Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Renovating the Old Auditorium (Old Aud) for Music at UBC

UBC (The University of British Columbia) is renovating its Old Auditorium, affectionately known simply as "the Old Aud". Once rebuilt, it will be suitable as an opera house and concert hall for the School of Music, offering new rehearsal space in the redesigned basement as well as a space there which can be used for practicing opera staging. All of this costs millions, but the building is one of the oldest on campus, a building which many of our older alumni remember fondly as a place for meeting potential life partners, a place for large lectures, and as one of the picturesque buildings the University somehow managed to construct for the young province. Now matured, the province of British Columbia, UBC, the Faculty of Arts and Music are cooperating to raise the money for this splendid undertaking.

These pictures were taken during a guided tour last month. At that time, the Old Aud had been taken back to the studs. As I approached the Old Aud, the first thing I noticed is that the whole building is completely fenced--a hard-hat area for construction workers, and beyond the fencing is scaffolding.

I took these stairs into the Old Aud, as I had for more than three decades, and was delighted to see the atrium completely gutted, readied for some serious improvements which have been overdue long before I arrived in 1975. The exposed 'bones' of the Old Aud seem to be very sound (click to enlarge any of these pictures).

Within the auditorium itself. UBC is retaining the lovely grand old windows, the floor slope and detailed plastering when possible, but much has to be replaced.
To get another view, I went to the balcony. The theatre seating has been removed, access holes have been added to the ceiling temporarily, but the angles and levels of the floor itself are being retained.

Now we are looking down at the auditorium from the balcony:

While upstairs, I decided to visit my old office. I could hardly find it. There used to be walls, of course, as well as a door with my name, some shelves, several desks, outlets and the like. That said, it was also either very hot or very cold, and was usually an ideal place for growing molds of various types. I was glad to bequeath it to someone else.

Going now to the basement, I first stopped to see a new room. This space was apparently never before utilized, but a doorway has now been made through the cement wall, soil removed, and this absolutely dry windowless room will become an opera storage room. This is an excellent use of otherwise dead space.

For decades, I joined hundreds for lunch at Yum-Yums in the basement of the Old Aud. This was a great place for some greasy Chinese fast food or sandwich, once the noon rush was dissipated, a place I liked to go to review notes for an afternoon lecture over a cup of coffee. The concrete floor has been removed so that earth can be removed and the flooring be lowered. I understand that this space will become rehearsal rooms, practice rooms, and a place for blocking operas. I never dreamed I would ever see even a small steam shovel parked at my favourite lunch spot.

One of the most visible and significant changes is the addition of an orchestra pit between the stage and auditorium's seats. I waited for about 10 minutes to get this picture of a loader driving straight through the orchestra pit on its way to get another load of dirt from the Yum-Yums floor.

From the basement level of the orchestra pit, you can see the basement windows of Yum-Yums as well as the auditorium (one level up) and its balcony.

Finally, climbing to the stage, we see the nearly gutted back stage area where inventive students have left signatures for decades.

The ceiling of the back stage reminds me of my father-in-law's old corn crib. Large holes had to be made in the roof in order to drop steel beams into the exceptionally tall area to provide the level of improved support now required for earthquake preparations.

I hope to revisit the site in July and give another report.