ERA Architects

A Grand Entrance

John Lyle’s original vision for the north-western entrance to the City of Hamilton.

Reminded me of John Lyle’s plan for Federal Avenue in downtown Toronto, linking City Hall to the north to his Union Station to the south. Civic building on a monumental scale – interesting to imagine how it would have changed both the historic development and the overall character of Toronto.

For more information on John Lyle, Coach House Books has just published a new book on his work titled A Progressive Traditionalist.

(top image from Architecture Hamilton, via, lower image altered from an original found at dreams of grandeur)

Edwin recieves RAIC fellowship

Congratulations to Edwin for recently being named to the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada College of Fellows. The following is from a recently published document by the RAIC:

Edwin Rowse, a founding partner in ERA Architects Inc., is well known for his thoughtful and hands-on approach to architectural practice and in particular his dedication to the conservation of many of Canada’s National Historic Sites. Educated abroad, he received a Bachelor of Architecture (Hons.) from the University of Edinburgh in 1974 and has worked in both Europe and Canada.

In addition to his thorough understanding of building construction, Edwin has a unique and comprehensive expertise in the discipline of heritage conservation. His knowledge covers a broad range of historical building types, architectural styles, construction technologies and techniques as well as decorative finishes; this skill is displayed in the quality of every project he undertakes. His dedication is evident in the numerous design, conservation and planning awards received by ERA Architects.

Edwin is also well known for the considerate way he practices architecture. He has a reputation amongst his colleagues, clients and contractors as being modest and mild-mannered, yet devoutly committed to the highest standards of design and construction. His approach to restoring and conserving Canada’s built heritage incorporates the architectural, historic and social value of the building and its surrounding environment. This sensitive, yet pragmatic approach reflects Edwin’s integrity and his commitment to architecture and the story it tells about our past. This strength of character is further illustrated in the many young architects he has mentored; to whom he has generously passed on his commitment to thoughtful design and conservation as well as his social conscience.

Tub Restoration

Scott’s “standing waste” and corner tub restoration is now completed and functional. The project started with Scott separately purchasing a ca 1910 salvaged standing waste assembly and a glazed cast iron corner tub for installation into his house. The tub finish was damaged and needed to be reglazed. The standing waste needed a complete overhaul, including new nickel plating, replacement of the valve seats, fashioning new parts to fit it the salvaged element with the tub and installation into a new location.

Standing waste and drain tub valves (or Bi-transit drains) were common around the turn of the century. The free standing pipes include a manifold yoke at the centre which directs water from the hot and cold water pipes into the tub through a bell shaped spout mounted on the tub wall. The central post labeled waste contains the overflow, a pipe within a pipe connected to the tub drain – when the waste post is down, the two pipes form a seal at the bottom. Water fills the outer pipe as the tub fills, and overflows through holes punched into the inner pipe leading to the drain. When the waste post is lifted then the two pipes separate at the bottom and the tub is allowed to empty.

Corner tubs were available with the sloped portion (to fit your back) located against the wall requiring a standing waste, or with feet to the wall which required simpler taps mounted on the wall. Corner tubs became less common with the rise in popularity of the shower.

The Brickworks and Toronto photo-bloggers

The Brick Works, located on the west side of the Don Valley just north of Bloor viaduct, is not only an ERA client but also one of Toronto’s most significant heritage sites. Besides being the source of bricks used to build many of Toronto landmarks and homes from the 1880s and well into the 20th century, the location has taken on many different narratives during its existence: a place to sleep for out-of-work people during the Depression, a dumping ground for the earth excavated during the construction of the Scotiabank tower, a secluded haven for graffiti artists, and now an exemplary model of soil remediation, mixed-use planning, and environmental regeneration.

above photos by Sam Javanrouh

But over the last decade, the Brick Works have become a de facto studio for Toronto’s ever-expanding photoblog community. While the site has long been explored by curious urbanites and industrial fetishists, it’s the photography from the Brick Works that has captured a wide audience. On Flickr alone, over 2,700 photos exist of the Brick Works. Everything from the chimney to the rusting machinery has been documented in fantastic detail.

photo by Metrix X

While ERA can’t condone this type of infiltration, we are grateful that Toronto’s photo-bloggers have taken the time to chronicle the Brick Works site. Essentially, they are the silent voice of heritage preservation in this city. Without their contribution and prolific documentation of sites like the Brick Works, many derelict buildings and spaces would have been long forgotten by the general public. By taking it upon themselves to explore damp, dark, and elusive sites, photo-bloggers have embedded the imagery of these places into the public’s consciousness.

