Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre receives 2019 Prix du XXe siècle for architecture

The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) and the National Trust for Canada have announced that the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg is the recipient of the 2019 Prix du XXe siècle, an annual award that recognizes Canada’s landmark buildings of the 20th century.

Exterior (photo: Leif Norman)

The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (RMTC) opened in 1970 and was designed by Number TEN Architectural Group of Winnpeg. The theatre company was the first regional theatre in Canada, founded in 1958, and inspired the development of regional theatres across the country. The RMTC is recognized as a National Historic Site of Canada, both for the company’s influence on the development of Canadian theatre and as an expression of small-scale Brutalist architecture in Canada.

Interior lobby (photo: Henry Kalen)

The building was nominated by Susan Algie, Director of the Winnipeg Architecture Foundation, who called the RMTC “a vibrant and beloved cultural institution” that was “conceived as part of a major urban renewal for Winnipeg….[and] played a significant role in the city’s cultural renaissance.”

The collaboration between the ground-breaking theatre company and the architects was important, Algie notes. “The design of the building responded to the independent spirit of the theatre group….[T]he theatre design reflected trends in Canadian society toward a more relaxed and open-ended social order.”

Interior lobby (photo: Leif Norman)

Principal architect Allan H. Waisman (1928-2017) and design architect Robert Kirby were key members of the design team. Kirby later became Director of the University of Calgary’s Architecture Program. Waisman, born in Winnipeg to immigrant parents, was a founding partner of Number TEN Architectural Group and garnered many awards throughout his career. He was an ardent supporter of the arts and active on the boards of the Manitoba Theatre Centre, the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

Interior auditorium (photo: Henry Kalen)

“We are very proud that the RMTC building is part of our firm’s legacy,” says Number TEN partner and current RMTC board member Dave Lalama. “The high standards and values set by Allan Waisman and all of our founding partners continue to guide what we strive toward each day as architects and designers. This recognition also shines a light on the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, an organization that has so greatly enriched our community. We are honoured to see the RMTC building elevated to the same status as some of Canada’s greatest landmark buildings.”

As an example of the Brutalist architectural style – which originated in 1950s London and became popular for public buildings in Canada in the 1960s – the RMTC is smaller in scale and is described in its nomination as ‘informal and intimate’, ‘unpretentious’, ‘relaxed’, ‘modest and sensitive’.

Interior skylight (photo: Henry Kalen)

The jury agreed and also called the building a “unique social experiment. It says to all of us that architecture does not exist outside of the material, social and political agendas of its communities. This little building IS Winnipeg, a creative and energetic community of people. It is a gentle, lovely and lovable building.” The jury also praised its “human scale and sidewalk presence” and noted that its owners have been “wonderful stewards” of the building.

Exterior detail (photo: James Ashby)

“The RMTC design has kept its integrity through the years, and it remains a vital cultural hub in its community,” said Michael Cox, President of the RAIC. “Like the company of players it houses, this building is modest, versatile, and full of surprises – BRAVO!”

“We’re pleased to work with the RAIC to highlight landmarks of Canadian architecture and recognize exemplary stewardship over time,” said Natalie Bull, executive director for the National Trust. “The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre is particularly notable for award-winning renovations that have accommodated contemporary needs while also respecting the spirit of the building.”

Exterior detail (James Ashby)

The RAIC and National Trust bestow the Prix du XXe siècle annually to promote public awareness of outstanding Canadian architecture and landmark buildings of the 20th century.

Previous winners include the CN Tower, Simon Fraser University, Habitat ‘67, and the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown, PEI.

PUBLIC EVENT:  The Winnipeg Architecture Foundation (266 McDermot Avenue) is hosting an exhibition on the history and architecture of the RMTC until April 26, 2019, open to the public from 9 AM to 4:30 PM Monday to Friday.

The jury members were:

  • John Leroux, MRAIC, architect, historian and Manager of Collections and Exhibitions at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton, NB;
  • Patricia Patkau, FRAIC, architect, founding partner of Patkau Architects, Vancouver, BC;
  • Richard Moorhouse, Vice‐Chair of Heritage Toronto and President of the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto Foundation. Past Chair of the National Trust for Canada, Toronto, ON.
Interior auditorium (photo: James Ashby)

Prix du XXe siècle — 2019 Recipient (Backgrounder)

Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre
Winnipeg, Manitoba

The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (RMTC), opened in 1970, was designed by Number TEN Architectural Group (originally called Waisman Ross Blankstein Coop Gillmor Hanna) of Winnipeg.

Manitoba Theatre Centre was the first regional theatre in Canada and was founded in 1958 by John Hirsch and Tom Hendry. Hirsch went on to a distinguished career at Stratford Festival and other venues, while the Manitoba company thrived and inspired the development of regional theatre across Canada. The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre is recognized as a National Historic Site of Canada, both for the company’s influence on the development of Canadian theatre and as an expression of small-scale Brutalist architecture in Canada.

The principal architect for the 785-seat theatre was Allan H. Waisman FRAIC and the design architect was Robert Kirby, who worked closely with the artistic director of the theatre company, Eddie Gilbert. RMTC is one of only three National Historic Sites in Canada designated for the excellence of its Brutalist architecture. The other two are Charlottetown’s Confederation Centre for the Arts and Ottawa’s National Arts Centre.

The members of the jury praised the RMTC’s design for creating “theatrical intimacy between audience and actor.” The foyer includes viewing windows to the backstage area, where theatregoers can see all the aspects that go into a production. “It promotes an awareness and appreciation of the relationships between those behind-the-scenes, those on stage and the audience, a casualness of contact. It explores the social, the political, the material and the place as conditions for creativity and innovation.”

 

Architectural historian Andrew Waldron says: “A thrust stage, calm semi-private spaces, and public viewing of behind-the-scenes are only a few elements of how the architects introduced a more intimate and informal experience within a Brutalist space. These qualities have remained intact. Indeed, in contrast to other Brutalist works, the RMTC has retained its integrity with few alterations since construction. Its architectural integrity is a testament to its functional and material success.”

The nomination also notes how the building contributes to the two streets it faces, and the uniqueness of its auditorium design, with an irregularly shaped balcony extending over the orchestra and a flexible stage that can project and recess through the frame of the proscenium. Other notable features are continuous skylight on two sides of the auditorium and the high quality craftsmanship of the exposed concrete.

Through the Prix du XXe siècle, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada and The National Trust for Canada promote public awareness about significant Canadian architecture of the 20th century.

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