February 28, 2006


Panasonic rebuilt in turbo time

Only old facade remained to greet Blue Man Group

Reconstructing a down-at-the-heels theatre on a “postage stamp-sized” site in downtown Toronto – and on an aggressive schedule to boot – was all in a day’s work for Vanbots Construction Corp.


Formwork, shoring and excavation crews share close quarters on a restricted job site in downtown Toronto. The original building facade looms in the background

The Markham-based firm successfully overcame constraints posed by the site and a turbo-charged construction schedule: only 123 days from the first concrete pour to full occupancy by the theatre’s owners, Texas-based Clean Channel Entertainment.

“An eight-month schedule was crunched into six months,” said project manager Jay Harding. “We had to meet the owners’ dates so they could open their show, Blue Man Group, on time.”

They did.

Previously known as the New Yorker Theatre, the building clearly had seen better days.

With the exception of the existing facade, the entire structure had to be demolished and rebuilt, with a level added below grade.

“Maintaining the facade while demolishing the entire building behind it was a challenge,” Harding said.

A temporary structural steel and concrete support system, placed on the sidewalk, kept the facade in place during demolition.

The 700-seat venue, now the Panasonic Theatre, is situated on a small sliver of property wedged between two other buildings on busy Yonge Street. The new structure was built with zero property lines on all four sides.


Workers install a perforated stainless-steel screen on the fašade of the Panasonic Theatre. The screen provides a high-tech surface without obscuring the heritage fašade.

The only access was through a nine-foot lane at the rear of the building, shared by other businesses. Six parking spaces and a small, outdoor patio at the rear were used for staging purposes.

“Access and egress were issues as was hoisting,” Harding said.

Given schedule constraints, the contractors opted to erect and operate a crane that could “pick” from the rear lane as well as Yonge St. This freed up space at the rear for other building activities.

Almost “every known type” of temporary shoring support system was used to facilitate the excavation. The concrete structure was poured to grade, followed by structural steel and slab on deck from grade to roof.

“Access to the job site for men and materials and protection of the public during construction obviously were key concerns as well,” said Harding, whose firm was awarded its contract in mid-September 2004. “We were working on the busiest street in Canada.”

A hybrid lump sum/construction management-type head contract allowed design to be completed during the initial stages of construction by Toronto-based Young Wright Architects Inc. who collaborated with Martinez and Johnson Architecture of Washington.

To meet the strict timetable, the project was tendered sequentially.

The project was completed at an estimated cost of $8.2 million.

The new theatre is the latest of several renovated or restored heritage theatres along Toronto’s revitalized Yonge Street.

Robert King, project architect for Young Wright, said the street’s “gritty urban vigour” exemplifies Blue Man Group and the inspiration behind the Panasonic Theatre’s design.

The group’s act features three, bald, blue percussion-playing mimes.

The facade maintains awareness of the heritage building while conveying the show’s “hip message,” King said. Windows were replaced and brickwork cleaned, repointed and painted a uniform dark colour.

A new, billboard-like screen of perforated aluminum rises in front of the original building on galvanized steel supports.

As befits the downtown context, the theatre’s finishes “exude” industrial style.

“The industrial and utilitarian vibe of the place is really well suited for our performance,” said Jennie Willink, vice-president of creative affairs and executive producer for Blue Man Group.

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