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PAI Insight: Incorporating Theatres into New Developments

Designing and renovating theatres has been a focus of Proscenium since 1996 when our firm started. In recent years, we have been approached by multiple clients who want to design theatres that are incorporated into new developments. Often this results in having a theatre on ground level (at grade) with a residential or mixed-use building attached.

When handled correctly we think this is a great idea because it makes theatres more feasible for developers who seek to maximize FSR in busy urban neighborhoods, while also creating dedicated community spaces for artists to make and show their work. The end result is a win-win situation for development the artistic community and the community at large.

But there are certain challenges with this arrangement with regards to acoustics, clear span structural spaces required for theatres, circulation, access and the geometry of the actual theatre space. Here are some ways we used our knowledge of theatre design to navigate these in a recent project.

Photos by Andrew Latreille


For the BMO Theatre Centre (2018), Proscenium was hired to do a complete fit-out of an existing base building that is part of a residential development in Olympic Village. The space originally meant for the Playhouse Theatre Company was redesigned for two of Vancouver’s popular theatre companies, Arts Club Theatre Company and Bard on the Beach. The program included a 250-seat theatre, rehearsal halls, costume shops and offices.

The design has been a success, in particular the infill of an existing double height space to facilitate a VIP balcony in the lobby and a perimeter catwalk for the theatre. The sleek, contemporary look and multi-dimensionality of the lobby has made it a prized event space, facilitating pre-show gatherings including space for live music and a wine bar.

Versatile 250-seat theatre


For the best acoustics, ideally a theatre is isolated architecturally from neighbouring uses and does not have anything above it. At the minimum, this means none of the base building elements cross over into the performance space and at the most effective, it is a stand-alone structure. The BMO achieved this by making the theatre the podium beside the tower, with the theatre offices acting as the podium beneath the tower.

The mechanical systems were another important consideration. At the BMO, we adjusted the design to move rainwater leders out of the theatre and increase mechanical units and duct sizes to slow the movement of air, thus decreasing the noise of air and water movement in the theatre space. A complete acoustic isolation of the theatre from any base building mechanical and plumbing systems was required.

The original Playhouse design did not allow for rehearsal rooms but they were needed by Bard and the Arts Club. This meant that under the base tower, the structural isolation for these future spaces was not originally considered. To acoustically separate the rehearsal rooms from the offices above, we created physical separation by building a secondary concrete slab between floors involving a series of slab-spring isolators to keep them apart. (We worked with Aercoustics on this design).

Slab-spring isolators going in


Theatres are unique buildings and require special treatment in many areas. Developers should know that if a sprung floor is required for a black-box theatre, it will require a depression in the concrete slab floor and developers should find out in advance.

The importance of back-of-house spaces are often overlooked, but it is essential to include practical rooms such as wardrobe storage space and shop space for theatre companies to use. At the BMO we included both.


After twenty-five years in theatre design, our firm is glad to be designing new performance spaces in areas of high density. We are also branching out to design the base building for developers. In 2022, we are already working on two new theatre projects incorporated into new developments, one of which has us involved in both aspects.

We look forward to sharing more about these projects!


Designing Ballet BC’s New Home

We are excited to be working with Ballet BC with the design of their future home on Granville Island! Our team is currently working with the dance company to renovate the space at 1286 Cartwright St, formerly occupied by Arts Umbrella. The project includes new administration and dance rehearsal spaces.

Over the holidays the company announced the news:

Following more than a decade at Scotiabank Dance Centre where the company trained and rehearsed, Ballet BC looks forward to contributing to Vancouver’s premier artistic and cultural hub and joining an incredible community of neighbours on Granville Island. “We are delighted to have succeeded in securing this much needed space for Ballet BC,’ says Medhi Walerski, Ballet BC Artistic Director. “It’s a transformative milestone for our company and the evolution of its vision and artistic goals.”


PAI Highlight: 1235 Marine Drive

We are pleased to be moving forward in the design phase with our project at 1235 Marine Drive in North Vancouver!


This Mixed-Use project on the vibrant Marine Drive corridor consists of one floor of Commercial Retail and three stories of market residential condos ranging from one to two bedrooms.

Some great design features include:

  • A widened pedestrian sidewalk and added seating to encourage street use
  • Residential floors overhanging the commercial units for natural weather protection
  • Materials that reference the area’s shipbuilding past including wood, metal and brick in a contemporary interpretation
  • Red metal frames to provide a bold accent and reflect the high energy of the busy thoroughfare through North Van



These new renderings represent the latest refinements to the design in order to address DP requirements. We are getting ready to resubmit an updated DP package and are looking forward to the next design phase on this project!


MEC Vancouver wins CaGBC Award for New Construction

We are so pleased to receive the 2021 Canadian Green Building Award for New Construction for MEC Vancouver! Thank you to Canada Green Building Council for recognizing the project.

Hugh Cochlin will be giving a presentation on the building’s many green features along with Roland Charneux next week, September 28th at 9am PST.


CaGBC Awards Lunch ‘n’ Learn: New Construction

Tuesday, September 28th; 9-10 am Pacific, 12

Cost: FREE

Registration link

PAI Insight: Evolving Space Needs for Industrial/Office Buildings

Our projects like The Yukon (2021) and 750 SW Marine Drive (ongoing) have highlighted some recent changes in space needs of our clients. We’d like to share some insights on the mixed-use building typology of industrial/office buildings and how we’re navigating those changes.

MEC Head Office (2014)

Covid-19 Impacts on Workplace Design

The increasing capabilities of remote work and employee’s desire for flexible schedules are changing the way workplaces are envisioned, built and designed. Developers are asking for a greater variety of floor options for office buildings, including increased numbers of smaller units. One way we have responded is by designing leasing spaces that can be demised into smaller units (early planning here is crucial).

Inside the office, employers are rethinking layouts and even the need for personal desks for individual employees. At MEC’s newest Head Office (2021), we established unassigned “hotel-style” sit/stand workstations to facilitate this trend.

Industrial Space is Evolving

As a port city, Vancouver has a strong need for both industry and commercial/office use. Many neighbourhoods are populated with mixed-use buildings that do both. Traditional industrial space use has been evolving in recent years, including a desire for greater flexibility.

Second Floor “Buffer”

At Proscenium, we have been strategizing new ways to balance what we see as complementary typologies. At The Yukon and 750 SW Marine Drive, we established the second floor as a light industrial use level with direct freight elevator access. This level, which is often leased to medical labs or other lower intensity industrial uses, creates an effective buffer zone between the more traditional industrial use below and office space above. We have also recently been involved in a survey/brainstorming session with the City of Vancouver to explore other uses which can be stacked on top of industrial to create more flexibility while retaining the much-needed industrial zones.

The Yukon (2021)

Loading Considerations

Industrial units can come with unique and demanding requirements for loading—raw supplies from sheet steel to coffee beans arrive and leave as products with their own unique handling requirements. Designing with site circulation in mind from the outset is important. Proper loading access and a back of house circulation route are key to making sure the front of house first impressions are as well considered as the products being made.

750 SW Marine Drive (Ongoing)