Old-World Trades Are Busy

Don Procter

August 2007

Toronto’s cultural renaissance is well under way and its impact on the wall and ceiling industry has been notable. Projects like Jack Diamond’s opera centre, Daniel Libeskind’s iconic Royal Ontario Museum Crystal and Frank Gehry’s impressive revamping of the Art Gallery of Ontario are on a list of about 10 major cultural projects that have provided the building industry—including wallers and cladders—with unusual challenges.

And it is not over. The Toronto International Film Festival will have a new home when the $130 million (Cnd.) Bell Festival Centre is completed in the city’s entertainment district. Along with five cinemas, it will feature a host of amenities for film buffs on five floors.

Dyrwall contractor Peter Koropisz says the city isn’t just going through a cultural renaissance, it is going through something of a renaissance of old-world trades. Take the Four Seasons Performing Arts Centre (the opera house) as an example. The contractor had to bring a number of plaster tradespersons out of retirement to complete the wall and ceiling contract.

"The ceiling is curvilinear. It looks like an eggshell broken up into different components. Plaster was the route to go create the shapes architecturally but in the same breath it worked as one of the best acoustical treatments,” says Koropisz, president of Cesaroni Contracting Inc.

The ceilings are comprised of 2 inches of plaster interlaced with metal lath. "We created a sandwiched but monolithic plaster coat,” he says.

Cesaroni is midway into another high profile contract: Gehry’s AGO. "It’s fairly unique. Again they’ve introduced elements that do require plastering,” explains Koropisz, a past-president of the Interior Systems Contractors Association of Ontario. "These projects aren’t your run-of-the-mill office building type projects.”

Another cultural project is the Royal Conservatory of Music’s new education centre. While it isn’t a headline-grabber like Gehry’s or Libeskind’s, it, too, has its challenges. Downsview Drywall Ltd. is the acoustical wall and ceiling contractor for the 80 or so new music studios, recital hall and renovations. The job includes gypsum board, acoustical walls and floating ceilings with structural bulkhead details.

Downsview’s Eugene Conte says while much of the work is not unusual, it has its challenges, one of which is accessibility in corridors where the contractor is installing floating ceilings. Downsview’s contract also calls for acoustic/fire-rated assemblies around rubber isolation pads in the subbasement of the two buildings. The 1,000-seat concert hall is supported on the rubber pads to isolate it from the ground-borne vibration of the adjacent subway line and a large chiller in an adjacent university stadium.

The centre’s acoustical design is complex and has proven to be anything but straightforward. John O’Keefe, principal of Aercoustics Engineering Limited, says designing the teaching studios has been a humbling experience. The objective is to soundproof each of the 80 studios by making "a room within a room.”

By comparison, the objective at the concert hall is straightforward: Block out external noise. The key is to buffer or separate the concert hall from noisy rooms with a network of corridors and sound and light locks. "We can’t do that with the studios because they are side-by-side.”

To meet the "box in a box” specifications for the teaching studios, the wall’s studs are all on neoprene pads, and there is a gap where doors and walls meet. A drywall "barrier” ceiling is supported from the walls of the inner box, explains O’Keefe.

Koropisz says there are other "creative projects” on tap in the Greater Toronto Area but they are still in the preliminary stages. He’s hoping that architects will win over owners with designs that keep alive the old-world trade renaissance.

About the Author
Don Procter is free-lance writer in Ontario, Canada.