Posts Tagged ‘ architecture ’

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?

Capture

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.

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