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A symphony for sight
October 09, 2009 | Niki May Young | World Architecture

Toronto's last 'jewel in the crown' for cultural foundations completes

"Catalysed by the ‘Bilbao effect’, Toronto has seen its latest cultural by-product, the Royal Conservatory’s Telus Centre for Performance and Learning develop into a feast for the eyes as well as the ears. After more than 20 years since the masterplanning of Toronto’s cultural foundations, the plan’s ‘jewel in the crown’, designed by Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects (KPMB) under the direction of partner Marianne McKenna, is now complete.

The real wow element of the design is delivered by the Koerner Hall, a 1135 seat concert hall named after the donors Michael and Sonja Koerner. While based on the classic shoe-box arrangement, used globally in the world’s finest concert halls, two balcony tiers and a third technical balcony provide the opportunity to create a warm sculpted ‘liner’ within the box form. Waving beams of wood are arranged overhead optimizing the acoustic performance. Named the ‘veil of oak strings’ the arrangement ‘forms the backdrop for the chorus at the first balcony level, then hovers over the stage below the fixed acoustic canopy, extending into and over the hall at the technical balcony level’. Sound Space Design and Anne Minors Performance Consultants worked with KPMB to help achieve the optimum N1 acoustic rating to make the space ideal for classical, jazz and world music as well as for lectures and films.

Telus is conceived as ‘a series of great rooms’ for music but one of the defining features of the design is the optimisation of views created by three tiers of glass-fronted lobbies. The lobbies take full advantage of the project’s location in midtown Toronto, offering breathtaking views of the University of Toronto and the rest of the city, as well as providing a sneaky glance at back-of-house areas for performers, the café at the ground floor level, and an installation of unique antique musical instruments donated by Michael Koerner.

As well as the Koerner Hall, Telus provides 43 new teaching and practise studios and involved the renovation of Ihnatowycz Hall (previously McMaster Hall) dated 1898, and the addition of a new 150-seat Conservatory Theatre. The bridge between the old and new is generated by a skylit pedestrian court linking the Bloor Street entrance to Koerner Hall and the Dan Gallerias.

“The glass and steel structure of the new addition generates a dialogue between old and new, and celebrates the restored polychromatic facades of the heritage buildings. Small balconies project through the façade of the historic south wall and mark the half landings of the original wood staircase of the historic structure,” say the architects."

Niki May Young
News Editor

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