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The reimagined headquarters for the RCM includes an L-shaped wing of offices, classrooms and music-practice rooms around historic McMaster Hall. A splendid rehearsal hall, called Conservatory Theatre, is set above the new front lobby on Bloor Street West. It's a tough piece of minimalism clad in fils gris black slate from Spain, and is designed not to shirk away from the adjoining McMaster Hall, with its robust Credit Valley red stone, but to match its fearsome presence.

Of course, the original 1881 building had a lot to prove: It was designed in high-Victorian style as a residential college for students preparing to become Baptist ministers. Note the abundance of chimneys, Romanesque arches and ornamental frippery arranged by Langley, Langley and Burke, specialists in church architecture. In 1901, Castle Memorial Hall, now the Mazzoleni Concert Hall, was completed in the more sober Romanesque-revival style.

In 1991, KPMB Architects completed a master plan for the conservatory with a recommendation to restore the unique McMaster building. (The board had been toying with the idea of moving McMaster Hall to a new centre in North York.) In 1997, Mazzoleni Hall was renovated by KPMB's Marianne McKenna and Bob Sims to include a raked floor and acoustic panels. Windows were unblocked (an unfortunate shuttering intervention from the 1960s) and the stage was enlarged. During the 1990s, about $10-million was spent on restoring the historic building; the slate roof was replaced.

Meanwhile, RCM director Peter Simon struggled with how to finance a much larger, more significant cultural institution for the city of Toronto. A 10-storey tower for music studios on the west side of the RCM was considered and, in 2000, KPMB Architects conceived of a scheme with a hotel planted next to McMaster Hall. Finally, in 2002, $50-million in funding from the provincial and federal governments came through and, shortly after, the idea of cutting a connecting atrium and promenade around the back of McMaster Hall was conceived, with a new performance hall set on rubber pads.

To make way for the new Telus Centre, the East Wing (1907), which had never been historically designated, was torn down in 2006. A fierce and patient advocate for the conservatory, McKenna produced countless renderings and graphite sketches for the building's executive and board. Her son, who was a toddler at the beginning of the process, attended last week's Hard Hat Concert at Koerner Hall. He is now 24.