A symbol of Toronto’s thriving architectural and artistic scene
Photos courtesy of Tom Arban/KPMB Architects
The architecture scene in Toronto is growing and thriving. The metropolitan landscape there has become more than the CN Tower, which is prominent in the city’s skyline. But a building doesn’t have to be tall to be beautiful, distinctive and worthy of a tourism board’s postcards. For example, the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the city’s rejuvenated Distillery District is as beautiful a theatre as you likely are to find anywhere in North America.
Designed by Toronto’s Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects (KPMB), the 44,000-square-foot facility consists of two renovated, 19th century tank houses. To respect the historic fabric of the site, KPMB says the overall design is characterized by a raw, warm, industrial aesthetic. For example, the building’s brick facades are exposed, the original windows remain, and the existing cobblestone pavers outside were conserved. Interior finishes, the firm explains, are utilitarian, limited to concrete floors and painted walls. Additionally, the ceilings are left exposed, KPMB says, to meet both cost and functional requirements, “but effectively achieve a complex visual canopy that weaves throughout the scheme.”
The theatre opened in January 2006, and is a shared facility between George Brown College and the Soulpepper Theatre Company. It consists of five, flexible theatres with seating ranging from 80 to 400; six, large rehearsal and teaching studios; three classrooms; a costume shop; administrative offices; a lobby and ticketing facilities; and a café and outdoor garden.
According to George Brown College, prior to the renovation, the tank houses were single-storey brick warehouse structures with existing floors at grade level. The new space links the two warehouses together with minimal structural intervention by spanning massive Douglas fir beams across bearing walls to create enclosed gathering spaces between the existing buildings. An extended, horizontal canopy defines the entrance.
For obvious reasons, this spectacular facility is receiving a great deal of attention, including several design awards. Among its many accolades is the 2007 Business Week/Architectural Record Award. Architectural Record said the theatre’s contribution to the Distillery District’s new identity as an artistic center evidences good design’s ability to add vitality to an area. “The industrial palette of redbrick and dark timber reflects that of the surrounding community, which benefits from a raised public profile,” writes the magazine’s Christopher Kieran. “The influx of theatergoers increases revenues for local businesses and attracts new galleries, restaurants and shops.”