The Royal Conservatory of Music officially celebrates the completion of the new home for Canada’s premier music and arts educator on Sept. 25, 2009.
The new TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning is the last jewel in the crown of Toronto’s Cultural Renaissance, a phenomenon that was catalysed in the slipstream of the Bilbao effect. Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects (KPMB), under the direction of partner Marianne McKenna, has been committed to working with the RCM for over 20 years to realize the vision which was first set forth in 1991 with the award winning Master Plan.
All Photographs by Tom Arban
Conceived as ‘a series of great rooms’ for music, the Centre manifests The Royal Conservatory’s ambitious dream for a unique hybrid facility. The centrepiece of the project is the 1139-seat performance venue, Koerner Hall, which signals the expanded role of the RCM as a cultural destination for public enjoyment. With its distinctive interior and world caliber acoustics, Koerner Hall will create a recognizable icon for the RCM, locally and internationally.
The project also includes three tiers of glass-fronted lobbies overlooking Philosopher’s Walk, back-of-house areas for performers, the café at the ground floor level, and an installation of unique antique musical instruments donated by Michael Koerner. The lobbies, named The Leslie and Anna Dan Gallerias, offer breathtaking views of the University of Toronto and the City, and provide ample room and bars and seating to host a variety of events and functions. The first floor lobby is a three storey space with limestone floors and is designed to accommodate 200 for seated dinners. A glass-enclosed room at the second balcony level, named in memory of Hin Shiu Hung, promises to be a much sought after venue for meetings and private entertaining.
Large light-filled vocal and instrumental studios, directly above the back of house and below the lobbies, wrap Koerner Hall and re-enforce the RCM’s performance and learning mandate.
Defining a New Cultural Precinct for Toronto The project occupies an important site in midtown Toronto at the threshold of the University of Toronto’s downtown campus and integrates Philosopher’s Walk, a landscaped pedestrian route that runs north and south linking Bloor Street to Hoskin Avenue. The design strategically participates in forming a new cultural precinct for the City, along with its neighbor the Royal Ontario Museum and the Gardiner Museum around the corner on Queen’s Park.
The project also involved the progressive restoration of the heritage McMaster Hall building, now named Ihnaotwycz Hall, including the exterior heritage fabric and the 237-seat Mazzoleni Hall. Although the new TELUS Centre is substantive, its siting and massing is deferential to the 19th century heritage buildings on Bloor Street which have housed the RCM since 1962. The contemporary architecture emphasizes transparency and accessibility as a dynamic counterpoint to the polychromatic masonry walls, and elevated entrance on Bloor Street..
The space between the historic and new building is enclosed to create a skylit pedestrian court linking the Bloor Street entrance to Koerner Hall and the Dan Gallerias. The glass and steel structure of the new addition generates a dialogue between old and new, and celebrates the restored polychromatic facades of the heritage buildings. Small balconies project through the façade of the historic south wall and mark the half landings of the original wood staircase of the historic structure.
Academic – Professional Conservatory
A key design objective was to maximize the capacity and flexibility for integrating new technology and adapting to changes and growth in programs. The new additions include 43 new teaching and practice studios, the renovation of Ihnatowycz Hall (1898) and a new 150-seat Conservatory Theatre, a rehearsal space designed to accommodate a range of functions, from music performance, special events to classroom activities. In scale and proportion, it replicates the acoustic quality and stage area of the main Koerner Concert Hall to prepare students for live performance.
Overall, the TELUS Centre emphasizes the primacy of acoustics to directly support the RCM’s educational mission of developing human potential through leadership in arts and education and its vision of fostering creativity through its innovative academic programs.
Koerner Hall – the Heart of the RCM
The heart of the project is Koerner Hall, the 1135-seat concert hall named after donors Michael and Sonja Koerner. Developed in concert with Sound Space Design and Anne Minors Performance Consultants, the Hall is designed to achieve an N1 acoustic rating, and is ideal for classical music, jazz, world music, amplified music, lectures and film.
The design is based on the classic shoe-box shape of some of the world’s finest concert halls, and features two balcony tiers above the main orchestra level, and a third technical balcony. Juxtaposed against the shoebox form of the hall, the wood balcony fronts and curving walls create a warm, sculpted ‘liner’ within the rectangular form. Sightlines and adjustable acoustics allow for a broad range of concert types including live televised broadcast.
The signature element is the ‘veil’ of undulating oak ‘strings’. The ‘veil’ forms the backdrop for the chorus at the first balcony level, then hovers over the stage below the fixed acoustic canopy, extending into and over the hall at the technical balcony level. The strings act as part of the acoustic reflection when under the canopy, and then become acoustically transparent over the rest of the space. Balcony fronts and seats, as well as the hall floors are natural oak, contrasted against undulating black plaster panels that line the hall and resonate the dark stone that wraps the exterior of the Hall.
Text by v2com