ERA Architects

The Ward Cabaret: Celebrating Toronto’s first cross-cultural community

Ward Cabaret

Cultural heritage is influenced and shaped by communities and their histories. In Toronto, this means much of the city’s cultural heritage is impacted by the multitudes of different communities that call it home.

One theatrical production is giving this cultural heritage a sound. The Ward Cabaret is back in Toronto after a sold-out run at last year’s Luminato Festival.

Presented by Juno-winning, Grammy-nominated musician and producer David Buchbinder, the first full production of this experience brings together musical influences and sounds from around the globe with a distinctly Toronto twist as it reimagines the vibrant music and stories of a community that was the first home for many Canadians.

Ward Cabaret performers

St John’s Ward, bordered by Yonge to the east, University to the west, Queen to south, and College to the north, was Toronto’s earliest significant immigrant enclave, from the late 19th to the mid 20th century. With Jewish, Irish, Italian, Chinese, African, and a number of other cultures living side by side in great density, the Ward has incredibly rich cultural stories for Toronto.

Many of these overlooked stories are captured in the books The Ward: The Life and Loss of Toronto’s First Immigrant Neighbourhood and The Ward Uncovered: The Archaeology of Everyday Life – both edited by ERA’s Michael McClelland — which served as inspiration for The Ward Cabaret.

The Ward Cabaret is a creative reimagining of how it would have sounded to walk the streets of this historic neighbourhood, with songs and melodies from communities around the world intermingling and influencing one another.

ERA is thrilled to be involved with such an amazing production that depicts life in one of Toronto’s first cross-cultural communities. The Ward Cabaret is running December 12-23 at the Harbourfront Centre. Get your tickets on the Harbourfront Centre’s website or find out more at wardcabaret.com. Bonus offer: Buy one ticket, get another free when you use the code WeAreTheWard241. Active until December 6.

Ontario Place and the value of cultural heritage sites

Opened in 1971, Ontario Place was created to be a hub for Torontonians to experience the waterfront and take part in entertainment activities, from the open-air amphitheatre and the Cinesphere, the world’s first permanent IMAX theatre, to the Children’s Village play area and exhibit space.

Ontario Place was the embodiment of the province’s economic and cultural prosperity of the time — a response to Montreal’s Expo67 four years earlier, and an example of the Modernist design principles of the day.

In the following decades, Ontario Place saw a decline in visitors and investment. In 2011, the province closed large portions of the site, and the disbanding of its governing board followed in 2018. The province has now made it known they’re seeking a long-term lease for the space, moving Ontario Place away from public governance to private ownership and development.  

World Monuments Fund is now calling for it to be saved, and importance as a site with heritage and cultural value to be recognized. 

Every two years, the Fund releases a list of cultural heritage sites around the world deemed as at-risk of being lost. This year after a successful campaign by a Ontario group, Ontario Place has joined 24 other sites on their 2020 World Monuments Watch list.

A view of Ontario Place over the water.

Heritage isn’t just exclusive to the oldest buildings in a city or a country, it can also pertain to places with an important cultural value to the experiences and histories of its community.

Many times, this kind of social importance is combined with a more traditional heritage value, and a site has design, historic and cultural significance. Ontario Place is one of these spaces.

In 2014, Ontario Place was added to the List of Provincial Heritage Properties. At the time, the province approved its statement of cultural value that detailed its significance.

“The site in its entirety — integrating innovative approaches to planning, landscape, architecture, engineering and educational programming — represents a bold visionary statement of its time realized at a scale and quality that earned international recognition and admiration,” reads part of the statement. “As an entertainment, educational and recreational centre serving the entire province, Ontario Place has attracted millions of visitors since its opening in 1971 and has remained a familiar and iconic landmark for many Ontarians and visitors.”

Ontario Place

How can Ontario Place continue to a valuable public space? The World Monuments Fund recognizes this in their write up on the site, outlining the vision of what Ontario Place can once again become.

“Through free and public access to the waterfront, Ontario Place can continue to foster interaction and exchange across population groups and fulfil the potential envisioned by its creators,” the site reads.

As an architecture firm rooted in work that connects heritage to urban design, city building and larger conversations of cultural values, we truly believe Ontario Place has the ability to once again, through investment, public engagement and design centred on community, become a thriving public space for Toronto – its residents and its visitors.

