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World-renowned architects make their mark at Queen's

The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts is now open, hosting classes and performances, and those interested in learning more about how the building was created and designed will get the chance to hear from the lead architect. Craig Dykers of Snøhetta will be speaking at the Isabel on Friday, Sept. 19 from 7-8:30 p.m. The event, which is free and open to all, is organized by the School of Urban and Regional Planning.

[Craig Dykers]
Craig Dykers, founding partner and a principal architect at Snøhetta, will be making a special presentation at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts on Friday evening. (Photo University Communications)

They designed the pavilion marking the entrance to the memorial museum at New York’s World Trade Centre site, reimagined Manhattan’s Times Square, and have drawn up the plans for hundreds of innovative buildings around the world, from opera houses to spaces for learning. And with the opening of the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts on the Kingston waterfront, world-renowned architectural firm Snøhetta marks its Canadian debut.

Home to the Department of Film and Media, the Isabel will also provide learning and working space for the university’s other creative arts disciplines, while housing a film screening room, black-box theatre and a state-of-the-art concert hall.  Snøhetta, who worked in partnerships with Ottawa’s N45 Architecture when devising the building, took a careful look at the university’s plans for the intended structure, while also considering both the users’ experience and the way the building would integrate into the existing landscape.

“Fundamentally, we wanted a place that brought light into (the users’) experience,” explained Craig Dykers, Snøhetta’s founding partner and a principal architect with the firm on a visit to Queen’s in late 2013. “We wanted to establish a strong connection between the landscape and the character of the shore, as well as the broader environment.”

It was for the latter reason that Dykers and his team chose to work with limestone – a building material commonly used in the Kingston area – reimagining it in a more monolithic, or slab-like interpretation so that it might look like it was emerging organically out of the landscape. They also deliberately incorporated two historic limestone buildings that made up the original site.

“We like being able to provide a new perspective on a material that people are already very familiar with,” said Dykers of his rationale. “It’s like being married and still wanting to learn new things about (your partner), even though you’ve lived together for so long.”

When it came to conceiving of the building’s jewel-like interior concert hall, Dykers and his team again turned to local limestone for inspiration. “We came across a beautiful limestone outcropping on one of our early visits to Kingston,” he recalls. “Each layer seemed to depict a different event in the history of this place, laid down over the millennia.”

The solution was to reinterpret the limestone’s subtleties in warm wood, a material that would also pay homage to the instruments that would be highlighted in the acoustically perfected space. The architects also decided to create a hall that is ever so slightly asymmetrical – the result being a room with a slightly more organic feel.

That hall was formally animated for the first time on Saturday, Sept.13 when the JUNO-nominated band Timber Timbre took to the stage as part of the Isabel Goes Alt series. The Isabel’s classical series kicks off on Sept. 21 with a performance by the Afiara Quartet, who will be joined by pianist Maxim Bernard.

For Dykers and his architectural collaborators, it will an opportunity to see Isabel’s spaces – once only imagined – being inhabited and enjoyed by the audiences it was first intended for. “It’s hard to be proud of something before the doors are open and people are using it,” says Dykers. “People are excited about this building.”

The Isabel was made possible by a transformational gift from Alfred Bader (Sc’45, Arts’46, MSc’47, LLD’86) and his wife, Isabel (LLD’07) as well as the financial backing of the federal and provincial governments, the City of Kingston and additional philanthropic support.