Repeat Performance

Project Northern & Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditoria, Edmonton & Calgary, Alberta

Architect Stantec Architecture Ltd.

Text Shafraaz Kaba

May this structure endure as a monument to the Alberta pioneer. In these stones is our tribute to those who formed our province dedicated in the year 1955, the 50th year of the Province of Alberta.

–Mounted on the exterior of the Northern and Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditoria in Edmonton and Calgary.

The Jubilee Auditoria were gifts of the people of Alberta to future generations to share in creating memories and history. The two auditoria in Edmonton and Calgary are nearly identical, differing only in a few minor architectural features and the land they occupy. The Province of Alberta recently refurbished the “Jubes” as they are fondly called, as part of Alberta’s Centennial celebration. CPV Group of Architects and Engineers (now Stantec Architecture) was selected to lead the rejuvenation, and have brought back pride to these modern structures.

Designed in 1955 by Ronald Clarke, Chief Architect of the Department of Public Works for the province’s Golden Jubilee, the auditoria were a feat of great courage and vision. In Edmonton, the Northern Jubilee Auditorium was sited in an open field southwest of the University of Alberta campus. Calgary’s auditorium was on top of North Hill, overlooking downtown. The city would grow around these structures, providing challenges to the dignity of these buildings.

Although the facilities were nearly identical in design, the management that ran each facility and the resident companies and clients were completely different. CPV Group, led by principal Fred Valentine, conducted over 200 interviews with resident companies, community partners, users, staff and building operators, and identified over 650 issues to address in the reconstruction. A master plan for the redevelopment of the auditoria was completed in 2001. Alberta Infrastructure and Alberta Community Development came to a consensus to undertake work that would force the shutdown of the Jubilee auditoria for the 2004 season. The work was to be limited to the audience chamber, renewing HVAC systems, lighting, and sound.

The main focus of this Centennial project was the renovation of the audience chamber. Danish acoustician Neils Jordan of Jordan Akustic collaborated with CPV Group to formulate strategies that would provide the audience chamber with live sound. Acoustic adaptability for the hall’s multipurpose use was a necessity as well. The fan-shaped hall was turned into a unique composition of seating terraces that descend from the first balcony. The terraces help create early sound reflections by replicating a shoebox form. This idea has also made the hall more intimate, as patrons do not feel like they are part of a massive audience. The patron now has a sense of “seeing and being seen.” The once cramped and uncomfortable seats were substantially re-raked and staggered to provide better sight lines and increased legroom.

Complete renewal of the original walnut-faced walls in the audience chamber has been effected. The walnut panels created a drum effect in the old Jubilee auditorium, due to the fact that they were mounted on girts that created an air space behind them. The American black walnut veneer was easily dismantled and reapplied to a composite backing of fire-retardant plywood and gypsum, providing a solid substrate and reflecting surface. Some of the wood panels are angled into the depth of the wall to provide greater sound reflection. The shadows created by the angled wall panels provide a visual richness to the wood wall that the original hall lacked. The walnut was stained a reddish-brown colour to emphasize the wood grain and to give the hall a remarkably warm feel, much like the colour of a string instrument. To set off the dark tones, Valentine describes the brushed nickel and silver banisters as “jewelry” inside the audience chamber.

The auditoria are used for everything from high school graduations to rock concerts and dance competitions. The audience chamber has an array of features to adapt to different types of performances, creating both live and dry acoustics. Retractable acoustic curtains are hung on cables on the sidewalls of the chamber. The alignment of the curtains relates to the angle of wood panel joints, but not the more pronounced wall cutouts. The stainless steel standoffs that hold the cable off the walls are prominent when the acoustic curtain is retracted, and are somewhat distracting from the fine wood character. The old plaster ceiling in the front half of the auditorium has been removed, allowing sound to travel up to the underside of roof structure, providing longer reverberation. In its place, acoustically transparent ceiling panels continue the scalloping shape with grace. A ceiling drape can be deployed to provide sound absorption, as part of the variable acoustic dampening system. The lighting rigs bolted directly to the first balcony and the sidewalls are unapologetically utilitarian.

