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Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts (2014)

03 Oct 2016
Image Credit: Doublespace Photography
Architectural Credit: N45 Architects in association with Snohetta
Location: Queen's University, Kingston 
Architects: N45 Architecture Inc. in association with Snøhetta Architecture Design Planning P.C.
Date of completion: 2014
Nominated by:  Sophie Kiwala, MPP (Kingston and the Islands)

Rising along the shores of Lake Ontario, on the site of the 1830s Morton Brewery, is a new state of the 90,000 square-foot arts and culture centre which brings under one roof the diverse disciplines of music, drama, art film and media. The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts at Queen’s University marks a turning point for this waterfront site – the transformation of a 19th century industrial brewery to a 21st century cultural epicentre.

Photo Credit: Doublespace Photography
The building’s rich architectural language emerges from a successful blend of old and new. The site was once home to the historic 1830s Morton Brewery, and the majority of The Isabel has been carefully sited within the courtyard created by the remaining historic brewery and stable – both of which have been incorporated into the new facility. A conscious effort was also done to reuse some of the remaining building materials on site. Throughout its interiors, the Isabel uses reclaimed and re-milled wood flooring, columns and beams from the historic buildings – mainly pine, hemlock and spruce.  

Photo Credit: Doublespace Photography
The architectural strategy in re-using the site’s historic buildings was developed through workshops with preservation consultants and the Heritage Committee of Kingston, defining a clear distinction between new structures and architectural heritage elements. Contrasting the limestone façade of the old buildings, the new structure is clad in stainless steel – reflecting the monochromatic white/greys of the winter skies and frozen lake. 

Photo Credit: Doublespace Photography
At the heart of The Isabel is the 566-seat Concert Hall – its walls referencing the layers of limestone that form Kingston’s local geology and have given the city its nickname as Limestone City. A mix of tradition and innovation, the acoustics are based on the historic “jewel box” concert halls of Europe, but the latest technology was used to ensure world-class acoustics. Working closely with acousticians and theatre consultants, the team used 3D acoustic models to simulate sound travel and shape the hall. As the data was analyzed, the shape of the theatre materialized. 

Photo Credit: Doublespace Photography
By breathing new life into this former industrial site, The Isabel further reinforces Kingston’s identity as a waterfront city. When entering The Isabel, you are greeted by a large public lobby with stunning waterfront views. A patio allows patrons to sit close to the lake, while also maintaining a natural edge between land and water. The stainless steel façade reflects the lake and sky. All of these moves enhance the relationship between building and lake, reconnecting the urban fabric to its natural context.
In 2015, the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts received the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Design Excellence in Architecture, recognizing outstanding qualities of creativity, context, sustainability, good business and legacy. 

With its delicate blend of old and new, the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts marks a turning point for this waterfront site – the transformation of a 19th century industrial brewery to a 21st century cultural epicentre. 
This post forms part of our World Architecture Day Queen’s Park Picks 2016 series in which we asked Ontario’s Members of Provincial Parliament to nominate a prominent building, past or present, in their riding for a chance to learn more about it. Check out the rest of the series to learn more about Ontario’s great architecture.  

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