Jack Diamond's Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, home to the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada, has paid off for the Toronto architect with additional major commissions in St. Petersburg and Montreal.
Diamond's Toronto opera house, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, is acclaimed for its acoustics and inviting facade.
Still prolific at 76, Diamond has just won an international competition for his Toronto firm, Diamond + Schmitt Architects, to design in St. Petersburg what he describes as "the first major opera house to be built [in Russia] since the czars."
Diamond won the commission, of course, with his proposed design for the new Mariinsky Theatre in the former Russian capital, But weighing heavily in his favour are the the acclaimed acoustics, functionality, ease of construction and relatively low cost of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, completed at a cost of $186 million.
The Mariinsky Theatre (left) has a much larger budget, of about $452 million, and is scheduled for completion in December 2011. Diamond and his local partner, KB ViPS Architects, won out over three Russian and one German finalist. The South Africa-born Diamond, who has made his home in Toronto since the 1960s, intends for the 2,000-seat Mariinsky to feature the same inviting glass front elevation of his University Avenue hall but with a masonry base and elaborate metal roof consistent with St. Petersburg's streetscape and topography.
"I hope it will be taken very positively in Canada, in the U.S. and certainly in my country," Valery Gergiev, artistic director of the Mariinsky Theatre, told the Globe and Mail. "In a way, I hope this will be like a twin-cities behaviour, sharing cultural capital."
The coup is a reminder of how far Canadian architects have come since the days when sponsors of great buildings insisted on imported talent, as with the Ontario Legislature, designed by a Buffalo architect, and the King Edward Hotel, commissioned to a British designer. (The latter botched the job, which was completed by Toronto architect E.J. Lennox.)
The importance of major local commissions to Canadian architects has become apparent over the past few decades as Canadian designers have been thus propelled onto the world stage, and, in effect, becomie ambassadors of Canadian values and aesthetics. (Admittedly, the results have not always been pleasing, as with Carlos Ott's Brutalist Bastille Opera in Paris.)
The other Diamond project inspired by the Four Seasons is L'Addresse symphonique, a new, 1,900-seat home for the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, budgeted at $270 million with a 2011 completion date.
Diamond's buildings and works in progress have taken him to Manhattan, Washington, D.C., Bulgaria and Jerusalem (for the City Hall and the Israeli Foreign Ministry, above right).
But in a way Diamond is a quintessential Toronto designer, having by now built extensively enough to have shaped much of his adopted home's urban landscape. Alongside landmarks like Edmonton's Citadel Theatre are more discreet projects like Jessie's Centre for Teenagers on Parliament Street, a superb multi-functional pro bono project that the late June Callwood charmed Diamond into undertaking. There is the York University Student Centre, one of the few humanized spaces on that desolate campus, and bon bons like the mirthfully redesigned Museum TTC station with its elaborate mummies as column supports (left).
Diamond hasn't the ebullience of an Eb Zeidler or celebrity status of a Frank Gehry. Yet he remains busy transforming Toronto, for the better - when not called away to the precinct of the czars' Winter Palace.
For the purposes of this blog, the inception of the Great Recession in the U.S., the epicentre of the crisis, is taken as the start date for the global slump. The U.S. has been in recession since December 2007.