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Case Study :

Queen’s University, Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, Kingston, Ontario

What if we could celebrate and cultivate performance art in all its forms under one roof?

01  Challenge


Queen’s University’s Departments of Film, Media, Drama, Art, and Music long dreamed of having a dedicated space they could call their own. Their outdated facilities no longer supported the needs of the student body, and they were beginning to see an impact on their ability to compete for top talent against schools that offered access to cutting-edge technology and performance space.

In response, Queen’s University sought to create a world-class facility that could provide valuable teaching, rehearsal, and performance space for its diverse creative community of fine arts, film and media, drama, and music students – and engage lovers of the arts in Kingston and beyond. MGAC won a public solicitation to manage the delivery of this state-of-the-art performing arts and interdisciplinary teaching centre project.

02  Space


Leveraging world-class talent, we oversaw the production and delivery of the 80,000 SF Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, achieving the dramatic vision of the architectural team – a partnership between internationally acclaimed architects, Snohetta and Ottawa-based N45 Architects – while protecting the interest of our client. Rivaling the beauty of its exterior, the Centre’s interior was an accomplishment in precision – one that required careful planning, sequencing, and monitoring of the complex construction schedule. We worked in collaboration with world-renowned acoustical experts ARUP and Theatre Project Consultants to address every last detail, and deliver an acoustically superior environment throughout the new facility’s 566-seat concert hall, 100-seat black box studio theatre, art and media lab, film screening room, laboratories, classrooms, and rehearsal space.

03  Process


Located on Lake Ontario, the site was originally home to a 19th-century brewery. To honor the City of Kingston’s strong historical standards and the history of the site, we facilitated a multi-faceted reclamation process including the removal and remilling of the brewery’s existing pine, hemlock, and spruce floors to be repurposed in the lobby’s interior. Additionally, the design called for the incorporation of two historical buildings that required detailed restoration of the existing stonework and windows. Working closely with the design and construction team, we managed the dismantling, protection, and restoration of these vital components to meet the exacting standards of the local historic review boards. By reimaging these aging buildings in new ways, the once underutilized lakefront became a green court connecting the new facility with the neighboring Tett Centre, celebrating the expansive lake views and providing a new gathering place for students and local residents alike.

“The Isabel will become a consummate storytelling space – stories that reveal the human condition for what it is: complex, often confusing and ever beautiful.”

— Jerry Doiron, Former Director, The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts

04  Complications


The project’s location provided inspiration for the design team – realized in both the stainless steel cladding that reflects the icy water and the intricate concert hall ceiling that mimics native limestone formations. But the secluded setting also created significant logistical challenges for the procurement team. MGAC navigated severe winter weather conditions and the remote nature of the site to secure the materials and equipment necessary to complete the facility’s complex construction in time for the start of the 2014 academic year.

The ceiling of the performance hall is one of the Centre’s most striking features – and one of the most difficult to achieve. Composed of wood veneered, six-inch pre-cast concrete slabs fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle, the ceiling required patience and careful planning on our part to coordinate the intricate process. Each slab was lowered through the roof down three feet of scaffolding, placed on a trundle bed to be rolled to its final position, then hoisted into place and welded to the structure. Many painstakingly slow steps – but each one worth it upon seeing the final result.

05  Praise


The Isabel, as locals affectionately call it, was honored with several awards, including a Design Excellence Award from the Ontario Association of Architects and the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Design Excellence in Architecture.

06  Landmark

The completed $72 million facility was made possible by a tremendous gift from generous alumni and namesake, Alfred and Isabel Bader – who share a storied love for art and each other. The resulting Isabel has become more than valuable teaching, rehearsal, and performance space for the University and community – it’s a cultural landmark as beautiful as the performances that grace its halls, and the creative connections it makes possible.

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