FEATURE: Tom Patterson Theatre opens


Tom Patterson Theatre has opened at Canada’s Stratford Festival. The new venue, which has a riverside park setting, was designed by Siamak Hariri, founding partner at Hariri Pontarini Architects.

Hariri said the festival’s ambitions set a high bar for the project, which the Toronto-based practice won in an international design competition. “They wanted an exceptional building with new programmes that would enhance the festival and this community for decades to come,” said Hariri. “We sought to create an emotional experience through architecture that complements the magic of transcendent works of theatrical performance.”

A river view from the lobby of the Tom Patterson Theatre. Image: Scott Norsworthy

The design

The 7,150m² (77,000ft²) theatre is situated on the banks of the Avon river in Stratford, Ontario. A vibrant transparency runs its entire length with a façade that ebbs and flows in step with the river. This organic, curvilinear form creates “quiet folds and eddies of encounter” across a sequence of carefully considered spaces that flow from one to another. Panoramic garden and river views dissolve the line between indoors and out in this LEED Gold registered design.

Set against a bronze mullioned curtain wall that defines the public rooms, the horseshoe-shaped theatre is wrapped in gently curving walls of sand cast brick with mortar smooth to the surface to resemble stone. Inside the wood-lined auditorium, 600 custom seats surround an elongated thrust stage.

“This theatre is a work of art, not a conventional building,” said Antoni Cimolino, the festival’s artistic director in Beyond Beautiful, a video produced about the project.

The elongated thrust stage and stage house of the Tom Patterson Theatre.
Image: doublespace photography


A close collaboration with the festival’s set and technical designers optimised the versatile performance space to meet the demands of a repertory schedule where different shows can run on the same day. Curved walls and reflectors beneath catwalks support finely tuned acoustics in a room that can achieve total sound isolation as well as total darkness.

The public rooms include Lazaridis Hall, a versatile space for up to 250 people that can be configured for cabaret-style performances, screenings and panel discussions. Two custom walnut acoustic doors – which are 4.9m (16ft) high – open onto the lobby or acoustically separate the space for concurrent events.

Large curving track doors at the entrance to Lazaridis Hall at the Tom Patterson Theatre. Image: doublespace photography

Social spaces

New play development and education programmes now have a permanent home at the festival in the Dinner Rooney Workshop. For donor patrons, the Spriet Members’ Lounge features a contemporary fireplace in a dramatic space with wraparound glazing that gently tapers beneath a wood-clad ceiling.

Three distinctive bars – crafted from red, yellow and white patterned marble – anchor meeting points with views to reinforce the connection between the theatre design and its natural setting. Adjacent to the lobby is a skylighted café that opens onto a riverfront terrace.

Cantilevered beams extend indoors and out and define the skylit café and terrace of the Tom Patterson Theatre. Image: doublespace photography

“In making social spaces inviting and comfortable, the design facilitates a deeper engagement by the audience in the festival’s programmes to learn more about a production and interact with performers,” added Hariri.

Amenity spaces are fully accessible throughout, offering a range of viewing options in the auditorium for people with disabilities. Back-of-house there is a dedicated rehearsal hall, accessible dressing rooms, a green room and company lounge.


Sustainability initiatives include locally sourced materials, low-energy lighting and radiant in-floor heating, all part of a comprehensive design approach for LEED Gold designation. The stage lighting is all-LED. New community gardens provide riverside vistas and strolls through plantings layered with indigenous species.

The new theatre is one of four festival venues and replaces a previous Tom Patterson Theatre on the same site. Tom Patterson founded the Stratford Festival in 1953 and the new theatre was to have opened in June 2020 to mark the centenary of his birth. Due to the global pandemic, the theatre opened for the festival’s 70th season in early June 2022.

“Theatre is an ephemeral art and through careful attention to detail, acoustics and craftsmanship – all in support of the performance and the audience experience – we hope this theatre leaves a lasting impression on all who visit and enjoy it,” added Hariri.

A large canopy above the entrance to the Tom Patterson Theatre. Image: Ann Baggley

Award win

Hariri Pontarini Architects won a Governor-General’s Medal in Architecture for the new Tom Patterson Theatre. The biennial awards programme of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) and Canada Council celebrates outstanding design in recently completed built projects by Canadian architects.

Describing the facility as “an exceptional cultural building”, the jury lauded the Tom Patterson Theatre, saying: “The nature of materials, organic forms and textures promotes sensory perception and contributes to the appreciation of the arts. The elegant assembly creates a calm and inspiring atmosphere inside and outside the enclosure.”

For Hariri Pontarini, this is the third consecutive Governor-General’s Medal in Architecture. In 2020, the Bahá’í Temple of South America won and in 2018, Toronto’s Casey House was recognised. The Tom Patterson Theatre has also received a Civic Trust Award from the UK, the Architecture MasterPrize from the USA, and the Ontario Association of Architects’ Design Excellence Award and People’s Choice Award.

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About Author


Izzy became editor of Auditoria magazine in 2018, having previously served as assistant editor on the title earlier in her career. She is also the editor of Business Jet Interiors International, Railway Interiors International and new launch Cruise Liner Interiors International. Over the course of a decade as a business-to-business magazine editor, Izzy has covered everything from airline catering to car safety technologies, autonomous vehicles and business aviation airports. Outside of work, Izzy loves watercolour painting, live music and travel.

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