Tom Patterson Theatre
Hariri Pontarini Architects
Doron Meinhard, Lindsay Hochman, Aercoustics Engineering, Holbrook & Associates with The Planning Partnership, Fisher Dachs Associates
The Stratford Festival
Selected from an international competition of 92 entries, the design re-imagines the Tom Patterson Theatre as a cultural beacon for this significant Canadian cultural institution. With high aspirations, the project was to not only provide what the previous venue lacked but to also pay homage to its memory. The new theatre vastly expands the technical capabilities of live theatre and wraps itself in amenity-rich spaces establishing an immersive, social experience that revolves around and complements the magic of the performing arts.
Fine craftsmanship using natural and renewable materials imparts an emotional resonance that aligns with the festival’s ambition to engage with its community in beautiful spaces. Well-sited public rooms support concurrent programs and events before and after performance.
The building was conceived as a place for all, where community is the essence of each and every room. Access throughout is universal and washroom stalls are twice the number required by local building code. This theatre is truly inclusive in every respect and can accommodate a wide range of mobility devices with an accessibility-dedicated elevator to the auditorium.
The café and spectacular terrace which overlooks the river are open to the public whether they attend a performance or not. The parks lining the Avon River complement the attraction of the festival itself and this theatre adds gardens and pathways as a community amenity. Landscaping features indigenous and drought-resistant plant species and new pathways and bike lanes connect with existing routes. The earlier theatre bore no relationship to its riverside setting.
Civic pride in Stratford, Ontario is tied to the Stratford Festival, North America’s largest repertory theatre company now in its 70th year. The festival spawned a cultural tourism sector that depends on its success. The new Tom Patterson Theatre (TPT) heralds a commitment to Stratford’s future and renewal coming out of the pandemic.
The previous venue on the same site and also named for the festival founder, was a Quonset hut that began as a curling rink. For 50 years, actors strutted the dynamic elongated thrust stage to the delight of audiences at one of the festival’s smaller venues. With little in the way of amenities or comfort, intimacy was TPT’s main attribute.
The new theatre gives permanent home to the festival’s vital outreach programs in education and new play development plus rehearsal space, a forum for public events and community use and finally provides a venue for all seasons.
The design inspiration is its location on the banks of the Avon River. A shimmering transparency runs the length of the low-slung structure, whose façade ebbs and flows in step with the river: An organic shape also inspired by riverside plants. The building connects with gardens, blending indoors and out, creating quiet folds and eddies of encounter.
The wood-lined, state-of-the-art auditorium replicates the dimensions of the previous stage and keeps capacity at 600 custom seats, none more than 28 feet from the action. To the beloved intimacy of the former, the new TPT adds comfort, accessibility, acoustic and technical enrichment.
The new theatre is fully programmed for its first season and has additional events in the 250-seat forum, a new performance space for the city with cabaret-style shows, concerts, panel discussions and screenings. Educational programs and play development workshops are also based here.
Rare for performing arts buildings, this theatre is highly sustainable and targets LEED Gold certification for its carefully integrated energy and water conservation programs within a high-performance building envelope. The double-glazed curtainwall with bird-friendly frit is north-facing, reducing solar heat gain. Stage lighting is one of the first energy-efficient, all-LED systems in use. Natural materials of varying textures reinforce the design narrative of connection to nature with slabs of Ontario limestone cut on rough and polished biases, and wood-lined ceilings above pale oak floors.
The design of this theatre sought to create an emotional experience through architecture that complements the noble aspirations of the Stratford Festival to produce transcendent works of art through performance.
The captivating form and transparency of the undulating glass and bronze veil animate the riverside from both banks of the Avon. The sight of people engaging in social activity will be a welcome addition in the post-pandemic climate and provide a strong symbol of the festival’s importance to Stratford and its role as a major cultural destination.