Read more on WMF’s statement on Ontario Place

Building for the community, with the community

Ridgeway workshop

As an architecture firm with values rooted in how we collectively shape and build better cities and their spaces, it’s important to us to engage deeply with the community on our projects.

“While much of our work starts with assessments of existing buildings, observing their condition and advising site owners on how best to proceed with their conservation, many other projects begin with robust and integrated community engagement.”

As city builders, we and our partners have the opportunity to transform underused spaces into places that better serve the community. Making the most impact requires filling a need, one that is identified by the community itself.  By taking cues from human-centred design principles, we can put the user, whether it be a resident of a tower retrofit or a visitor to a museum, at the centre of our planning and project development.

While human-centred design includes making sure the needs and behaviours of people are understood in order to make the most impact, it also ensures the community is part of the project’s development from the outset.

Opening day at the Ridgeway Community Courts in Mississauga

The transformation of an under-utilized parking lot and sidewalk boulevard into a vibrant multi-sport court and community space in Mississauga was first sparked by the user itself – a local group of youth wanting a space to play.

ERA was thrilled to come on board to help bring this project to reality, leading a collaborative design process with the community to create the Ridgeway Community Courts with support from the MLSE Foundation. This included leading a series of workshops with local youth to develop the identity and vision for the court, guiding the design development process along the way.

Having residents at the centre of this project has impacted more than just the physical space. With operations led by youth, the court has also brought about leadership and skill-building development for the community.

Two youth leaders at Ridgeway Community Courts.

Residents are also at the centre of our work in Ottawa with Stantec and client Canada Lands Company and the development of the Booth Street District Master Plan.

The Booth Street Complex includes seven buildings and 17 individual structures built between 1911 and 1952. Originally the site of the Canadian government’s mining research, the buildings include office spaces, research sites and laboratories. Its redevelopment will transform this area into a space that better serves the neighbourhood and Ottawa as a whole.

Arial view of Booth Street

Community engagement on the project was key and included the creation of a public advisory committee.  Before the start of the first committee meeting, ERA led a walking tour of the redevelopment site, providing participants an opportunity to review and discuss the site’s history, design features and heritage elements.

The feedback we received during successive meetings helped identify what was of value to the community. Among other things, residents identified the smokestack – a structure representing the area’s industrial past – as a visual landmark within the neighbourhood and an important attribute to the complex.

Stantec’s Molly Smith and ERA’s Victoria Angel lead a walking tour of the Booth Street area for Jane’s Walk.

Stantec’s Molly Smith and ERA’s Victoria Angel lead a walking tour of the Booth Street area for Jane’s Walk. Photo courtesy Stantec.

These projects put a spotlight on how putting people at the centre of the development process leads to a greater end result. Creating for the community, with the community sparks a collective impact to make our cities thrive.

Read more about the Booth Street redevelopment project.

Read more about Ridgeway Community Courts.

Announcing Founding Principal Edwin Rowse’s retirement from ERA Architects Inc.

Edwin's headshot.

One of ERA’s two founding principals, Edwin Rowse, is retiring as of October 1.

Edwin and Michael McClelland founded ERA in 1990 with a shared pragmatic, but principled, approach to heritage architecture, planning and conservation. Their ability to provide consistent advice from conception to full implementation of a project became a notable strength of the company and of its growing group of principals. Edwin’s remarkable capacity to combine finely detailed architectural, historical and technical considerations — whether for conservation or adaptive reuse projects — became a driving inspiration behind many of ERA’s projects, from the Distillery District in Toronto to national historic sites such as Parkwood Estate and Ruthven Park, to Trinity St. Paul’s Church for Tafelmusik, and to Ottawa’s Booth Street redevelopment and the recently completed Government Conference Centre.

Under Edwin’s and Michael’s leadership, ERA has grown from a local Toronto enterprise to one of the country’s largest heritage architecture firms. ERA is now a firm with a national reach that includes satellite offices in Montreal and Ottawa.

“ERA will remain forever a seminal experience in my life,” said Edwin at his retirement party earlier this month. “This is a new dawn for me. Retiring is not walking away. I will always work for ERA’s wellbeing and success.”

As Edwin transitions to a Principal Emeritus role with the firm, ERA’s executive team looks forward to continuing to build the firm’s partnership, strongly rooted in connecting heritage conservation to wider considerations of urban design and city building.Edwin will become a consultant to ERA on a part-time basis, after which he will continue to consult on various projects as a sole practitioner.