Personally, I don’t have the inclination nor the intestinal fortitude to visit places like the Hearn Generating Station (in the Port Lands), the Whitby Psychiatric Hospital, or the Canada Malting Plant (at the foot of Bathurst), but I am indebted to the brave and curious photographers who have helped give these spaces a renewed narrative.

R. L. Hearn Generating Station by dmealiffe

Canada Malting Plant by h-e-d

Whitby Psychiatric Hospital photo by sigma

Architect Registration

Congratulations to Robyn Huether and Jan Kubanek for receiving their architect registrations.

Robyn is registered with the Ontario Association of Architects (OAA).

Jan is registered with the Order of Architects of Quebec (OAQ).

Tourism Hamilton Awards

Tourism Hamilton hosted its 11th Annual Tourism Award Gala “Hidden Treasures”

Congratulations to Scott Weir who won an award in the marketing category for the “Tourism Travel Story of the Year”. For his article “The Secret’s Out” that was published in the National Post, Post Homes in the November 15th, 2008 issue.

What do architects do?

Apartment complexes at 1440-1442 Lawrence Ave. E. in Toronto

David Watkin’s book on The Rise of Architectural History has always held for me an almost Darwinian appeal — which I’ve interpreted as a delicious recognition that the cultural value related to architecture has never been static but has had its own evolutionary process.  This strikes at the heart of the idea of architecture as a monument forever holding meaning and veers towards architecture as something that is intrinsically mute.  Architecture may have cultural meaning only as an interested community applies it, from time to time.

Why and how do we apply meaning to architecture?  The publication of Concrete Toronto by ERA and Coach House Books (edited by Graeme Stewart and myself) was intended as a deliberate provocation to explore this production of cultural meaning and valuation. We didn’t approach the topic as historians, but as architects. The writing in Concrete Toronto is intentionally addressed to a broad audience leaving the theory to lurk beneath the text, theory from architectural writers like Watkins and Juan Pablo Bonta, or sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, or philosopher Richard Rorty, or even the artists General Idea. We started with some of the city’s most neglected buildings and collected what Bonta would call the pre-canonic voices — the many different opinions about the buildings and how they are perceived.  As architects we express our enthusiasms. We are honest but we also recognize that negativity does not make a city and that architects must have a heightened sense that it is their obligation not only to build buildings but to assist in the cultural production of their associated values.  General Idea asked, “if we are artists, what do artists do?” and in producing Concrete Toronto we asked, if we are architects, what do architects do?

photo by Jesse Colin Jackson

“Vancouver Matters” Recently Released

During his time in Vancouver, Joey Giaimo’s involvement in a project considering the impact of urban and architectural changes on the city led to the development of the recently released book, Vancouver Matters.

Published by Blueimprint books, Vancouver Matters presents various readings of the city by numerous contributors who teach, live and work there. Representing Vancouver’s history and present materiality through writing, drawing, and photography; Vancouver Matters offers a critical examination of the city’s faults and opportunities.

Additional information can be found at

Preparing for Toronto the Good party

The 2006 invitation to the Toronto The Good party

This coming May will mark our fifth installment of the Toronto The Good party. Back in 2005, ERA teamed up with Spacing and murmur to produce the event in hopes of fostering a greater appreciation of Toronto’s built heritage while bringing together a mix of people from various professional backgrounds. Since the inaugural event, we’ve added other partners like the Toronto Society of Architects, Wireless Toronto, and Heritage Toronto and made the event one of the most popular during the Festival of Architecture and Design held each May. The event has been hosted once at Fort York and three other times at the Fermenting Cellar in the Distillery District. We are currently working on the 2009 location with details to come soon.

We’ve programmed the evening with different themes and games, with the most popular activity being our giant map of Toronto — eight feet high and eighteen feet wide. We ask attendees a question like “where is the heart of Toronto?” and have them place a sticker on the map identifying their preferred location (see photos above and below). The only catch is that the map shows buildings and green spaces, but no street names. It forces people to look at the map in a different manner — in order to find your desired spot you need to understand Toronto in a deeper way by being able to recognize the unique qualities of intersections, like a curve in the road or the shape of specific buildings.

The map also encourages people to talk to the stranger standing beside them, something totally un-Torontonian.

For the last two years, the kind folks from Wireless Toronto have provided us with an interactive feature that allows anyone to text a message to a displayed phone number and have that text projected onto the wall within a few seconds (see photo below). The messages can be provocative, poetic, and, um, immature. Of course, things get a little silly the later the night goes, thanks to the wine and the folks from Mill Street Brewery.

We are now preparing for the 2009 edition of Toronto The Good. We want to hear from you what kind of programming and activities you’d like to see this year. We’ll definitely have the giant map and hopefully the texting game again, but what other fun things can we add to the event?

photos by Yvonne Bambrick

More on Found Toronto exhibit

ERA’s exhibit down at the Harbourfront Centre received some attention recently in the National Post, a mention on Spacing’s blog by Heritage Toronto’s Gary Miedema, and on the blog Her*itage and His*tory. We thought it would be a good time to give readers of the ERA Office Blog a little more background on the exhibit and show off some photos.

One one side of the gallery space are photos captured this winter (shown above) of buildings that existed in 1858 and are still standing today. All the photos show an address and accompanying a number of them is information on who owned and used the building in 1858. On the opposite side of the space is a detailed wall-to-wall map of Toronto, circa 1858, which indicates every building in existence at the time. Each photo has a corresponding pin that is located on the 1858 map (shown below). On the window wall are excerpts from Brown’s Toronto General Directory 1856 that describes the state of the city in that year through statistics and various data.  The historic usage and ownership of many of the buildings were found in this directory.

The choice to use a map from 1858 is not random. The maps, officially known as the Boulton Atlas of Toronto, were produced by brother William Sommerville Boulton and Henry Carew Boulton, and published by John Ellis. Derek Hayes, editor of the Historical Atlas of Toronto ( Douglas & McIntyre, 2008) says the map is historically significant because  “it shows the existence or otherwise of actual buildings in the city, rather than just subdivided lots.” Each building type is categorized by colour: red properties are made of brick, grey properties that are hatched are stone and, grey properties that are solid are wood framed buildings. At the time, almost 80% of all Toronto buildings were constructed of wood.

If you get a chance to visit, you’ll find yourself pacing back and forth between these walls locating photos of interest on the map. But since the map is from 1858, things have changed and places and roads that you know exist today (like the intersection of Yonge and Dundas) did not exist back then. You can also discover Dundas Street has a section that runs north-south on what is now Denison Avenue. Dundas then appears again, for only a few blocks, going east-west between Bathurst and Hope (what is now Claremont) streets.

You might also discover certain urban anomalies, such as how modern-day University Avenue (known as College Avenue in 1858) is actually the combination of two previous streets: one side of the street was owned by the University of Toronto and the other side was owned by the City.

Top photo by Tom Bilenkey, all other photos by Matthew Blackett

Found Toronto Installation in the News

Following a successful opening reception for the Building on History exhibition, ERA Architects’ Found Toronto installation was highlighted in the January 31st edition of the National Post. The photograph above was taken at the reception and the following text is from the newspaper article.

