Canada 150
Arts & EventsWarm and Inviting: NAC's Southam Hall Gets New Life

Warm and Inviting: NAC's Southam Hall Gets New Life

Warm and Inviting: NAC's Southam Hall Gets New Life

The newly renovated National Arts Centre Southam Hall is a breath of fresh air. Gone is the sea of red upholstery and stuffy acoustics. Canada’s largest performing arts institution has finally moved on from 1969 to the 21st century.

Stepping into the hall, the first thing that patrons will notice is the new seats. Simple, modern, and elegant, the seats feature light wooden backs and bottoms. Dark oak floors can be seen between the rows of seats, the planks at an angle to follow the hexagonal shape of the hall. The NAC’s iconic red colour scheme still accents the room as cushions on the seats and carpeting in the aisles.

“Red is in the DNA of the National Arts Centre,” explained Jennifer Mallard, Project Architect for the NAC rejuvenation (Diamond Schmitt Architects). Upon pointing out the contemporary, yet subtle changes to the hall, she mentioned “We [Diamond Schmitt Architects] wanted to reinterpret original intentions.”

The changes are not only aesthetically pleasing – they are functional as well. The prominent use of wood around the room is acoustically reflective, providing better, crisper sound.

“We have been rehearsing for three days and we immediately noticed a big change in the sound. A positive change in the sound. It’s become more resonant and it’s become more responsive,” commented Alexander Shelley, music director of the National Arts Centre Orchestra.

“Imagine being in a very good car. On a straight road, with slow corners, you can’t really test the car. But if you make the track with more corners and with more places where you can speed up, the car, or in this case, the instrument, can really start to be as great as it is. This hall now is starting to take steps where the orchestra can show off  fully what it is capable of.”

Accessibility is another big addition in the rejuvenation project. New aisles, shorter rows, and brass rails have been added to the hall, allowing for easier mobility. The main floor of the hall is now divided into four areas: three seating areas in the old orchestra and a terrace at the back, starting at what used to be Row T.  Sixteen spots are available for patrons in wheelchairs – in prime locations.

What are the next steps for the hall? “Longer term, we are looking to build a new shell around the orchestra,” answered Shelley. He explained tweaks to the size and shape of the orchestra shell that seem small, but will drastically improve sound quality.

The $5-million Southam transformation is part of a $114 million two-year rejuvenation of the National Arts Centre that will mark the country’s 150th in 2017 and its own 50th birthday in 2018.

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