Uncovering the potential of Toronto’s laneways

A diagram of a coach house typology

Elements of a coach house: A) Simple / utilitarian, B) 1.5 storeys, C) Laneway, D) Inspired by, but in contrast with the components of the main house, E) Defensive, given the exposed setting to lane

Toronto’s laneways are having a moment. For decades, these alleyways were an underused, often neglected, space in a city in need of room to expand and grow. With Toronto City Council approving the adoption of laneway suites across the Toronto and East York district in July after a year-long pilot program, more attention is rightfully being given to these overlooked spaces.

While this is an important step in the right direction to add gentle density and increase the diversity of housing stock in Toronto’s established neighbourhoods, we’re equally excited for the opportunity to conserve and adapt these important pieces of historical infrastructure for reuse.

A historic laneway coach house

Coach Houses, like this one at 10 Madison, were the primary built form along Toronto’s historic laneways.

Toronto’s history is embedded in its laneways – even in many of their names. Some pay homage to local businesses, such as Ice Cream Lane in Danforth Village, named after Maple Leaf Dairy located nearby. Others bear names as an acknowledgement of the original Indigenous peoples of the land, such as Iroquois Lane and Meegwetch Lane. Peperonata Lane in Little Italy even has a more modern, community namesake, inspired by a local resident’s pepper fest, a tradition celebrated with neighbours each year.

The built forms along laneways can also tell us about the history of these spaces and their uses.

Coach houses were the primary built form of laneways. They usually had a large service opening, like a garage door, on the laneway side. Historically, coach houses were utilitarian ancillary structures, subordinate but related to a grander principal residence. Simple and defensive, they had modest elevations, and the side facing the back alley had only small additional openings, to shield their inhabitants. Their ground floors housed carriages and stables; the grooms slept above, in quarters discreetly tucked into mansard or gable roofs.

A map of Toronto's laneways overlapped by the Heritage Conservation Districts.

This map shows Toronto’s laneways in black, overlapped by the city’s Heritage Conservation District’s in yellow. These spaces are where historic laneway structures are most prevalent.

Approximately 10 per cent – or nearly 30 km – of Toronto’s laneways are entirely within or along the boundaries of areas designated under the Ontario Heritage Act as Heritage Conservation Districts. These are the places where historic coach houses are most prevalent.

An example of a laneway home in Toronto.

This Beaconsfield laneway suite by Creative Union Network is an adaptive reuse project of a former carriage house in historic Toronto. It’s a prime example of the kinds of opportunities available to reimagine and restore heritage elements in HCDs. Photo: Andrew Snow Photography.

Distilling the essential built form of coach houses may be a good starting point for designing laneway housing in Toronto’s historic neighbourhoods. “Laneway Suites” says City of Toronto planner Graig Uens, “allow for gradual change and a range of housing while acknowledging the typical low-rise and, in some cases, heritage character of the City’s existing residential neighbourhoods.” Laneway suites are intended to fit within an established context; it stands to reason that an appreciation of their historic predecessors should inform their design.

It can also reach past design and into use and function.

Toronto’s laneways historically were mixed-used.  In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they housed services, from stables and dairies, to blacksmiths, and were avenues for coal delivery. With that in mind, what role should a 21st century mixed-use laneway play in our city?

A laneway house recently readapted from a carriage house.

Toronto’s new bylaws on laneway suites even require two available parking spaces for bikes, as shown in this photo of Creative Union Network‘s laneway project. Photo: Andrew Snow Photography.

Communities and organizations are looking to revitalize laneways for uses beyond housing. The Laneway Project is helping community groups revitalize their alleys through greening and art projects. The non-profit is also leading a study to test the feasibility of a laneway market in Toronto, and their partnership with the Canadian Urban Institute on the Laneways as Bikeways project is reframing laneways as a potential solution to gaps in the city’s cycling network.

With that in mind, mixed-use structures in laneways have endless possibilities, from bike shops to service cyclists on their commutes, to cafés and restaurants for community gathering. While housing opened up the conversation about activating the city’s laneways, the potential of these spaces to build more mixed-use, complete and walkable neighbourhoods hasn’t yet been fully realized.

Though many historic laneway structures have been lost to time, those that remain can give us valuable information about the creative early history of how we’ve occupied laneways. They may even unlock creative solutions for the future.

An edited version of this article appeared in the Spring-Summer 2019 issue of Spacing Magazine.

WexPOPS: Pop-up Plaza

WexPOPS is a pilot of the plazaPOPS project, an initiative spearheaded by Daniel Rotsztain, aka The Urban Geographer, and Brendan Stewart (OALA, CAHP), professor of landscape architecture at the University of Guelph, and former Associate at ERA Architects.

In an interview supporting his recent book Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure can help fight Inequality, Polarization and the Decline of Civic Life, NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg points to an idea that many urbanists take for granted but that the general public may not: that “the social life we experience doesn’t exist in a vacuum; there’s a context for it. It can be supported or undermined by the places where we spend time”. In other words, there is a relationship between the design of our physical environment, and the social life that it enables or does not.

Klinenberg urges his readers to think about the types of places that foster connections and relationships between people and that build strong communities not as nice to have’s, but as an essential infrastructure that buttresses the foundations of democracy, inoculating society from many of the challenges that define our current moment. He argues that ‘social infrastructure’ will only become more critical as communities are forced to adapt to the challenges associated with climate change.

Closer to home, the Evergreen Foundation’s Towards a Civic Commons Strategy proposes a similar vision for “a network of public places and facilities that enable communities to learn, celebrate, express collective actions, collaborate and flourish, together”.

Inspired in part by these ideas, for the past year and a bit we’ve been working on an experiment to test the potential of creating a type of civic commons / social infrastructure within the ubiquitous strip mall parking lots that define the main streets of post-war neighbourhoods across the country and that are home to millions of Canadians.

Open from July 5th to August 17th at the iconic Wexford Plaza at Lawrence Avenue East and Warden Avenue in Scarborough (the setting of the recent eponymous indie film), WexPOPS is the result of over a year of community consultation, planning, and design work, and a collaboration that involved 19 Master’s of Landscape Architecture (MLA) students from the University of Guelph, graduate business and planning students from U of T’s Rotman CityLAB fellowship program, a 15 member strong local working group, and partnerships with the Wexford Heights BIA, The City of Toronto’s Public Realm Unit, Scarborough Arts, the TRCA, the Arab Community Centre of Toronto, Mural Routes, the Working Women Community Centre and a number of local businesses who supported the initiative in various ways including the Kirakou family — the owners of the Wexford Restaurant, and the entire plaza — who are generously hosting the project.

Funded by Parks People’s Public Space Incubator Grant, generously supported by Ken and Eti Greenberg and the Balsam Foundation, as well as the City of Toronto’s BIA Kickstarter Fund, the big idea of the project is to test the viability of exchanging parking spots for community gathering space, all on private commercial property. It’s a new take on POPS — privately owned public space — experimenting with the city building potential that commercial business owners can exercise by enhancing community life in the neighbourhoods they serve, while hopefully also seeing an uptick in business.

Similar strip malls are found throughout Toronto’s inner suburbs and in post war neighbourhoods all over Ontario and Canada. In many cases, especially in Toronto, the retail remains vibrant and local, serving as important settings for community life, and features numerous restaurants and shops serving food and offering goods from all over the world. The Wexford Heights BIA, a 2 km strip running between Victoria Park and Birchmount along Lawrence Avenue East, features over 60 restaurants, and has been celebrated by food columnists as a major dining destination.

The project grows out of Daniel’s fascination with the strip malls he frequented in his youth, culminating in his 2018 MLA thesis at U of G which was overseen by Dr. Karen Landman and Brendan Stewart. It builds on Daniel’s work as an artist, examining the setting of Toronto’s public life including All the Libraries Toronto, his documentation of all 100 public library branches in the city, and a recent residency at Yorkdale Mall that asserted the centrality of private shopping centres in Toronto’s social geography. It also builds on Brendan’s citizen engagement Tower Renewal work with ERA, including parking lot to community space conversion projects at the East Scarborough Storefront (2010 – 2015) and Ridgeway Community Courts (2015-2017) in Mississauga.

The final design of WexPOPS features a series of modular planters, benches, tables and umbrellas, all clad in marine plywood and trimmed in cedar. Occupying 10 parking spaces, the installation creates a comfortable and sheltered ‘room’ in the middle of the parking lot, and frames dynamic views of the strip mall behind. The carpentry was done by Guelph based Ben O’Hara Design, and all of the components were designed as modules that could be re-configured into different arrangements to suit different future site conditions, and to flat pack for easy assembly and storage.

Six design concepts for the project were developed through a series of community workshops by student teams in a graduate community design studio at the U of G this past winter, and the ideas most favoured by the working group and a wider online engagement were incorporated into the final design. For example, one student team developed the colour scheme for the project, which includes vibrant red, orange and yellow and was inspired by the spice markets of the Middle East. Another student team proposed a space of lush and immersive greenery, an idea that resonated in the community and which dominates the final design.

In all, WexPOPS features over 500 plants, which are planted in colour coded pots: red denoting native perennial wildflowers and grasses, orange for annuals, and yellow for edibles. The pots were created from salvaged recycling pails from the University, and were painted and drilled for drainage. The annuals and edibles were grown in campus greenhouses and donated to the project, and all of the native plants, grown by Native Plants in Claremont, will be donated to the TRCA to be planted in a local stretch of the Meadoway this fall.

12 local youth from an after school program run out of the Arab Community Centre of Toronto, located across the street, have been hired as site supervisors, stewarding the site through daily watering, managing waste and setting up and taking down umbrellas.

At night, LED lighting within the benches creates a welcoming atmosphere, and the illuminated strip mall signage creates a dynamic backdrop. During several evenings this summer, including an upcoming event on August 17th, the WexPOPS stage (with a mural designed by Echo Railton and painted by community volunteers) offers music and dance performances by local artists, co-curated by Scarborough Arts as well as urban ecology workshops lead by the TRCA.

WexPOPS is designed to be a hub of social activity for the local community, but also to attract visitors from beyond — a desire articulated by our working group who wanted to “put Wexford on the map”. The space features a neighbourhood business directory which encourages people to patronize the local restaurants and businesses (and eat takeout in the space), and a ‘dot map’ which prompts visitors to place a sticker on a map showing where they live, the idea being that this data will help the team evaluate the impact and reach of the project. The signs were donated in kind by CAS Signs Co, a printer located in Wexford Plaza a few stores down from WexPOPS. The ‘Wexford Wish Tree’, inspired by the shape of the sumac and CNC milled by local AC Waterjet, poses a different question every two weeks and invites visitors to write their answer on a horticultural tag and tie it to the tree for others to read.

WexPOPS may be popping down after August 18, but the proof of concept has already inspired many to reconsider the potential of privately-owned strip mall parking lots as community gathering places, including, perhaps most importantly, the Kirakou family — the property owners and our project hosts. To more concretely determine the impact of the project, the plazaPOPS team is conducting a public life study, modelled on methodologies pioneered by Gehl Architects, and is also studying the impact on parking and local business activity. The Rotman students, guided by Prof. Rafael Gomez, prepared a background study that informed the research design.

Project findings will be published later this year in an exit report, but already, many working in the urban design, community arts, and economic development sectors have noted the potential for applying the plazaPOPS concept beyond Wexford Heights, understanding the value of creating space to support the social life of communities in strip malls across Toronto, Ontario, and Canada.

You can find more information about the project and it’s design and planning process at www.plazaPOPS.ca and follow the project on twitter and Instagram @plaza_pops. You can reach the team at plazapops@gmail.com

This guest article appears courtesy of Brendan Stewart. Photos: Kat Rizza.

 

Affordable, High Efficiency Tower Living

ERA Principal Graeme Stewart addresses a crowd in front of Ken Soble Tower alongside MP Adam Vaughan during the May 21, 2019 National Housing Strategy announcement.

ERA Principal Graeme Stewart addresses the crowd in attendance for the National Housing Strategy announcement at Ken Soble Tower on May 21, 2019, alongside MP Adam Vaughan and Hamilton Mayor, Fred Eisenberger.

ERA is thrilled to be leading the rehabilitation of the Ken Soble Tower which will bring affordable housing options to the city of Hamilton as the first retrofit Passive House tower in Canada. The project recently received $10 million in federal funding which will help transform the tower and set the standard for industry-wide, ultra-low energy retrofits needed to maintain thousands of apartments across Canada.

