For over 50 years, the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts (STLC) has been a premier location for performing arts shows in downtown Toronto. Home to the Bluma Appel and Jane Mallett Theatres at 27 Front Street, the space has undergone some renovations since its inception. Now, a new design competition would bring a reimagining of the site.

UrbanToronto previously looked at how TOLive and CreateTO, the agencies that respectively manage the City’s major civic theatres and real estate portfolio, have partnered to set up an international design competition. The details of the five finalists can be found on the competition’s website until March 3. This week we’re taking daily dives into each of the proposals, proceeding alphabetically through the list by lead local architect, and today we’re travelling through time with the final submission, with a design from the team of Zeidler ArchitectureDiller Scofidio + RenfroTwo Row Architect, and PLANT Architect.

St Lawrence Centre for the Arts redevelopment entry, designed by Zeidler Architecture, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Two Row Architect, and PLANT Architect for CreateTO and TO Live

Each proposal has taken on a theme, and this one looks from past to present to future. The design preserves a portion of the existing STLC building in order to help modernize, expand, and adapt it to new technologies. It would restore the ground floor’s glass façade for greater transparency, and the concrete façade on the west side would be modernized as a projection screen and backdrop for performances.

St Lawrence Centre for the Arts redevelopment entry, designed by Zeidler Architecture, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Two Row Architect, and PLANT Architect for CreateTO and TO Live

Looking to the future, the building’s sustainable design incorporates ecological roofs that utilize water retention, stormwater sequestering, and even enhancing the theatres’ acoustic barrier. The building would use renewable materials as much as possible, including wood and 85% recycled steel. Down below, the proposed STLC’s thermal exchange and heat recovery system would mean heating and cooling using less energy and carbon.

1st floor plan for the St Lawrence Centre for the Arts redevelopment entry, designed by Zeidler Architecture, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Two Row Architect, and PLANT Architect for CreateTO and TO Live

Back to the present, this version of the centre is designed to offer performances for all. The Main Theatre’s glass wall could be made transparent for passersby to view performances and rehearsals. The Acoustical Hall would lead to an outdoor terrace that pedestrians can enter. In addition, rooftop terraces and the Scott Street Plaza would offer free performances and even projections of the shows happening indoors.

2nd floor plan for the St Lawrence Centre for the Arts redevelopment entry, designed by Zeidler Architecture, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Two Row Architect, and PLANT Architect for CreateTO and TO Live

Inside, the design calls for flexible and adaptable spaces. The Main Stage Theatre and Acoustical Hall would have at least 33 wheelchair positions in the Main Stage Theatre to integrate modern advancements in accessibility. This is on display throughout, with accessible technical levels and spaces with sensory separation for diverse audiences.

3rd floor plan for the St Lawrence Centre for the Arts redevelopment entry, designed by Zeidler Architecture, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Two Row Architect, and PLANT Architect for CreateTO and TO Live

With the future of the performing arts in mind, both the theatre and hall employ state-of-the-art technology for seating that can be partially or fully retracted for a flat floor. The Artist Studios along Scott Street, rehearsal spaces, and living rooms would all be easily accessible between each other, encouraging better interaction between performers and production crew.

4th floor plan for the St Lawrence Centre for the Arts redevelopment entry, designed by Zeidler Architecture, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Two Row Architect, and PLANT Architect for CreateTO and TO Live

The design considers the City of Toronto’s rich multicultural history, with the goal of the new STLC being a “cultural and civic hub.” The design includes a Living Room that spans multiple floors, allowing informal gatherings and encouraging visitors from outside Toronto to mingle with patrons and performers. The flexibility extends beyond that, with rehearsal spaces that can become stages and double-height spaces that can also be galleries.  

5th and 6th floor plans for the St Lawrence Centre for the Arts redevelopment entry, designed by Zeidler Architecture, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Two Row Architect, and PLANT Architect for CreateTO and TO Live

This proposal incorporates the pasts of both Toronto and the STLC, the present needs of performers and audiences, and what the future will bring.

St Lawrence Centre for the Arts redevelopment entry, designed by Zeidler Architecture, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Two Row Architect, and PLANT Architect for CreateTO and TO Live

The STLC Next website provides more images and PDFs expanding on each of the submissions. 

A public event to hear more about the entries is scheduled for Tuesday, March 7 at the STLC, with doors opening at 5 PM and presentations beginning at 6 PM. Virtual attendance of the event can be secured through registering at at STLC Next website, linked above, where your thoughts about the design proposals can also be recorded.

Following the March 7 event and public feedback, the entries will be judged by a jury made up of leaders in the fields of architecture, culture, Indigenous design, landscape architecture, and planning. The jury members are:

maxine bailey, Executive Director of the Canadian Film Centre (CFC) and co-founder of the Black Artists Network in Dialogue (BAND)

Meg Graham, Architect and Founder, Superkül (Chair)

Seema Jethalal, Former Regional Director General, Canadian Heritage, and inaugural Managing Director of Daniels Spectrum

Lori Marchand, Managing Director, Indigenous Theatre at the National Arts Centre Ottawa

Sadie Marshall, Artist

Thomas Payne, Architect and Founder, Thomas Payne Architect

Marc Ryan, Landscape Architect and Founder, PublicWork

The winning design is set to be announced the week of March 13, 2023. A more detailed version of the winner will be brought before the Executive and City Council the following month.

UrbanToronto will continue to follow progress on this development, but in the meantime, you can learn more about it from our Database file, linked below. If you’d like, you can join in on the conversation in the associated Project Forum thread or leave a comment in the space provided on this page. You can also leave “a vote” in our thread via our informal poll.

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UrbanToronto has a research service, UrbanToronto Pro, that provides comprehensive data on construction projects in the Greater Toronto Area—from proposal through to completion. We also offer Instant Reports, downloadable snapshots based on location, and a daily subscription newsletter, New Development Insider, that tracks projects from initial application.

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