Page D2.2 . 28 June 2006                     
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    Song of Four Seasons

    continued

    Hall Crafted for Grand Opera

    The R. Fraser Elliott Hall accommodates an audience of 2,000 stacked in five levels, or "rings." Acoustician Robert Essert, director of London-based Sound Space Design Ltd., says that a hall designed to accommodate an audience of 1,500 to 2,000 is best for a wide range of operatic presentations.

    While well tuned acoustically, the hall is also pleasing to the eye. The room boasts a monochromatic color scheme that Diamond describes as "mauve mud, except for the seats, which add spice."

    The color is darkest on the rear walls and lightest on the balcony fronts. Seats are covered in a pale blue-gray fabric. "I wanted the house to have a presence," says Diamond, "but to be not more important than the opera itself."

    There are three stages — main, rear and side — along with generous dressing, wardrobe, and instrument storage rooms, allowing three full productions to be in the house simultaneously. The side and rear stages have the same performance area as the main stage.

    A large, flexible, 21-foot- (6.4-meter-) wide orchestra pit allows the presentation of the full range of operatic repertoire, from chamber pieces by Handel to monumental ones by Wagner, which may call for an orchestra of over 100 musicians.

    Accessible from both scene dock and front-of-house, the naturally lit, acoustically isolated rehearsal hall can be used for social functions and concerts and as a warm-up space for instrumentalists, dancers, and singers.

    Civic Neighbor

    Adding to this drama, the new building plays a role in the context of downtown Toronto. Dressing rooms, dance studio, box office, rehearsal space, and lobbies all line and animate the street, while giving it continuity.

    One front-of-house space is particularly notable: the four-story City Room encourages the public to experience the artistic life of the building. Crystalline and transparent, the City Room encloses what can be seen as an extension of the sidewalk. The glass facades, of low-iron glass from Germany, are custom-designed. Large, point-loaded, double-glazed panels are supported by suspended steel crosses and laterally braced by horizontal glass shelves.

    In another design innovation, the main — west-facing — facade has an exterior shade, which is computer controlled and linked to weather sensors. This system is expected to greatly reduce solar heat gain.

    Traffic flow to and through the upper levels of the City Room is designed to make the path to each balcony level gracious and exciting. The Aerial Amphitheater is a component of this experience. A glass staircase appears to float in the airy City Room, bringing the audience up through the space to the upper balcony levels.

    A daring feat of engineering, the staircase is a self-supporting glass truss with small steel chords running at the top and bottom of the guards. The translucent treads and risers are pinned to the glass web of the guards and illuminated by tiny hidden lights. The effect is a ribbon of light rising gently through the space.

    The transparency of the City Room is in dramatic contrast to the enclosing envelope of the audience chamber, where the external world is excluded in favor of a focus on the performance within. A slatted wood screen made of warm European steamed beech is suspended between the open City Room and the curving, solid walls of the auditorium.

    Acting as a veil, the screen enhances the social experience of opera, enabling patrons to view the various levels of the City Room without being seen.

    In celebration of the opening of the new "multi-ring" hall, the inaugural production in the new opera house will be Richard Wagner's epic tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). Three complete Ring Cycles will be performed in September 2006.   >>>

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    Janet Collins is a freelance writer and editor based in British Columbia. She has written for Canadian Architect, Canadian Interiors, Canadian Facility Management & Design, and many other publications.

     

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    Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto, designed by Diamond and Schmitt Architects, view from Queen Street.
    Photo: Elizabeth Gyde/ Diamond and Schmitt Architects Inc.

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    Four Seasons, as seen from Richmond Street.
    Photo: Elizabeth Gyde/ Diamond and Schmitt Architects Inc.

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    The City Room, with glass staircase.
    Photo: Tim Griffith Photographer

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    Between the City Room and concert hall is a large, curved, slatted-wood screen.
    Photo: Steven Evans Photography

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    Four Seasons site plan.
    Image: Diamond and Schmitt Architects Inc. Extra Large Image

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    Floor plan, orchestra (ground level).
    Image: Diamond and Schmitt Architects Inc. Extra Large Image

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    Floor plan, "grand ring" (second level).
    Image: Diamond and Schmitt Architects Inc. Extra Large Image

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    Section through auditorium, looking north.
    Image: Diamond and Schmitt Architects Inc. Extra Large Image

     

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