Learn about Victorian Toronto and more at inspiring architecture show
If you appreciate architecture, the Harbourfront Centre is the place to be. Until June 14, Building on History celebrates Toronto and Ontario’s architectural legacy –indeed, we have one and the number and variety of participants in this exhibit is proof. Inspiring installations include works by ERA Architects. The firm has recreated the 1858 Boulton Atlas, one of the earliest maps of the city, on a massive scale, letting the public see the Victorian city that was in order to see how the old Toronto connects to contemporary Toronto. Other contributors include Goldsmith Borgal & Company Architects and Taylor Hazell Architects. And if photography excites you, documentary shooter Peter Sibbald’s photo series and essay, Elegy for a Stolen Land, is a real treat.

Parkdale’s coat of arms — for 10 years

The 1998 creation of the “megacity”, a merger of all of metro Toronto’s cities and boroughs, was the last in a long line of annexations. Places like Forest Hill, Swansea and Parkdale were once independent towns with their own municipal buildings and councils.

I was perusing the book Parkdale In Pictures: Its Development To 1889 by Margaret Laycock and Barbara Myrvold and published by the Toronto Public Library, when I stumbled across the former town’s coat of arms (Parkdale existed only as an incorporated village/town for 10 years from 1879 to 1889). Unlike Toronto’s or other Canadian coat of arms — which usually depict beavers, bears, lions, griffins, etc — the Parkdale version was much more humble and personal (shown above).

The town seal reflected the occupations of the first elected members of the village council. It was made up of five representatives: one reeve and four councillors for each of the wards (St. Vincent’s, St. Martin’s, St. Mark’s, and St. Alban’s). John Gray Jr., elected as Parkdale’s first reeve, was a nurseryman, so he was represented by the maple tree near the top; the scales of justice symbolized the barrister James B. Davis; a book for bookseller Charles Frankish; a bull’s head for butcher Joseph Norwich; and a quill for the local bookkeeper Udney A. Walker.

And just like the massive opposition to the 1998 megacity creation, the annexation of Parkdale created a lot of debate. After the votes were cast on October 27, 1888, the pro-annexationists won. Laycock and Myrvold described the the hours and days that followed: “A victory parade of about 100 annexationists carrying torches or lit brooms was led by the Toronto Bold and Iron Works band. The public arguments continued for days while accusations of cheating spread… Ex-Reeve Hugh McMath even launched an unsuccessful lawsuit to quash the vote….” An editorial cartoon in the local paper The Grip captured the mood of residents (see larger version).

Uno Prii

Uno Prii designed apartments on Jane Street, near Finch Avenue West, 1966

Wednesday’s Design Forum focused on the high-rise apartments designed by Uno Prii. Graeme Stewart, co-editor of Concrete Toronto, argued that Prii deserves to be in the same pantheon as Peter Dickinson and John Andrews. Philip Evans presented a compelling case that Prii buildings, while beautiful, are some of the least energy efficient buildings constructed in the 1960s.

The Found Toronto Project


E.R.A. Architects, along with Goldsmith Borgal & Company Ltd. Architects, and Taylor Hazell Architects Ltd., were invited by Harbourfront Centre to create installations in response to the idea of building on history.

E.R.A. Architects’ installation Found Toronto can now be viewed until June 14th, 2009 at Harbourfront Centre’s architecture gallery in the exhibition titled, Building on History.

The installation is part of an ongoing project by our firm to identify the city’s oldest buildings. If you have visited the exhibition and would like to contribute information on the buildings presented or on other buildings and spaces connected to the 1858 Boulton Atlas of Toronto, please leave us your comments below.

ERA Architects’ Installation at Harbourfront Centre

ERA Architects along with Goldsmith Borgal & Company Ltd. Architects and Taylor Hazell Architects Ltd. were invited by Harbourfront Centre to create installations in response to the idea of building on history. ERA Architects’ installation Found Toronto will be presented at Harbourfront Centre’s architecture gallery for the exhibition, Building on History.

This exhibition will also feature a selection of work from the photographic series Elegy for a Stolen Land by Peter Sibbald in response to his own reflections and questions posed by this idea.

Opening Reception:
Friday, January 23, 2009 | 6:00 – 10:00 PM
235 Queens Quay West, Toronto

The exhibition runs from January 23rd to June 14th. More information can be found here:

Harbourfront Centre | Architecture Winter 2009