Bringing the orchestra pit flush with the main audience floor allows for a further 117 seats in front of the stage which draws the audience right up to the performers. The old concrete barrier to the orchestra pit has been removed and replaced with removable guardrails when the orchestra pit is below. The pit can also be raised to create an extension to the stage area. The proscenium arch has decreased in size by 3.6 metres and has been squared off from its previous fan shape to further help sound reflections, particularly to the orchestra where they could not hear each other before.

The displacement heating, cooling, and ventilation systems are entirely new. The old audience chamber was plagued by mechanical system noise, stagnant air, drafts, and inefficient operation. The new HVAC systems came at the cost of closing the small theatre in the lower level. In Calgary, this required Theatre Junction, a longtime resident, to find a new space. Fortuitously for the company, it has resulted in the refurbishment of the Grand Theatre in downtown Calgary, which was in disrepair. Diffusers in the audience chamber floor now provide conditioned air through large, low velocity ducts and plenums, eliminating noise from mechanical equipment. Operating costs, as well as energy efficiency, have greatly been improved. The only negative aspect is the mass of HVAC equipment in full view on the right exterior side of the building, visible as one approaches the front doors.

The main lobby was refreshed with a neutral palette of paint, new textured charcoal carpet, and elegant interior signage. The stippled walls and ceilings were scraped away and made smooth with a skim coat, providing a cleaner look to the space. The new carpet provides a secure surface, as there are subtle changes in slope around the lobbies. Signage was updated to aid in wayfinding and lends a more progressive look to the lobby.

Nonetheless, there are still some major issues to overcome at the Jubes. The ballet requires at least a partially sprung floor. There are huge lineups at all the women’s washrooms during intermission, including the toilets that are located in the basement. Loading docks and site access, particularly at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, require reconfiguration. The old freestanding bars and other millwork do not match the newly renovated spaces. There is no exterior freestanding marquee to announce current shows and performances. Many of these issues are identified in the Master Plan for Redevelopment, but require commitment from Alberta Infrastructure and Alberta Community Development to proceed.

The core part of the rejuvenation has been complete, providing the citizens of Alberta two vessels to keep and build memories in. The audience chamber has been given a magnificent update. The hall itself looks and feels like an acoustic instrument of music, with greatly improved sound.

Richard Neutra, while visiting A
lberta for the Banff Sessions, toured the Northern Alberta Jubilee auditorium while it was under construction. His appreciation for the Jubilee Auditorium was published in the Dedication Program in 1957: “Music and human voice will be cherished in Edmonton and Calgary long after the faithful devoted design team has departed from this stage. A perennial service has been rendered to the people, to the lovers of music and the dramatic arts.”

This sentiment can be echoed again with the first phase of work that has recently been completed on the rejuvenation of the Alberta Jubilee Auditoria.

Shafraaz Kaba works for Manasc Isaac Architects in Edmonton, and is the founding member of the Media, Art and Design Exposed (M.A.D.E.) in Edmonton Society.

Client Ministry of Alberta Community Development, Ministry of Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation, Friends of the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium Society, Friends of the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium Society, Alberta Infrastructure

Architect Team Fred Valentine, Rolf Stuber, Craig P. Ainsworth, Randy Exner, David Bishop, Jindra Bolo-Lardizabal, Ernesto Carcamo, Alex Chay, Steve Cowley, Mike Dowler, Gary Drozda, Leslie Guevara, Jurgen Hartloper, Lawrence Hughes, Gerry Michaels, Ba Ngo, Christine Parker, Laura Plosz, Marten Rhead, Tara Scheifler, Jennifer Simpson, Jeff Stevenson, Eric Toker, Graham Vermette, Brent Welty

Structural/Mechanical/Electrical Stantec Consulting Ltd.

Interiors Stantec Architecture Ltd.

Theatre Proscenium Architecture + Interiors Inc.

Building Acoustics Bkl Consultants Ltd.

Room Acoustics Jordan Akustik

Lighting & Rigging Douglas Welch Design Associates Ltd.

Signage Gottschalk + Ash International

Project Manager Jon Newman

Contractor Bird Construction Company (Naja), Bird Management Ltd. (Saja)

Budget $62 M

Completion September 2005

Photography Roy Ooms Lightworks, Greg Ingram (Construction Photos)