Built in 1967, the Ken Soble Tower is one of the oldest high-rise multi-residential towers in CityHousing Hamilton’s portfolio. However, the 18-storey post-war tower, which overlooks the Hamilton harbour, has been in decline for several years. In line with our Tower Renewal framework, we are rehabilitating 146 tower units to create accessible and affordable long-term housing for seniors.

ERA’s involvement with the Ken Soble Tower Transformation began two years ago when a feasibility study was conducted for CityHousing Hamilton. The results of this study prompted CityHousing Hamilton to retrofit the building instead of rebuilding which would allow for significant improvements at a much lower cost than a new build. Slated for completion in 2020, the revitalization of the Ken Soble Tower will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 94% while providing residents with accessible, barrier-free living, high-quality housing, and community amenities.

Not only is the Ken Soble Tower Transformation the first retrofit of its kind in North America, it is also one of the largest EnerPHit certified projects in the world. As one of the most ambitious social housing transformations in Canada, the Ken Soble Tower will pave the way for the nation’s aging housing supply – shifting the conversation from aging affordable housing as a liability to affordable housing as a district landmark.

Read Alex Bozikovic’s take on the project in the Globe and Mail:
https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/art-and-architecture/article-a-hamilton-ont-public-housing-tower-gets-a-new-life-as-a-green/#comments

Read more about this project and about Passive House standards:
https://canada.constructconnect.com/dcn/news/projects/2019/03/hamiltons-ken-soble-tower-rebirth-passive-house-first

https://www.chch.com/city-seeks-new-retrofit-for-ken-soble-tower-on-hamilton-harbour/

Accessibility & Heritage Conservation

How do we integrate universal accessibility with heritage conservation principles? ERA explored this topic in a two-day workshop at the Willowbank School in Niagara. ERA Associates Daniel Lewis and Douglas de Gannes worked with the second-year students to develop feasibility reports for two sites: The Laura Secord School and the Battle Ground Hotel Museum.

The workshop gave students a comprehensive overview of the legislation, process, approaches, and examples of barriers to accessibility. Barriers are more than just physical, and often they are rooted in societal attitudes and practices, which can sometimes be addressed through thoughtful design considerations. The students learned about two design solutions: barrier free design (with no physical obstacles) and universal design (accessibility for all people regardless of age, disability or other factors).

The Canada Life Building, 330 University Ave, Toronto.

The Canada Life Building, 330 University Ave, Toronto.

To give the students a better sense of what this design approach could look like, we reviewed ERA projects like the Canada Life Building (330 University Avenue, Toronto). Often, accessible entrances are placed in areas of the building other than the principal entrance, a practice that is now widely regarded as a human rights issue. Adding an accessible ramp to the front of the building, without negatively impacting the existing site’s architecture, demonstrates a commitment to accessibility and heritage conservation. The design has minimal impact and is reversible, a core element of heritage conservation, and the ramp design complements the character-defining elements of the building.

7 St Thomas, Toronto (the Sultan Street houses).

Another great example ERA shared with the students is the Sultan Street houses in Toronto. In this case, the stairs of the front entrance were removed entirely, and the doorways lowered to the ground level. This approach also offers an opportunity for interpretive design. For example, a small sliver of the stairs remains, which creates an ongoing dialogue on improving accessibility.

After reviewing these ERA projects, the students got the chance to apply their knowledge. They conducted their own accessibility audits and conservation assessments on the two historic sites and will use this information to produce a feasibility report as their final project.

This hands-on learning experience for the Willowbank students is part of a larger conversation about the importance and necessity of accessibility when it comes to heritage conservation strategies, and using design as an opportunity to promote equal access for all.

An Award-Winning Heritage Week

This past week, amidst annual #HeritageWeek events, ERA was proud to receive honours from both the City of Ottawa and the Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Trust for four significant projects completed in 2018.

 

On Tuesday, February 19, the Ottawa Heritage Awards were presented for “outstanding contributions to the restoration and conservation of Ottawa’s heritage properties.” ERA’s Victoria Angel and Jan Kubanek received recognition for our roles on the National Arts Centre’s addition with Diamond-Schmitt Architects, and the extensive conservation and rehabilitation of the new Senate of Canada Building (formerly the Government Conference Centre) with DSA-KWC.

National Arts Centre,
Ottawa Heritage Award of Excellence 2018

In 2014, the NAC Rejuvenation project was announced in anticipation of Canada’s 150th celebration in 2017. The transformation included improved spaces for performance, new wings for audience and presentation events, and a new entrance on Elgin Street with a glazed addition wrapping around the north side of the complex.

