Meet the Architect

By Jamie Bradburn
“Fix everything, change nothing.” For architect Marianne McKenna and those working on bringing Massey Hall into the 21st century, this sentiment reflects the balance of improving the facility and respecting its heritage elements and the memories accompanying them. The end result, she hopes, is a multipurpose facility whose feel is authentic rather than artifice.

While elements such as the plaster ceiling and Moorish-style arches will be restored, the character and patina the hall developed over the past 125 years will remain intact. “We should be wary not to clean it up too much,” McKenna notes.

Preserving the past with an eye to the future.

“It will be a sensitive, strategic revitalization of the hall,” McKenna says. “We’re upgrading for the long term in terms of its technical upgrades, opening the stained glass windows, repairing and reinstating lighting where it should be rather than where it went expeditiously, and making it functional for the next generation.”

A recipient of the Order of Canada and a founding partner of KPMB, McKenna’s work in Toronto’s performance sector includes two venues at the Royal Conservatory of Music, Ettore Mazzoleni Hall and Koerner Hall. She found many comparable qualities between Koerner and Massey, from seat spacing to the reciprocal enjoyment of audience and performers. McKenna discovered that “many things we were able to achieve at Koerner Hall actually already exist at Massey Hall.” Though Massey has earned a reputation as a great performance space, McKenna has worked along with world-class acousticians and sound engineering consultants, to find areas to improve upon the acoustical experience for those on stage while maintaining the exceptional aural experience that patrons have come to expect in the auditorium.

Patrons should be impressed by the new look at the entrance, including a more accessible box office area and the restoration of the original front signage. External walkways wrapped around the second and third levels will connect patrons to the new south tower, where elevators and additional bars and bathrooms will improve the overall Massey Hall experience. Aesthetically, those walkways will act, McKenna says, as “arms that reach out and hold the original heritage building.” As she told the Globe and Mail recently, “The movement through a building is as important as the spaces within them.”

McKenna thinks the revitalization project will bring a new buzz to the site. “Massey Hall presents itself very honestly,” she observes. “What we get to do by adding the new building is make that room work for the 21st century.” She hopes that with more options to hold events like lectures and public meetings, the revisions will restore its past role as “a town hall in the middle of downtown.”