Restoration Economy: Architects win awards for $184 million restoration of Toronto’s 128-year-old performing arts hall

For Toronto, Ontario, Canada-based architectural firm GBCA (Goldsmith Borgal & Company Ltd. Architects), the month of October, 2022 ended on a high note.

After serving as heritage consultant on the $184 million Massey Hall Revitalization Project in Toronto, the efforts of the firm to restore the Hall have been recognized by architectural associations across national, provincial, and local jurisdictions.

Recently, GBCA, through its participation in the Massey Hall project, was honored with the Award of Excellence (Conservation – Architecture) by the Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals, the Special Jury Award by the Architecture Conservancy of Ontario, and the 2022 Crafts and Trades Award by Heritage Toronto for restoring and revitalizing the city’s iconic performance venue.

We are truly grateful for the recognition,” says Christopher Borgal, President and Senior Principal at GBCA.

For us, what mattered was striking the right balance between preserving the Hall’s heritage fabric, while making room for it to be modernized. It was a collaborative effort on part of the various teams involved that helped us preserve the Hall’s unique architectural identity,” he added.

Key heritage elements preserved

To help various teams working on the project, GBCA, working alongside lead architects KPMB, designed a conservation strategy that became the guiding map for revitalizing the 128-year-old Hall.

The goal of the project was to undertake much needed improvements to the Hall, while protecting the original building’s key heritage elements.

Decorative plaster ceiling

The most dramatic and challenging repair of the project was the decorative plaster ceiling. Covered with wire mesh over the last 50 years, the ceiling’s plaster was restored, where select portions of the plaster were removed and acoustical plaster was introduced to improve the Hall’s acoustics.

Art Nouveau-styled stained glass windows

Another notable conservation initiative was restoring the Art Nouveau-styled stained glass windows. Close to 100 multi-coloured windows, which were blocked off over the years, were uncovered and restored, including the windows with the 12 portraits of famous composers on the ground floor.

Balcony, seats, and cast-iron column

To conserve the overall layout of the auditorium, the original balcony and gallery, supported on cast-iron columns, were maintained.

While new seats replaced the old ones, the original wood balcony fronts and metal railings in the Hall were conserved.

Art Deco lobby

When it came to the Hall’s lobby, originally renovated in the 1930s in a complete Art Deco style, all its elements were preserved and maintained, despite visual inconsistencies with the Hall’s Victorian interior.

Be it the terrazzo flooring, the marble surrounds, the ceilings or the walls, each heritage element added a layer of history to the Hall and was thus preserved.

Palladian exterior

On the Hall’s Palladian exterior, the fire escapes, which were part of the original design, were removed only to reveal more important heritage elements that lay underneath. The red Don Valley bricks were repaired and window openings were altered, while the iconic mid-century neon sign reading ‘Massey Music Hall’ was repaired and reinstalled.

We are grateful to GBCA for the pivotal role they played in our restoration of Massey Hall, one of the country’s most cherished heritage assets, ensuring it will continue to make history one concert at a time for future generations,” says Grant Troop, Vice President of Operations at The Corporation of Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall.

We are delighted for the widespread acclaim that GBCA, and the local skilled artisans who worked alongside them, have received in restoring the beauty of the original hall. The entire design and construction team shares in this praise for respecting the architecture of the original hall, while at the same time modernizing the way it connects with patrons,” he concluded.

In its role as heritage consultant to the Hall for more than a decade, GBCA was successful in preserving the mixed-design elements of the project, the complexities of which initially seemed insurmountable.

Photo credits: By Jag Gundu

See GBCA website.

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