A revamped theatre in Washington, D.C., designed by Canadian architects Diamond + Schmitt, is to play a significant role in reviving the U.S. capital's downtown.


From the street, passersby can see through the glass atrium of the new Sidney Harman Hall. ((Diamond + Schmitt))

An open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Sidney Harman Hall on Saturday ushered in a weekend of public tours.

Canadians familiar with Jack Diamond's design for the Four Season's Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto will find the glass that encases public areas of the theatre familiar.

Those who have seen his Banff Centre work will recognize the technique of using indigenous wood — in this case American cherry — for both warmth and environmental reasons.

Diamond himself compares the Sidney Harman Hall to a Russian matryoshka doll, with shells within shells.

At the centre is the 775-seat theatre, home to Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company. Around that is the projecting glass lobby and atrium with views up and down the street.

Like the Four Seasons Centre, the hall's atriumallows the public to see theatre patrons inside, and for patrons to see the street.

The outer shell is an 11-storey office building, home to the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers and to the theatre company itself.

The theatre has been designed to be flexible, converting from a proscenium stage to thrust stage or theatre-in-the-round by moving blocks of seats.


The theatre is flexible, converting from a proscenium stage to thrust stage or theatre-in-the-round. ((Diamond + Schmitt))

The Harman Center, named for a benefactor who provided $20 million US of the$89-millioncost of conversion, is part of a plan to bring more Washington residents downtown after hours.

It provides two mid-size performance venues that will stage not just theatre, but concerts, travelling shows and other performing arts events.

Downtown Washington, hurt by the riots of the mid-1990s, has undergone an "astonishing architectural renaissance," the Washington Post wrote last week.

This new project, along with Round House Theatreplayhouse, Studio Theater's expansion and new theatres for Woolly Mammoth, Olney Theater Center and Signature Theater have helped cement Washington's reputation as a cultural venue, the Post said.

The Harman Center will be opened with sold-out gala on Oct. 1, with President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura Bush as honorary chairs.

Jack Diamond and Diamond + Schmitt are to be honoured by the Canadian Embassy.

The Shakespeare Company opens its regular season at the hall on Sept. 25 with The Taming of the Shrew.