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The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, Queen's University

The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, Queen's University

On the Northeastern shores of Lake Ontario, the historic 1830's Morton Brewery site has been reconceived into a world-class Performing Arts Centre at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. The only facility of its kind in the region, the 80,000 square-foot Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts unites a diverse range of performance and creative art disciplines under a single roof, housing a 566-seat Performance Hall, classrooms, rehearsal and performance spaces for the School of Music and the Departments of Drama, Film and Media at Queen’s University.  

Throughout the design process, Snøhetta worked closely with Queen’s University to develop a collaborative, supportive learning environment for young artists and performers to grow in their discipline. The breath-taking views and natural calm inspired the design language and material choices for the project, conceiving an open, crisp and clear space for students to focus on Arts Education. 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.   

Landscape, Interior, Wayfinding & Signage, Renovation & Expansion, Architecture, Performance Space, Education & Research

2007 - completed 2014




Kingston, Ontario, Canada


University Performing Arts Centre


80 000 ft2  / 7500 m2


Queen's University


N45, Arup Acoustics, Theatre Projects

The stainless steel façade of the new structures reflects back upon the monochromatic whites and greys of the winter skies and frozen lake, referencing the moment when water turns to ice. The complementary dark grey wood siding on the historic structures references black barns, whose dark wood was used to withstand moisture. 

A shared green space ties The Isabel with the neighbouring Tett Centre, providing an open, framed view of Lake Ontario for visitors arriving to the Arts Campus. 

The centerpiece of the new Performing Arts Centre is the 566-seat performance hall. Designed as a classical music theatre, the proportions and acoustics are based on studies of the great historic ‘jewel box’ concert halls of Europe. Working closely with the Acousticians at Arup, the concert hall design allows for superb live acoustical musical performances, without relying on electronic amplification for optimum sound quality. The hall provides an engaging and intimate experience for both performers and audiences.   

Historically, classical music theatres were designed as relatively symmetrical spaces based on the architectural and stylistic preferences during the Baroque and Renaissance periods, but through continual feedback and acoustic modeling studies at Arup’s Soundlab, the design team was able to develop optimized wall shaping and recognized that employing an asymmetrical ceiling layout in a symmetrical room also could provide a superb acoustical experience. 

The Concert Hall’s interior design references geological patterns of the Kingston area’s local rock strata, referencing its famed role as limestone capital of Canada. Employing 3D computer modeling algorithms, Snøhetta and Arup shaped a visually stunning interior that provides the optimum level of sound diffusion, surface texture and specular reflection. During amplified musical performances, such as Jazz or Rock Music, a series of acoustical drapes can be deployed over sections of the side walls to provide sound absorption and lower the reverberation time.

The Isabel's Rehearsal spaces also provide waterfront views to Lake Ontario.

When entering The Isabel, students and guests are greeted by a large public lobby with stunning waterfront views. This social meeting place is conceived as a seamless continuation of the spectacular landscape. Portions of the ceiling plane are finished with the same reflective metal as the facade, bringing reflections of the lake and landscape into the building. At night, the activities and light of the lobby spill out onto the waterfront, creating a bright, safe environment for visitors to step outside. The new patio allows patrons to sit close to the lake, while also maintaining a natural edge between land and water.

The design team reclaimed and recycled large quantities of wood flooring, structural columns and beams discovered in the historic buildings to use as wall and ceiling cladding in the public interior spaces, as well as millwork in the greenroom and lobby. Inside, the rich colour palette provides a cosy, inviting environment for students at work.