Theatre Projects Collaborates on Design for Isabel Bader Centre for the Arts

by Jacob Coakley
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Theatre Projects collaborated with Snøhetta and N45 Architecture on the design of Queen’s University’s Isabel Bader Centre for the Arts. The $65 million center, which combines historic preservation and modern architecture, features a concert hall, flexible theatre, orchestra rehearsal room, film screening room, film production studio, classrooms, and a full suite of support spaces. Scott Crossfield, Theatre Projects theatre designer and Steven Rust, Theatre Project’s lighting designer, worked on the design.

Theatre Projects’ expertise contributes to Queen’s University’s stunning, new Isabel Bader Centre for the Arts

NORWALK, CT

On the shores of Lake Ontario, Queen’s University’s Isabel Bader Centre for the Arts—the newest addition to Canada’s cultural landscape—is set to open its doors this weekend, marking the culmination of more than seven years of planning, design, and construction.

Theatre Projects collaborated with Snøhetta and N45 Architecture on the design of this 80,000 square-foot arts center that will provide Kingston, Ontario with a state-of-the-art teaching facility, a world-class showcase for student and professional musicians, and a breathtaking architectural addition to the university campus.

The $65 million center, which combines historic preservation and modern architecture, features a concert hall, flexible theatre, orchestra rehearsal room, film screening room, film production studio, classrooms, and a full suite of support spaces.

The centerpiece of the lakeside arts center is the 566-seat performance hall. Theatre Projects drove the design of the hall, which takes on the classic shoebox concert hall form, but with a smaller seat count, creating an extremely intimate and dynamic experience for the audience. By wrapping the audience around the hall, the balcony seating enhances the dynamic atmosphere. Behind the stage platform, the balcony allows room for up to a 60–person chorus or more audience seating.

Although the room was built primarily for symphonic music, the performance hall was designed to be multipurpose and can accommodate amplified music, film, and other forms of multimedia. “It’s a very modern, versatile, and functional space,” Theatre Projects’ theatre designer, Scott Crossfield, said. “But it’s also a beautiful, classic concert hall.”

In order to maintain Snøhetta’s clean, modern design for the performance hall, Theatre Projects worked closely with the architects to ensure the room could accommodate the seamless and discreet integration of lighting and rigging systems as well as complement the naturalist aesthetic, all without compromising the performance requirements of the users. 

“Sensitive integration of equipment is something we consider a specialty of ours. It comes down to listening to the architect and being in on a job early,” Steven Rust, Theatre Projects’ lighting designer, said. “All too often, stage lighting is an afterthought and is just ‘tacked on’ at the end of project. That absolutely wasn’t the case here. This successful collaboration will leave visitors hard-pressed to notice the room’s extensive infrastructure.”

The Principal Emerita Karen Hitchcock Rehearsal Hall—an expansive room with 30-foot ceilings—is designed to give musicians an easy transition from rehearsals to performances in the concert hall. The room’s acoustics mimic those of the performance hall, negating any potential acoustic surprises awaiting musicians.

A need to accommodate a wide variety of users and performance types led Theatre Projects to extend the same type of flexibility to the center’s smaller venue—the Power Corporation of Canada Studio Theatre. This highly versatile, 130-seat flexible theatre can be arranged into flat floor, thrust, or arena configurations. Even the walls of the room are versatile, with five sets of metal channels running horizontally around the room at different heights, allowing for lighting, scenery, and rigging to be attached to the walls, providing countless design options.

The flexibility and multipurpose design continue even into the Isabel’s stunning two-story lobby where Theatre Projects integrated lighting positions discreetly into the ceiling and pillars, allowing the room to easily host a wide variety of events such as parties, galas, and fundraisers.

As the new home to the university’s Departments of Film and Media, the center also features a film production studio, editing suite, and a 92-seat screening room.

Built in part from an abandoned 182-year-old distillery, in every facet, the Isabel embraces both history and modernity. Whether it’s hosting a choir ensemble, or a multimedia presentation, chamber music, or a student-made, one-act play, the stunning lakeside center offers the Kingston community and Queen’s University students an unparalleled chance to explore and enhance their creativity.

“This is absolutely the most beautiful site we’ve ever built on,” David H. Rosenburg, Theatre Projects’ project manager, said. “From the moment you walk in the building, you’re very aware that it’s part of something larger than itself. There’s a constant connection to the outside, in part, because of the very liberal use of glass.”

The Isabel is the fifth completed collaboration between Theatre Projects and Snøhetta. The four previous projects were the Wolfe Center for the Arts at Bowling Green State University, the Oslo Opera House, the Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech, and the Baerum Kulturhus in Sandvika, Norway. A sixth collaboration, the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Saudi Arabia, is slated to open in 2015.