ERA served as Heritage Conservation Advisor for Diamond Schmitt Architects on the project, developing a Heritage Conservation Approach report, which outlined the architectural, historical, and cultural significance of the building and identified heritage conservation goals and strategies to conserve its significance.The core of this approach revolved around preserving the distinct and dramatic features of the exterior and interior.

The rejuvenated NAC establishes new transparency with the city, enhancing its connection to the surrounding symbolic landscape of Confederation Square. The NAC project has both enhanced and sustained the heritage significance of the building, providing an excellent example of thoughtful and innovative heritage conservation planning.

National Arts Centre, 2018.

National Arts Centre, 2018.

Senate of Canada Building (GCC),
Ottawa Heritage Award of Excellence 2018

The project scope included the full rehabilitation of the exterior and interior of the former Ottawa Union Station. ERA Architects worked as the heritage architects with DSA-KWC Architects in Joint Venture, as well as John G. Cooke & Associates Ltd as structural engineers. As part of this multidisciplinary team, ERA was involved in all project phases from Schematic Design through Site Review and Construction Administration.

The rehabilitation project aimed to reveal the original character and historical elements of the building that had been concealed during modifications when Union Station became the Government Conference Centre in the 1960s. The theatrical character of the interior procession, the axial progression of spaces, the dramatic use of natural light, and the rich palette of materials were re-established and, in some cases, uncovered, while meeting the project’s functional and technical requirements for the Senate of Canada. Previous insertions in the significant interior spaces, such as the General Waiting Room and Concourse spaces, that obscured the heritage character of the building were removed.  Interior elements, such as imitation travertine, marble and woodwork, were all repaired and refinished.

A major technical conservation challenge was the rehabilitation of the two suspended plaster ceilings.  Composed of precast coffered plaster panels suspended from the steel structure above, the ceilings were in poor condition at project start-up. As no appropriate North-American plaster conservation precedent existed, experimentation with conservation products and techniques from the United Kingdom was undertaken to determine suitability.  After multiple mock-ups and tests, a conservation strategy was developed and implemented, with no visual impacts from below, serving as a new precedent for plaster conservation in Canada.

Senate of Canada Building (GCC), 2019.

Senate of Canada Building (GCC), 2019.

Senate of Canada Building (GCC), 2019.

On Friday, February 22, ERA’s Michael McClelland, Andrew Pruss, and Doug de Gannes were invited to Queen’s Park for the Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Awards and received the Award of Excellence in Conservation for One Spadina Crescent, the new home for the Daniels Faculty of Architecture Landscape and Design, and for the University of Windsor’s School of Creative Arts in the former Windsor Armouries.

One Spadina Crescent, Daniels Faculty of Architecture Landscape & Design,
Lt Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award of Excellence in Conservation 2018

One Spadina Crescent is one of Toronto’s most prominent architectural sites. The historical building, site rehabilitation, and new addition re-establishes One Spadina as a gateway to the University campus and reintroduces it to the public perception. Beginning in 2006, ERA Architects worked with the University of Toronto to advise on heritage issues related to the site’s redevelopment. Since 2011, we’ve worked closely with the project’s prime architects, NADAAA.

The recent renewal of the south-facing 19th-century Gothic revival building and contemporary addition – home to the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design – is a showcase for the city and an international focal point for education and research on architecture, art and the future of cities. The rehabilitation and new addition at One Spadina Crescent provides a significant expansion to the heritage building for use by the faculty and its students as design studios, fabrication shops, a multi-functional principal hall, library programs, social spaces and offices. The addition was conceived to fill in the “U”-shaped space vacated by demolition of previous additions to the original 1874 Knox College on its north side, thereby preserving the original heritage structure and integrating existing and new program space for optimal use of the finite site.

One Spadina Crescent (DFALD), 2018

One Spadina Crescent (DFALD), 2018

Windsor Armouries, University of Windsor School of Creative Arts,
Lt Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award of Excellence in Conservation 2018

The University of Windsor transformed the 1901 Windsor Armouries, once home to the Essex Fusliers, into a state-of-the-art learning centre for the creative arts. The transformation was made possible by the collaboration and co-operation of both the Government of Ontario and the City of  Windsor.

