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University of Manitoba building new $24 million concert hall

Myron Love
University of Manitoba building new $24 million concert hall
CIBINEL ARCHITECTURE — Shown is a rendering of the Desautels concert hall at the University of Manitoba.

The University of Manitoba (UM) is building the $24-million, state-of-the art Desautels Concert Hall which, when compete in fall 2023, will not only provide a large performance space for students from the university’s faculty of music but also an intimate performance venue for lectures, conferences and other events.

The concert hall, named for philanthropist and lead donor Dr. Marcel Desautels, who contributed $10 million to the project as well as another $10 million to the faculty of music, is being built in the heart of the Fort Garry campus.

According to a spokesperson for lead contractor Parkwest Projects, the site of the new concert hall, flanked by existing buildings on four sides, posed a serious challenge that allowed for only specific limited construction machinery for certain aspects of the operation.

One example of that specialized machinery is the Putzmeister Telebelt TB 130 for placement of fill sand (backfill) around the foundation. The outrigger design provides a quick setup in congested areas and rough terrain.

As well, Toronto’s Teeple Architects, who partnered with Winnipeg’s Cibinel Architecture in designing the facility, pointed out to Canadian Architect Magazine that “the orientation of the hall was governed by the need to construct an orchestra pit below grade while avoiding a major underground utility tunnel running diagonally across the site.”

According to the University of Manitoba, the hall will feature a large stage for orchestral groups; a small stage for jazz ensembles, chamber groups and vocal recitals; and a proscenium stage for theatre and dance performances. This layout can also host opera and musical theatre productions with an orchestra pit for 48 musicians.

The hall’s flexibility is possible through an adjustable concert shell system of moveable towers, pivoting panels and ceiling reflectors, explains the university. This system is then integrated into the house.

The hall also features catwalks over the stage to allow for rigging scenery or adding lighting and draperies and a technical booth at the back.

A green room, multiple dressing rooms, storage space, along with a reception area, food and beverage concession, and ticket booth are also included. 

The concert hall is currently on track to achieve the LEED Silver designation for green building standards.

For the piling operations, Parkwest Projects employed the Hilti Robotic Total Station.

“This technology delivers accurate readings over great distances four times faster than two people using traditional layout methods,” noted the Parkwest spokesperson.

In a report in the University’s UM Today news publication, the hall is described as “unique among Winnipeg venues” in that “it can be configured three ways to create an optimal acoustic and viewing experience.” 

“I am excited about this new space, which will be unlike any other in Winnipeg,” Michael Benarroch, president and vice-chancellor at UM was quoted as saying in the university publication. “It will enable opportunities for new performances to move and inspire us, fostering connections between communities in ways only performance pieces allow.”

Benarroch further commented that the new facility would not be possible “without the generosity and vision of Marcel Desautels, Gail Asper and Michael Nesbitt (Nesbitt and Asper having contributed $2.5 million each). Their support made this possible, and on behalf of Manitobans, I thank them.”

Funding for the project has come entirely from private donors. 

“Your Seat Awaits” giving campaign is ongoing with donors who make a gift of $1,000 or more having  the opportunity to name a seat in the hall.

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