Archive for the ‘ Heritage ’ Category

Old Urbanism

One of my daily website visits is a photo blog by Toronto photographer Sam Javanrouh. The photo blog contains thousands of photographs in and around Toronto, often highlighting the vitality of the city.

The daily photo for 25 November 2012 struck me (see it here). At first it seems like an everyday “slice” of a Toronto street– a retail/residential row-building, likely built in the early 1900s. But I  began to contemplate the photo beyond first impressions, and, being an urbanist, thought about how this building got to be where and how it was. What conditions allowed or prescribed for its 3-storeys? What caused the builder to decide to build right up against the next building? What realities contributed to retail being on the first floor and apartments on the 2nd and 3rd? (or was it even originally this way?) Why did the builder decide to use brick instead of other building materials available at the time? Why does it appear that the 3rd floor windows were replaced with modern vinyl window frames, while the 2nd floor windows remain apparently original? What motivated the architect to include small architectural details above the windows and a decorative cornice along the roof’s edge?


Queen Street East, Toronto (Google Maps)

Given that zoning by-laws are almost exclusively an early-to-mid-20th century phenomena, it is unlikely that municipal regulations had much to do with this building’s design. And yet, this is the type of decidedly urban structure that planners in the 21st century are striving to encourage. How do we re-create the conditions that allowed this type of building to be constructed throughout the city? Is it an absence of planners that allowed this to happen, or is there a role for planning departments in encouraging this type of development?

It’s got me thinking.


Old church begins anew in the heart of the city

Today, I decided to take advantage of the uncharacteristically gorgeous November weather (on a weekend no less!) and took to my bike. Naturally, I rode from my rental on the outskirts of Waterloo to Uptown.

Uptown is an exciting place for a city planning nerd like myself. Currently, there are at least four significant active construction sites in the Uptown core– the Perimeter Institute, the Bauer Lofts (mostly finished), and Jim Balsillie’s new school. The other significant one I was not aware of previous to today was the site of Knox Presbyterian Church (Erb and Caroline Sts.).  I learned that they are building an entirely new building on their current parking lot.

According to an article in The Record, the church made the decision to construct a new building due to the complex nature of the existing collection of buildings:

The current church is a complex consisting of a sanctuary, gym and office spaces located in a hodge-podge of buildings constructed in 1927, 1957 and 1973. It’s built on seven different levels, so it would have needed two elevators to make it entirely accessible for physically handicapped parishioners.

The new building, designed by Baird Sampson Neuert Architects, will have a 400-seat sanctuary and new, larger offices and classrooms. Overall the church’s floorspace will increase from 16 000 sq. ft. to 24 000 sq. ft. Unfortunatley, the old building will be completely demolished, which I think is a shame. However, they will be saving distinctive elements of the old building, such as the original stained glass windows, and integrating them into the new building. I guess we have to settle for these gestures at built heritage sometimes.

I am happy that this congregation is able to push forward with the construction of a new building that will better serve the needs of the community, as well as being completely accessible. However, the last part of the Record article truly warmed my heart.

Ashfield said the congregation considered moving to a 10-acre lot on the outskirts of town, but decided its place was in the city.

The church is across the road from Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and the Centre for International Governance Innovation.

“We felt a spiritual component belongs in that mix,” he said. “This just fits.”

So many churches have made what I feel is an easy decision– to move to the outskirts of town where new big-box stores and subdivisions with young families dominate. Knox Waterloo, faced with such a decision, made the right one. As such, they will continue to be a landmark in Uptown Waterloo into the next century. I could not be more excited for the new building and for the congregation.

First PM’s home facing demolition

It appears that the movement to preserve parts of Canada’s short history is taking a beating again, with reports that Sir John A. Macdonald’s first home is soon to be razed. Matthew Hart of The Star reports from Glasgow, Scotland:

In a grimy lane in central Glasgow stand an abandoned brothel and a boarded-up saloon. Partners in hopelessness, they face the dismal thoroughfare. The building that houses them, like all its neighbours, is slated for demolition, and standing there you think: the sooner the better.

“And you’d never know this place had anything to do with him,” said Douglas Pritchard, a Winnipeg-born architect, as he stood in the Glasgow lane and looked at the hoardings and the flaking paint and the green weeds growing in the cracks.

“If this was connected to George Washington, the Americans would have covered it in gold. There’d be arrows pointing the way from miles around,” Pritchard said.

“Not even a plaque.”

However, all is not lost, as the property is owned by Selfridges, a high-end department store, which is actually owned by Canadian billionaire Galen Weston. When the company heard about the importance of the property, they promised some sort of action:

This week, learning that their Glasgow site was connected to Macdonald, Selfridges agreed to include a memorial in its development plans.Veteran Glasgow city councillor Colin Deans, born in Scotland but raised in Nova Scotia, is a proponent of a Macdonald memorial, as is councillor Catherine McMaster.

“I can assure you,” McMaster said in an email, “that I will be active and robust in my promotion of the memorial to Sir John A. Macdonald.”

Details on Sir John A.’s early life are sketchy at best, and there is a healthy debate as to where exactly he was born. However, this address is the only one that is definitely associated with the Macdonald family. While it appears the forces of development will take what is otherwise an unimportant building, I hope that the responsible Canadian agency ensures that the Macdonald monument will be appropriate for a man so important to the creation and success of our fine country.