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

THE BMO THEATRE CENTRE

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

ACOUSTICS

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

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

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.

A GROWING TREND

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!