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Architects: Hariri Pontarini Architects
Lead Designer: Siamak Hariri
General Contractor: EllisDon Corporation
Client: The Stratford Festival
Photographers: doublespace photography and Scott Norsworthy
The acclaimed Stratford Festival in Canada sought a best-in-class design to replace an outdated but beloved venue named for festival founder Tom Patterson. With little in the way of amenities, accessibility or even comfort, the previous theatre’s main attribute was its intimacy, where an elongated thrust stage ran deep into the audience chamber surrounded by bleacher-style seating for 600 people. Situated in a riverside park, the old theatre fashioned from a Quonset hut, turned its back on its marvelous natural setting.
The bar was set very high for the new theatre. The experience of attending and performing was to be the stuff of which memories are made and legacies are built. The festival also sought new permanent facilities for initiatives in education, outreach, donor recognition, additional programming space, and community use. This building not only had to perform well – it had to capture the imagination.
The design response was as simple and straightforward as the inspiration from which it came: an abiding connection to nature in every imaginable way. The site provided a blueprint to proceed: engage the river and park setting. Bring the outdoors in and orient the public rooms to feast on the bounty of nature through the seasons. A sustainable narrative is woven through the design with LEED Gold registration a rarity among performing arts projects. This building was conceived as a place for all that connects its urban setting with the riverside park.
It is a beacon that creates a sense of anticipation with an arrival sequence whether on foot, by bike, or by car through newly landscaped grounds. A large cantilevered canopy leads to an entrance filled with natural light and a floor plan that flows in many inviting directions. Across a sequence of connected, spacious public rooms, the undulating façade of tall glass panes framed by thin bronze mullions brings the panorama deep inside and creates quiet folds and eddies of encounter.
The fortuitous north-facing orientation means the double-glazed curtainwall has little direct impact from the sun’s rays, reducing solar heat gain. A comforting material palette reinforces the design narrative of connection to nature. Oak floors, rough and honed Ontario limestone panels, and smooth brick are featured.
The individually-laid wood ceiling slats provide acoustic dampening for ease of conversation. To contrast the organic, animated flow that courses through these spaces, the solid massing of the auditorium provides a counterbalance, a stillness that registers by the warmth of its textured brick. Solidity and movement within the public spaces create a theatrical dynamic that sets the stage for performance within the enclosure. The auditorium pays homage to its predecessor and maintains the stage configuration and capacity.
The barrel-vaulted, wood-lined room is entered from the top of eight rows where no seat is more than 28 feet from a portion of the elongated thrust stage. The rake and three steps between rows make for easy access and unobstructed sight lines. Universal design accommodates mobility devices with space for their storage should patrons choose side transfer chairs or custom seating. Low-energy lighting is deployed throughout and is especially notable for the use of a complete LED stage lighting system.
This theatre is one of the first in the world to employ energy-efficient, liquid-cooled head lights and follow spots that add to the silent acoustic environment. State-of-the-art staging technology will support artistic growth for generations to come.