined perimeter of the house and create a curving faceted enclosure around the audience and across the proscenium. Steel frames anchored to the existing theatre interior support the chevrons. Programmable LED light fixtures are installed in each chevron, wired back to the theatre lighting control system. The programing possibilities allow the colour-changing lights to enhance the bold geometric patterns of the interior walls and intensify the mood of a performance.

“This dynamic feature presents new kinds of creative expression by being able to envelope the entire room in colour washing that can be responsive to the dramaturgy,” explained McCluskie. “It allows the walls to be a part of creative productions and each chevron panel can be controlled separately, presenting infinite possibilities.”

A different approach was taken for the black box where existing volumes are celebrated rather than concealed. This space takes full advantage of the former main stage and includes tantalizing sightlines of the soaring fly tower high above. By not enclosing this original feature, the possibility exists to incorporate this unusual 90-foot-high space. Theatrical lighting reveals the volume and scale of the original tower. Above the retractable seats, colour changing LED lights are mounted to the existing rigging to create a vertical screen of steel cables ascending into the darkness above.

These two rooms renew The Toronto Centre for the Arts’ purpose as a place for artistic engagement for community and provide a professional environment to support a wide range of theatrical productions. In the future, should popular taste swing back to the previous Broadway-style format, this project was conceived as an installation and designed to be reversible to its original configuration.

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