Over a four-year construction period, the rehabilitation of the Windsor Armouries was carefully undertaken to pay homage to the building’s historical military past. In 2015, ERA began working with CS&P Architects to restore the existing masonry building and insert within the existing fabric a brand-new purpose-built facility. The original brickwork was successfully restored, allowing for exposed brick on the interior and the exterior windows were also carefully restored to resemble the original arched windows. The original floor, which once supported tanks, was removed for the new construction of a three-storey interior structure, fully contained within the Armouries, which now houses 6,224 square metres of new space for students, including classrooms, performance spaces and a theatre.

This repurposed building now serves an active student community and as a dynamic space for creative arts: students, faculty, and staff moved into the restored Armouries and an adjacent building in January 2018. Its restoration is playing a key role in the revitalization and diversification of Windsor’s downtown, has given a new focus to Windsor’s military history, and has provided significant additional learning space for the creative arts. The project serves as an excellent example of adaptive reuse and rehabilitation of existing heritage buildings, connecting the city to its cultural past while instigating urban renewal.

Windsor Armouries, University of Windsor School of Creative Arts, 2018.

Windsor Armouries, University of Windsor School of Creative Arts, 2018.

Windsor Armouries, University of Windsor School of Creative Arts, 2018.

New Approaches to Old Housing

For the past decade, Tower Renewal has been defined by research, policy design and action. Through multi-sectoral partnerships, best-practice and primary research, our work has evolved into program design, capacity building, and on-the-ground project implementation with a wide range of stakeholders.

This ongoing program of ‘research to action’ was featured in Architectural Design Magazine special issue: Calling All Architects: New Approaches to Old Housing. The issue showcases international leaders who are pushing the boundaries of traditional architectural practice in rethinking housing and shares the experiences of architects who have been expanding their practices to provide innovative housing solutions by revitalizing old buildings—instead of the typical process of demolition and building anew.

“Can architects be more than passive participants in a broken [housing] system?”
AD Magazine

This issue builds from the practices showcased at the “Tower, Block and Slab” Symposium hosted by the New York Architecture League in 2016, featuring among others Karakusevc Carson Architects, Frederick Druot Architect, and Architects for Social Housing who have become ongoing collaborators in Tower Renewal.

The issue showcases how architects and organizations across the world are shaping and developing a new medium of practice in tackling issues of housing. Through the Tower Renewal Partnership, CUG+R, and ERA, architects Graeme Stewart and Ya’el Santopinto engage in work ranging from advocacy and policy development to technical development to create the context to make Tower Renewal a reality—something Stewart calls a “one-two punch”. “We have a research arm though a non-profit [CUG+R] as well as a practice arm [ERA] where we build things,” Stewart explains. It is this structure that has helped advance and implement building retrofits and site-wide renewal. “It’s those kinds of activities that are really outside the framework of a traditional practice, but are actually exploring the nuts and bolts of land-use planning, building codes, zoning, taxation and other barriers that have made Tower Renewal effective,” adds Santopinto.

Featured as one of the books designers should read in 2019, we are thrilled to have been included in Architectural Design Magazine’s “Housing as Intervention” Issue 4, Volume 88.

Guest post by Andrew Cohrs for the Tower Renewal Partnership.

Tower Renewal Solutions on CBC Radio

As aging apartment buildings begin to contribute to the housing crisis, (exposed this week in the infrastructure failure at 260 Wellesley, Toronto) the clear response is system-scale reinvestment — and it’s underway right now across Canada.

Of particular note, the Ken Soble Tower Project is one of the most significant and precedent-setting tower retrofit projects in North America, and it’s happening in Hamilton, Ontario:

Listen to ERA’s Graeme Stewart talk about Tower Renewal solutions on CBC’s Metro Morning, January 24, 2019 (the conversation begins around the 4-minute mark).

Click to listen to the audio of CBC Metro Morning, January 24, 2019 episode: in conversation with Graeme Stewart.


A Tower Renewal Primer:
Postwar apartment towers are the backbone of Canada’s purpose-built rental stock, and provide affordable housing to millions of Canadians. Now is the time to explore innovative strategies for transitioning these aging apartment tower neighbourhoods to meet the demands of our 21st century cities.
Tower Renewal is a strategy for action.


For more information on Tower Renewal, visit TowerRenewal.com
For more information on the current Ken Soble Tower Project in Hamilton, visit the link here.