Four Seasons Centre in Toronto
The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts is a 2,071-seat theatre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada which had its grand opening Wednesday, June 14, 2006. The first actual performance however, commenced in September 2006 with the first Canadian production of Richard Wagner's Der Ring Des Nibelungen. The theatre, designed by Jack Diamond, is at the southeast corner of University Avenue and Queen Street West, across from Osgoode Hall. The land on which it is located was a gift from the Government of Ontario.
The venue is the home of the Canadian Opera Company (COC) and the National Ballet of Canada, replacing the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts (earlier named the Hummingbird Centre and O'Keefe Centre) that had housed the COC for some 40 years. Earlier in the city's history the Grand Opera House had stood at Bay and Adelaide, but it was demolished in 1927.
Failed Bay St project
There had been a long standing desire to replace the O'Keefe Centre with lobbying led by financier Hal Jackman, president of the Ballet Opera House corporation. In 1984 Ontario premier Bill Davis promised that a piece of provincial owned land at Bay and Wellesley would be the home for the new opera house. The prime real estate was estimated to be worth some $75 million. A design competition was won by Moshe Safdie who proposed a strikingly postmodern project (Image). In 1988 the project was approved and the existing stores and government offices on the site were demolished.
In 1990 a new provincial government was elected under Bob Rae. The new NDP government found the $311 million project excessively costly, especially as the province was faced with a large deficit due to the recession. The province was also still dealing with the $550 million cost of the SkyDome project that had become a financial disaster for the government and worried about a sequel. The government attempted to reduce the costs of the project, but the Opera House corporation refused to modify the design. Thus two months after being elected the new government withdrew its funding for the project. In 1992 the province finally cancelled the project and the land was sold to developers. Two towers in the "Opera Place" development have been built on Bay Street, but as of June 2011 the rest of the property remains vacant.
University Avenue project
In 1997 the province promised a parking lot that had previously been the site of offices for the Supreme Court of Ontario at Queen and University for the project. The lot was valued at C$31 million and the federal and provincial governments also pledged funding for a new more modest project that would only cost some $130 million. The original plan called for an 190 metre tower of offices and condominiums to be built by Cadillac Fairview that would help fund the project. It would be further supplemented by a $20 million donation by Christopher Ondaatje. However both Cadillac-Fairview and Ondaatje developed concerns about the project and pulled out. More importantly the municipal government of Mel Lastman refused to provide and municipal funding. The project collapsed again in 2000.
In 2002 the COC under Richard Bradshaw launched a new set of plans that included a $20 million donation from the Four Seasons hotel chain in exchange for perpetual naming rights to the complex. The COC organized a competition to select an architect for the new theatre. Ten firms of architects submitted their proposals, from which Canadian Diamond and Schmitt Architects was selected as the winner for its modernist design. The complex took three years to construct at an estimated cost of $181 million. Elevator access to the concourse level of Osgoode subway station was integrated into the construction of the Centre, which along with an elevator to the platform level within the fare paid area, makes the station fully wheelchair accessible.
The auditorium is modelled after European opera houses, with its five-tiered, horseshoe-shaped auditorium. Collaborating with Diamond Schmitt, New York-based theatre planning and design specialists Fisher Dachs Associates designed the room’s geometry and seating configuration to bring every seat as close to the stage as possible, maximizing a sense of intimacy between audience members and the performers. Every seat was computer-modeled in 3D to insure the best possible sightlines.
The COC and its design team attempted to create the best natural acoustics possible, guided by acoustician Bob Essert of Sound Space Design and a team that included Aercoustics Engineering, Wilson Ihrig & Associates and Engineering Harmonics.
The inaugural production in the new opera house was Richard Wagner’s epic tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), attended by Governor General Michaëlle Jean, as well as numerous other Canadian luminaries. Three complete Ring Cycles were performed in September 2006.
The myriad of different materials used within the FSCPA contrast and combine to create a multi-faceted piece of architecture. The most exquisite and detailed exterior cladding is also a central part of the architectural design: the City Room glass walls. These monumental transparencies are curtain walls held by steel fixtures. These apertures are situated on the University Ave and Queen St sides, with the dominant emphasis of the City Room towards University Ave. The intensity of the dark brick and lack of other cladding material on the East, South and North sides have been subject to scrutiny due to its perceived lack of interaction with the rest of the street. A major part of the argument presented is the North facing Queen Street side of the building which has a beautiful view of Osgoode Hall from inside the Four Seasons Centre, but from the Osgoode Hall side of the road, the view is less attractive. Billboards advertising city events, a coffee shop, a small retail area and vast brick wall do not engage the robust and animated nature of Queen St. On a similar note, the solid, intimidating Eastern facing facade is a completely different atmosphere than the inviting, transparent Western facade. The West is the sidewalk extension City Room, which defines the structure in its context and illuminates the street, whereas the East blends too well into its office building and brick surroundings, offering no relief, but simply continuity to the adverse York Street. A multi-dimensional plane with several depressions covered in charcoal brick broken only by linear and longitudinal windows. John Bentley Mays states in his 2006 Canadian Architect article that East wall is “unresponsive to the need of vitality on the street.” The final facade in high criticism is the Southern, Richmond Street facing facade that is opposite the Hilton Hotel. This exterior wall does nothing to appeal to the buildings around it other than camouflage itself into the backdrop of office towers. In retrospect, how Diamond defends his design choice does conclude an intelligent and conscious decision in its exterior design: “[people] don’t get it. There’s a kind of provincial attitude out there what wants spectacle... [people] are aesthetic barbarians, fascinated by glass baubles. [People] want [architects] to shoot their bolt every time. Of course, there is a place for pavilion-like buildings. It depends on where they are, but you do not do it on every block. You do not make a city out of iconic pieces.” (Bently Mays, 2006). The points of interest in the quote are that this building is not a pavilion, it is a composition of squares designed to complement the geometry of Toronto’s Downtown grid and high rise architecture, the need for brilliance and extravagance on all the facades is negligible. The solidity of the North, East and South walls reinforce the voids in the City Room, truly allowing the space become an extension of the sidewalk and a light in the night time. It could be looked at in a way that the solid planes that are the less influential North, South and East facing walls guide pedestrians to the most fundamental side of the building, which is also the entrance.
R. Fraser Elliott Hall
The R. Fraser Elliott Hall has been given a lot of praise as one of the world’s best theatre spaces for a number of reasons. Diamond’s design amplifies the idea of being close to the music by keeping the audience in literal close proximity to the stage. Each of the 2,000 seats in the theatre has an unobstructed view of the performance stage, including the tiered balconies that start 27 metres from the stage (Collins, 2006). In fact, less than a quarter of the seats are farther than 30 metres from centre stage (Collins, 2006). Another important factor of any theatre is the acoustics; and acoustician Robert Essert, of Sound Space Design LTD, worked intently on not only the acoustics of the interior reaching every audience member equally, but also on blocking the noises and distractions from the Toronto cityscape (De Santis, 2008). “500 rubber and steel pads” (Church, 2008) remove specific sounds and vibrations from detection including traffic noise, the rumble from the adjacent subway line and streetcar line, and even the sirens of the emergency vehicles rushing to the nearby hospitals. The Al Merson of the Four Seasons Centre said that "for opera, it is critical to carry all the subtleties, with sounds totally transparent and appearing to originate exactly where the director wishes. The Meyer Sound system accomplishes just that while keeping discreetly out of sight." (Meyer Sound, 2007). The hall’s horseshoe shape was taken from European opera house design and other design elements were inspired by historic performance halls, including the Roman Amphitheatre ( ). The hall's interior decor was also inspired by acoustic design: hardwood floors to absorb sounds, and textured walls made from plastered gypsum to reflect sound (De Santis, 2008).
As the home of the Canadian Opera Company, the Four Season’s Centre for Performing Arts modestly highlights the importance of opera through its advanced acoustic technology. The horseshoe auditorium is a pod within the exterior shell of the building, and is structurally isolated to prevent sound penetration. The auditorium rests on massive reinforced concrete beams spanning at the same level as the orchestra pit. Underneath the beams are rubber pads which absorb shock, vibrations and sound waves, ultimately soundproofing the space from any interruptions caused by the subway line. Other less structural considerations are the undulating back-walls of the venue, which diffuse the sound throughout the auditorium by reflecting the sound waves back to the stage, accounting for about 90 percent of the audible sound for the audience.
The Ballet Corporation and The Opera House Corporation were advocating for a new home in the 1980s. As with all building ventures government and private industry begin collaborating on joint efforts involving shared expenditures. Following a design competition won by Moshe Safdie approval for a new building at Bay and Wellesley was underway and demolition of existing properties began for a $311,000,000 project in 1988. In 1990 a new NDP government was elected and this costly project was scrapped due to its costs in an economic climate where excessive spending was not being supported. The Canadian Opera Company and The National Ballet of Canada never gave up hope of a new building and in 2002 presented to the government plans for a new building later to be called The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Since a large hotel chain, Four Seasons was contributing millions of dollars into this project it was agreed that the name Four Seasons would remain part of the new building name. Architects from Diamond and Schmitt won the design contest and three years of construction lead to the opening of a building at 145 Queen Street West at a cost of $181 million dollars in 2006. This modern building is known for having long floating glass staircase and an auditorium that is in the shape of a horseshoe shaped 2035 seat auditorium with exceptional acoustics.
- 2006: Der Ring Des Nibelungen (COC)
- 2010: Miss Saigon (Dancap Productions)
- 2010: South Pacific (Dancap Productions)
- 2011: Next to Normal (Dancap Productions)
- 2011: Colm Wilkinson in Concert (Dancap Productions)
- 2011: Come Fly Away (Dancap Productions)
- 2011: Iphigenia in Tauris (COC)
- 2011: Rigoletto (COC)
- 2012: Tosca (COC)
- 2012: Love From Afar (COC)
- 2012: The Tales of Hoffmann (COC)
- 2012: A Florentine Tragedy/Gianni Schicchi (COC)
- 2012: Semele (COC)
- Canadian Opera Company official website
- Four Seasons Centre official website
- Review construction progress
- Aercoustics Engineering Limited