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RAIC Prix du XXième siècle: Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre

Location Winnipeg, Manitoba

Architect Number TEN Architectural Group

Opened in 1970, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (RMTC) was designed by Winnipeg firm Number TEN Architectural Group (originally Waisman Ross Blankstein Coop Gillmor Hanna).

The Manitoba Theatre Centre is a leading example of small-scale Brutalist architecture in Canada. Photo by Henry Kalen

The Manitoba Theatre Centre was founded in 1958 by John Hirsch and Tom Hendry as the first regional theatre in Canada. Its Winnipeg home is recognized as a National Historic Site, both for the company’s influence on the development of Canadian theatre and for the building’s expression of small-scale Brutalist architecture in Canada.

The principal architect for the 785-seat theatre was Allan H. Waisman, FRAIC, and the design architect was Robert Kirby, who worked closely with the artistic director of the theatre company, Eddie Gilbert. The RMTC is one of only three National Historic Sites in Canada designated for the excellence of their Brutalist architecture. (The other two are Charlottetown’s Confederation Centre for the Arts and Ottawa’s National Arts Centre.)

The foyer includes textured concrete whose wave pattern has become a motif for the Centre. Photo by Henry Kalen

One of the theatre’s two foyers includes viewing windows to the backstage workshop area, where theatregoers can see all the aspects of work that go into a production. Architectural historian Andrew Waldron says, “A thrust stage, calm semi-private spaces and public viewing of behind-the-scenes are only a few elements of how the architects introduced a more intimate and informal experience within a Brutalist space. These qualities have remained intact. Indeed, in contrast to other Brutalist works, the RMTC has retained its integrity with few alterations since construction. Its architectural integrity is a testament to its functional and material success.”

Continuous skylights flank the atrium. Photo by Henry Kalen

The building also contributes to the two streets it faces, and includes a unique auditorium design, with an irregularly shaped balcony extending over the orchestra, and a flexible stage that can project and recess through the frame of the proscenium. Other notable features are continuous skylights on two sides of the auditorium and the high quality craftsmanship of the exposed concrete.

The 785-seat theatre includes a flexible stage. Photo by Henry Kalen

:: Jury ::   John Leroux (MRAIC), Patricia Patkau (FRAIC), Richard Moorhouse

This small project is as much about the local culture of Winnipeg as it is about Brutalism. It is as much about the social and political agendas of a local creative community as it is about form. It promotes an awareness and appreciation of the relationships between those behind the scenes, those on stage and the audience—a casualness of contact. It explores the social, the political, the material and the place as conditions for creativity and innovation. It is a gentle, lovely and lovable building.

A generous setback and finely texture concrete walls contribute to the surrounding streetscape. Photo by James Ashby

While most Brutalist architecture embraced its fortress-like mass and solidity, in the case of the theatre, its generous glazing surfaces and careful board form details make it a pleasure to pass by. Of special note is the artistic motif of the sinewy curved lines of the light installation atop the exterior fly gallery, matched by the formwork mural surface on the interior lobby.

The owners have been quite wonderful stewards over the years and this should be recognized. They have undertaken award-winning renovations to accommodate contemporary needs while respecting the spirit of the building to ensure that it can be enjoyed for generations to come, just like it was when it was first conceived and built.

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