National Ballet School
ARCHITECT KUWABARA PAYNE MCKENNA BLUMBERG ARCHITECTS AND GOLDSMITH BORGAL & COMPANY LTD. ARCHITECTS, ARCHITECTS IN JOINT VENTURE
LOCATION TORONTO, ONTARIO
Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS) is the only institute in North America to offer an integrated program of professional dance training, advanced-level academic education and resident living. Stage 1 realizes the school’s vision to create a student-centred training facility which supports its mandate to nurture mind, body, and soul and to balance innovation and tradition in the art form. It also participates in the revitalization of the North Jarvis precinct of downtown Toronto.
A partnership between the school, the previous land owners, and a residential developer was formed to combine residential land use and institutional cultural amenities in one precinct. The massing strategy was co-authored by respective architects of the school and the development to achieve maximum density on two constrained 2.4-acre urban blocks. The school and the residential development are configured to define a shared interior courtyard that also facilitates pedestrian and vehicular circulation through the block. The NBS campus is sited to face Jarvis, and integrates three heritage properties.
The design of the training centre was conceived as a vertical campus of three elevated transparent volumes–the six-storey North Tower, a horizontal five-storey “Bar” building, and a four-storey Pavilion building–organized into an asymmetrical U-shaped configuration around Northfield House (1856), and connected to the Margaret McCain Academic Building (formerly Havergal Ladies’ College, 1889/1901) and the R. A. Laidlaw Centre (1988 restoration and renovation).
The concept fuses architecture, dance, movement and spectacle within a series of horizontal stacked platforms or “stages.” The glazed curtain wall of the North Tower presents elevated views of the dance studios, which in turn allow the dancers to acquire the city as backdrop and audience. The art of ballet as an act of storytelling is expressed on the faade of the Pavilion where a suspended plane of frit glass carries, in Benesh notation, the choreography of the opening scene of James Kudelka’s The Nutcracker.
The space between the heritage residence and the training centre is enclosed to create a threestorey “Town Square.” Here, the major support programs–caf, physio department and resource centre–converge, and the mandate of the NBS to nurture the whole person is made manifest. Corridors and stairs provide generous “warm-up” and “hang-out” spaces for the students. The second level functions like a piano nobile: it is seamlessly linked via a bridge to classrooms in the Margaret McCain Building and is directly connected to the Betty Oliphant Theatre, allowing students and performers to walk from the training centre onto the stage. Custom-designed studio volumes, sprung floors, ballet barres and lighting systems express the school’s student-centred focus.
This project applies broadly recognized urban planning principles that link the vitality of street life and diversity of uses to the level of safety in a neighbourhood. The emphasis on transparency has brought the art of dance to the street, stimulating community pride and enhancing the identity of this treasured Canadian institution. The thoughtful refinement of all elements, from the grand vol- umes of the studio spaces to the ergonomics of the customized ballet barre creates a supportive and inspiring environment to encourage creativity and innovation. As a model for the harmonious coexistence of heritage and contemporary architecture, the design offers a metaphorical resolution to the dilemma of ballet in contemporary times, which is to both preserve and challenge its art form.
John McMinn: This project was complimented for its strong yet varied relationship to the street, particularly in presenting the ballet studios as a vitrine of stacked spaces. The dynamic multi-level spatial interplay of circulation spaces linking diverse elements of the program also facilitates the skillful integration of an existing Victorian house within the composition of the complex.CA
CLIENT MAVIS STAINES, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, NATIONAL BALLET SCHOOL
ARCHITECT TEAM BRUCE KUWABARA, SHIRLEY BLUMBERG, MITCHELL HALL, OLGA PUSHKAR, MYRIAM TAWADROS, RAMON JANER, JEFF STRAUSS, JILL GREAVES, VIRGINIA DOS REIS, JIMMY SUN, KRISTA CLARK, MARYAM NOURMANSOURI
STRUCTURAL YOLLES PARTNERSHIP INC.
MECHANICAL/ELECTRICAL CROSSEY ENGINEERING LTD.
LANDSCAPE THE MBTW GROUP
URBAN PLANNERS URBAN STRATEGIES INC.
ACOUSTICS AERCOUSTICS ENGINEERING LTD.
ARBORIST SHADY LANE EXPERT TREE CARE INC.
AUDIOVISUAL ENGINEERING HARMONICS
CONTRACTOR EASTERN CONSTRUCTION LTD.
BUDGET $75 M
COMPLETION DECEMBER 2005