Diamond Schmitt’s latest cultural pearl

One of the largest performing arts companies in Canada is set to open a “cultural hub” and 500-seat theatre in Cambridge, Ontario. Drayton Entertainment inaugurates its seventh and largest venue, Dunfield Theatre tonight. The facility consolidates the company’s operations under one roof and revitalizes the riverfront district of this historic city. 

A design team led by Gary McCluskie, principal with Diamond Schmitt Architects, created a limestone, metal and glass structure that reflects the former industrial heritage of the neighnourhood. The volumes of the building act as a series of progressions to capitalize on the natural slope of the site and provide enhanced functionality to a large back-of-house program. There are five multi-purpose rehearsal stages plus wardrobe and set design, administrative offices for 60 people and living accommodation for 33 artists.

“As the creative centre for all of Drayton’s shows at different stages of production, rehearsal and performance, this versatile facility creates a strong sense of theatre community and creativity,” says McCluskie, whose previous performing arts projects include Maison Symphonique in Montreal and the Burlington Performing Arts Centre. 

The auditorium is designed for intimacy and spectator engagement with only 62 (19m) feet separating the stage from the last row in the 80-seat balcony. Diamond Schmitt configured the acoustics for the amplified room, which has a large wood-lined proscenium.  

“This is not only a facility for Drayton to grow into but also to accommodate other types of performance and be accessible to the community, where a symphony can perform and local theatre groups can rehearse and build their sets,” says Steven Karcher, executive director with Drayton Entertainment.  

Ample public amenity space includes a double-height lobby that overlooks a large forecourt and a second-floor event room for 80 people that can be booked along with the balcony for private functions. 

The third floor dormitory-style accommodation has pods of four to six single bedrooms around a common room and kitchen. Loading docks have direct access to both stage level and the second floor workshops. The 53,500sf (4,900m2) facility was built for $14 million. 

Adds Karcher, “This is a unique complex, there’s nothing else quite like this.” 

Diamond Schmitt Architects (www.dsai.ca) is ranked among the top ten design firms in the world for cultural facilities. The firm is recognized for excellence in the design of award-winning performing arts centres, academic and research buildings, commercial, residential and health care institutions. Current projects include the New Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, which opens May 2, 2013, the St. Catharines Centre for the Performing Arts and Brock University’s Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts.