November 18, 2015
by Elsa Lam
A rendering showing the newly opened FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines, Ontario.
A bold urban renewal project that provides a new centre for the performing arts as well as an arts learning environment have opened in downtown St. Catharines.
Designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects, the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre is a 95,000-square-foot cultural complex comprised of four state-of-the-art performance venues: a 781-seat adjustable acoustic concert hall, a 304-seat recital hall, a black box performance/event space for 200 people and a 199-seat film theatre.
The facility lines St. Catharines’ main St. Paul Street with honey-coloured masonry and glazed curtain wall that showcase the lobby space to the street and provides a focus for downtown activities and community life. Bolder architectural expression is applied on the rear façade with a framed cantilever and inner glazing to communicate across a valley and define a new landmark for the city.
The four soundproof theatres are designed to meet the needs of the Niagara region’s diverse cultural cluster. “These multi-purpose rooms provide enormous versatility to mount a wide rage of performances and events,” said Gary McCluskie, Principal, Diamond Schmitt Architects. “Partridge Hall is a rare example of a venue that can accommodate acoustic and amplified concerts without changing the architectural character of the space. Acoustic material is lowered for amplified concerts behind scalloped wooden slat panels that line the room.”
Partridge Hall, showing amplified acoustic configuration
The Cairns Recital Hall is configured in the so-called shoe-box design with the classical properties of some of the most famous sounding halls in the world – the large wood-lined volume has variable acoustic banners for clear sound diffusion. The Robertson Theatre features retractable seating and a triple-glazed window wall that reveals the skyline as a backdrop, adding to its versatility and appeal as an event space. The Film Theatre has raked seating and surround sound projection.
A rendering showing the newly opened FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, with a Brock University building also by Diamond Schmitt in the foreground.
Adjacent to the performing arts centre is Brock University’s Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts, which opened two months ago in a heritage building renewed and expanded by Diamond Schmitt Architects. The City of St. Catharines and Brock University partnered to create a downtown academic and cultural hub that would share facilities where performance venues double as learning environments. The arts school has access to Cairns Recital Hall and the film theatre for performances, screenings and lectures. Brock has a theatre, scenery and costume shops, scenography, rehearsal and music studios.
“The FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre is unique both in design and in partnerships,” said Steve Solski, Executive Director of the city-run cultural facility. “Diamond Schmitt’s multi-venue design allows for everything from symphonies and choirs, to theatre, film and music to take place simultaneously. The partnership with Brock means 500 students a day can utilize the teaching space, enhancing the synergy of entertainment, culture, outreach and education this facility is designed to do.”
A rendering showing the view from Carlisle Street of the newly opened FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre.
The entire building meets Facility Accessibility Design Standards, which exceed the Ontario Building Code requirements. Accessibility features include automatic doors, lowered box office, bar and coat check counters, removable seats in the theatres to accommodate wheelchairs, an infra-red sound system for hearing impaired, large single washrooms, and Braille on the elevators.
The $60-million performing arts centre and $40-million academic facility were awarded to Diamond Schmitt Architects by separate tender from the city and Brock University, respectively. “It’s a rare opportunity to work on adjacent, programmatically linked facilities,” added McCluskie. “We’re confident these buildings and the public space between them will make a significant contribution to revitalizing St. Catharines as an important centre for the arts and learning.”