ERA Architects

Charles Birnbaum visits landscapes of Toronto

Charles Birnbaum (in distance) at Don River Park by MVVA

In May, ERA, Janet Rosenberg, and the Ontario Association of Landscape Architects (OALA) was pleased to sponsor a number of events centered around our visiting friend Charles Birnbaum, founder of The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF).

Lecture
After a couple of days touring Toronto and studying its diverse designed landscapes, Charles gave a lecture at University of Toronto’s Daniels’ Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design. The lecture urged us to reconsider our relationship to designed landscapes, particularly mid-20th century modernist landscapes, which tend to be overlooked, under-maintained, and too easily destroyed.

Forest Hill garden by Cornelia Oberlander

Charles is a big advocate for the value of modernist landscape architecture and argues that we need to begin to protect heritage landscapes using similar strategies to the protection of heritage buildings. Particularly at risk are those sites that, through mismanagement, neglect, misunderstanding etc., no longer resemble their original design. When this happens it is easy to lose sight of the value of the site altogether, and simply demolish or redevelop it.

Design by Sasaki, Strong & Associates

By educating ourselves, Charles argues, we can begin to recapture some the value of these sites and bring significant heritage value back to the public realm. To effect this type of change, we need to write and publish on landscape, collaborate with other creatives on documentation, communication, and other discourse surrounding landscape, and partner with local community and business organizations to build dialog and consensus on the value of these sites.

A video of the lecture should be available soon on Daniels’ website.

Also note Michael McClelland’s article “Designating Modern Cultural Landscapes in Canada.”

Oscar Wilde Dinner
In addition to this engaging lecture, Charles joined us for a special dinner at Jamie Kennedy’s Gilead to build awareness of the Friends of Allan Gardens, a group that wants to creatively rethink and revitalize Allan Gardens park. In celebration of Oscar Wilde’s 1882 public address at the Gardens, we themed the party on Wilde, offering a special cocktail called the Gin Sling, which was popular in North America at the time.

Michael McClelland speaks at Jamie Kennedy's Gilead

At the dinner, Charles announced some amazing news: in 2015 The Cultural Landscape Foundation plans to host a symposium in Toronto. This will bring together international experts in landscape architecture, as well as engage the public in tours and discussion of Toronto’s landscape. For more information on this gathering, please see our news item on the symposium.

Yorkville Tour
As part of Doors Open Toronto, Charles joined Claude Cormier, David Oleson (Oleson Worland Architects), and ERA’s Michael McClelland on a Jane’s Walk-type tour of Yorkville.

The tour began at the Village of Yorkville Park, which served as a perfect starting point for a discussion of heritage landscapes. The park is much loved and well used, but as it nears its 25th birthday begins to show signs of age and neglect. This park represents an important opportunity for the community, the City, and the landscape architecture community to analyze the site’s condition, revisit the original design, and makes some constructive investments moving forward.

Claude Cormier speaks in Yorkville (photo Jeremy Kai)

Stay tuned for more on Toronto’s landscapes, and please look out for more info on The Cultural Landscape Foundation Symposium of 2015.

Check out Charles’s writing on Toronto’s landscapes in The Huffington Post.

A big thanks to Charles Birnbaum for his insight and generosity, and of course to our many sponsors for theirs: Jamie Kennedy’s Gilead; Maglin Site Furniture; Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers; Steamwhistle; Mill Street Brewery; Malivoire Winery; Friends of Allan Gardens; Park People; Victoria Taylor, OALA; and Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation.