ERA Architects

ERA voted Best Design Firm by NOW Magazine readers

NOW Readers' Choice Winner Best Design Firm

ERA has been named as Toronto’s Best Design Firm as part of NOW Magazine’s Readers’ Choice Awards. We’d like to take the time to thank everyone who voted for us as part of this year’s awards. 

As a firm specializing in heritage conservation, it is a privilege to get to work on some of the most beloved buildings in Toronto. We aim to expand our impact to build community through adaptive reuse, placemaking and design. We look forward to many more years of working with you, Toronto. 

Congratulations to the Best of Toronto!

Conservation of Paradise Theatre wins national and provincial awards

Paradise Theatre

Thanks to its careful conservation, and inclusive and accessible programming, Paradise is once again a space for the community to gather and celebrate. We’re thrilled to see this building reinstated as an important focal point for the local neighbourhood and are pleased to say the conservation community feels the same!

Paradise Theatre has recently won a Peter Stokes Award for Restoration from Architectural Conservancy Ontario. The award was followed by the Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals’ (CAHP) announcement the project had won an Award of Excellence in the Conservation – Architecture category. We’re honoured to be recognized by our colleagues provincially and nationally for this amazing project.

We’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate the entire project team on these achievements:

ERA Staff: Graeme Stewart, Jessie Grebenc, Julie Tyndorf, Shannon Clayton
Site owner: Moray Tawse 
Prime architect: Ware Malcomb
Interior design: Solid Design Creative
Masonry: Clifford Restoration
Stainless Steel: Brascon Stainless Steel Fabricators Inc.
Signage: Pride Signs

Read more about the Paradise Theatre project.

Historic farmsteads drive a new rural cultural economy

Ontario’s smaller municipalities are facing a transformation. Many are making the transition from resource-based to diverse, creative economies, fuelled by population growth and an increase in local tourism in Ontario. As these municipalities look to prepare for growth, many farmstead owners are left with swaths of land ripe for adaptive reuse to add to the local economy and fill a community need.

ERA has had the opportunity to work closely with a number of these farmsteads and their owners in recent years. These property owners are looking for innovative adaptive reuse opportunities to help catalyze their local cultural economy by leveraging their heritage asset.

Cambium Farms barn and silo

ERA engages with these projects using the framework of the Historic Ontario Farmstead. The Historic Ontario Farmstead typology helps us understand the distinct built and landscape features that characterize a farmstead – what are the visual cues that make a property legible as a farmstead? Do these features contribute to a broader agricultural landscape context? With a baseline understanding of these typological features, we ensure that their conservation or interpretation is top of mind throughout our project work.

Ontario Farmstead Typology

ERA Associate Shelley Ludman (OAA OAQ) recently presented at the 2020 APT/National Trust conference on this theme. She spoke about three case studies, where ERA worked with local partners to re-imagine the uses of farmstead sites, relying on the Ontario farmstead typology. Two of these case studies are highlighted here.

Goodlot Farmstead Brewery

Originally established as a hops farm in 2011, the owners expanded their offering in 2017, announcing that they would be opening a brewery on site. This decision was instigated by a local tourism boom, Caledon’s population growth, and a desire to encourage people to get outside and engage with agricultural sites in their vicinity. ERA worked with the owners to renovate one of the barns on their property, converting the vacant building into a brewing facility. Given the barn’s proximity to the road, most of the alterations were limited to the building’s interior, ensuring that it remained legible as a barn from the public realm.

Goodlot adaptive reuse stages

Cambium Farms

In 2017, ERA was approached by Cambium Farms [link] to upgrade an 1873 barn facility, as the owners wanted to push their site’s potential beyond a seasonal single use. In order to serve a larger market, and draw a variety of users, they needed to upgrade a few key aspects of the site.

ERA considered how we could achieve the programmatic upgrades required while conserving and capitalizing on the cultural heritage value of the existing farmstead configuration. Two contemporary additions were built to accommodate washrooms, a prep kitchen and a formal entry for the lower level and designed with reference to the forms and materiality of farmstead outbuildings. We also worked with the owners to upgrade the bank barn’s lower level, previously used as storage, to create usable space during winter months. The renovated lower level now operates year-round, and the open floor plan facilitates programs such as yoga classes, pop-up dinners with local chefs, intimate concerts, and winter weddings.

These two case studies demonstrate how sensitive adaptive reuse projects can create opportunities for farmstead owners to contribute to an emerging rural cultural economy, while capitalizing on their sites’ historic value and character.

Written by Shelley Ludman + Emma Abramowicz

ERA and Heritage Conservation in Hong Kong

Heritage Conservation in Hong Kong title with building image in the background

Conservation is a worldwide industry, one rooted in collaboration and shared learning. It’s vital we continue to share our expertise with one another, learning new innovations, techniques and approaches.  

ERA is thrilled to continue to be involved in these important conversations. The newly released Heritage Conservation in Hong Kong: A Technical Guidebook was developed in conjunction with training workshops that took place over a year-long period by Hong Kong Institute of Architectural Conservationists (HKICON), which were developed and lead in part by ERA principal Andrew Pruss.

Hong Kong Conservation adaptive reuse examples

The end result of these workshops is the resulting guidebook that looks to further the conservation industry in Hong Kong, serving as a module for site owners, architects, contractors and students. It looks to support Hong Kong’s heritage community through increased collaboration, and knowledge about heritage sites and conservation best practices. Subjects in the guidebook range from the history of heritage conservation, accessibility for heritage places to repair and maintenance of building materials.

Congratulations to Andrew, as well as the ERA staff who developed, wrote and edited this guidebook: Diana Roldan, Noah McGillivray, Adam Krop, Ray Lister, Aly Bousfield, Jordan Molnar and graphic designer Carl Shura.

The guidebook is available for all to download. Visit the HKICON website for more. 

Pandemic effect: ERA Architects for Canadian Architect magazine

A rendering of the exterior and entrance of Ken Soble Tower.

As part of Canadian Architect’s Pandemic Effect series, ERA Architects’ Ya’el Santopinto and Graeme Stewart wrote about how the current pandemic is shining a light on the importance of prioritizing the retrofitting of existing mid-century towers. 

“Canada’s affordable apartment towers are the backbone of its purpose-built rental housing system, representing more than half of all high-rise units in the nation. Legacies of the post-war apartment housing boom of the 1960s and 70s, many of these buildings are now a half-century old and in need of critical repair. Months of sheltering in place due to COVID-19 have underscored the inequities of the housing system, and the acute challenges in upgrading this stock are more visible than ever.”

Read more from Ya’el and Graeme, and other articles on how the pandemic is influencing the world of architecture from Canadian Architect.

 

Remnants of Mid-Century Toronto

 

Spacing’s new book celebrates Toronto’s mid-century architecture, from landmark buildings like City Hall to unique elements of the time, such as the zig-zag roofs that can be spotted atop many of the city’s churches. 

Edited by Spacing’s creative director Matthew Blackett and with photography by Vik Pahwa, much of the writing in the book has been provided by ERA staff. 

Congratulations to Spacing on this beautiful publication. We’re thrilled to have our staff involved in such an evocative project celebrating an often forgotten form of Toronto architecture.

Read more about the book on Spacing’s website or purchase it from the Spacing Store. 

 

Passive House: A new way of working with existing buildings

Cities are at the forefront of climate change. In the fight for a low-carbon future, a new wave of building standards is changing how we think about energy-efficiency and environmentally friendly design. One of the top standards is Passive House.

According to Passive House Canada, Passive House is regarded as the “most rigorous voluntary energy-based standard in the design and construction industry today.” Passive House focuses on limiting the energy needed to heat or cool buildings through high levels of insulation around the building envelope, overall airtightness and whole-house mechanical ventilation. A Passive House’s energy use is significantly lower than its conventional counterpart. 

ERA aims to improve the quality and comfort for residents of GTHA’s postwar towers by transforming the buildings and their surrounding areas into more sustainable, resilient and healthy places. This alignment is one of the reasons we were drawn to the Passive House standard and its applicability to our tower renewal portfolio.

Passive House is an ultra-low carbon standard which is focused on human comfort and air quality. It’s a natural fit for tower renewal, which aims to improve housing quality and health outcomes in aging affordable housing

Exterior of the Ken Soble Tower in Hamilton

Built in 1967, the Ken Soble Tower is the oldest high-rise multi-residential building in CityHousing Hamilton’s portfolio and has been in decline for several years. After considering several options, CityHousing opted to retrofit the building, making significant improvements at a fraction of the cost of a new build.

With its completion, the project will provide residents with improved comfort and control of their indoor environments, and with the ability to withstand extreme climate events into the future. At its peak, the total energy needed to heat or cool each unit will be the equivalent of the energy needed to run three incandescent light bulbs. 

Though a Passive House requires a significant reduction in energy use, the principle is driven by human comfort. The airtightness and increase in insulation mean no drafts, no cold spots and no overheating, equaling an overall more comfortable home for residents.  

The project kickstarts a broader Passive House development program for CityHousing Hamilton’s portfolio at large, making it one of the first organizations in eastern Canada to adopt the Passive House target. 

Applying standards such as EnerPHit – the Passive House certification for retrofits –  to existing buildings can be paired with architectural conservation to maintain their historic integrity, merging a low-carbon future with the cultural significance of the past.

For example, Gemini House is a prototype low-energy retrofit project on the University of Toronto campus. The project is using Passive House approaches to low-energy rehabilitation with the added complexity of being executed within an 1880s Second Empire-style masonry home.

The project achieves a high-performance envelope and low intensity mechanical systems based on Passive House principles. The retrofit will thermally isolate the building into two zones: “core” and “periphery.” The core space comprises rooms expected to be in daily use (kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bathroom), and is therefore heated on a daily basis in cooler months. The periphery spaces (formal dining room, guest bedroom, basement) are kept at a minimal level of heat, but can be warmed on demand. By building this box within a box, energy use was reduced by over 90 per cent.

With a focus on the interior to achieve ultra-low energy transformation goals, the exterior of this listed heritage property was conserved and rehabilitated, with historic windows used to create a ‘second skin’ in front of the new triple glazed windows within.

At a time when climate change mitigation, healthy living environments and improved social resilience are increasingly urgent, ERA is committed to bringing these outcomes to existing building fabric across its conservation, adaptive re-use and tower renewal portfolios.

ERA talks retrofitting towers (virtually)

Over the past few weeks, Graeme Stewart and Ya’el Santopinto have had the opportunity to participate in webinars to share more about ERA’s tower renewal projects. A large focus of these talks have been about our learnings surrounding the retrofitting of the Ken Soble Tower in Hamilton, which is slated to be one of the largest EnerPHit-certified projects in North America.

We wanted to share these talks with you. For more take a look at the links below.

Passive House Accelerator: Happy Hour

Heroic Concrete: Retrofitting Brutalism A screenshot taken ahead of a webinar, showing the panelists

Celebrating ERA’s 30th anniversary

A flag with ERA 30 on it

On May 1st, ERA is marking 30 years of heritage conservation, community building, and catalyzing change both in urban and rural settings. While we may not be able to celebrate together physically this year,  we thought we’d take a virtual walk down memory lane to mark some of the themes behind our projects that have made ERA who we are today.

Urban transformation through adaptive re-use

One of the first widescale projects we took on as ERA was the Distillery District. As the Architect-of-Record for the overall Distillery District project and Heritage Architect for a series of the tenant spaces, we’ve seen how adaptive reuse of historic buildings can spark urban transformation.

The potential for this type of renewal extends beyond Toronto. The Booth Street Masterplan in Ottawa looks to apply the lessons learned through the Distillery District project, scaling these approaches for the local context to celebrate Ottawa’s heritage and provide new opportunities for growth.

Exterior of Cambium Farms

Nathan Cyprys

Supporting transitioning and rural economies

Many smaller communities across Ontario and the country are struggling with the transition away from resource-based economies. While our Small initiative helps support these towns through engagement and community building, other architecture projects like Cambium Farms and Goodlot Brewery in Caledon and the Drake Devonshire in Wellington have helped cultivate new local economies fuelled by small businesses.

Senate of Canada

A national approach to heritage

In recent years, ERA has looked beyond Toronto, and even beyond Ontario, to bring a national approach to our work. Our offices in Ottawa and Montreal, where we have a partnership with Kubanek Architecte, have been growing, and we’ve taken on new and exciting work in Alberta. These projects range from largescale architecture work at the University of Alberta, to more community-based placemaking and adaptive re-use projects in Banff.

ERA hosted an opening session on affordability and resilience in our tower blocks at the office.

Resource sharing and collaboration

At its centre, heritage conservation is a collaborative process. We learn best practices, new techniques and innovative ideas from our heritage colleagues across the globe. This collaboration extends beyond the heritage field and into how we approach all our projects. We work closely in collaboration with our teams to better understand the challenges and needs of our projects in order to reach our full potential.

LGA-AP

 Resiliency in the 21st century

Building more resilient communities requires a collaborative effort, from low energy retrofit of existing buildings, to off-the-grid new homes. Evergreen Brick Works in the heart of the Don Valley floodplain is a shining example of the success of this work. The challenges of updating the buildings on site for 21st century use while incorporating innovative flood management and response solutions could only be accomplished by working across industries.

Our Tower Renewal work has resulted in the retrofit of thousands of units of housing as healthy, resilient and low energy homes. This includes the Ken Soble Tower, North America’s first Passive House tower retrofit, now under construction.

Resiliency doesn’t just mean preparing for a changing climate, but also building infrastructure that allows for support networks to flourish. Upgrading the existing spaces for accessibility in all our projects is core to our practice. Many of our Tower Renewal projects include building accessible community spaces like sport courts and mixed-use rooms to encourage connection between residents, many of whom are elderly and at an increased risk of social isolation.

While these themes may encapsulate some of our work from the past 30 years, they also provide a look into what the next 30 years may have in store. We look forward to building upon these approaches and continuing to celebrate our cultural heritage and values with you — our collaborators, clients and community.

To our clients and colleagues during the COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 and ERA Architects: Our Work Plan

Dear Clients and Colleagues,

Arising from the continued spread of COVID-19, the World Health Organization’s ‘global pandemic’ declaration, the State of Emergency called for the Province of Ontario and health emergency declaration by the Province of Québec, ERA Architects Inc has been working to adapt our work practices in order to help ‘flatten the curve’ of the potential spread of the virus. These practices will ensure the quality of our work remains high and we are able to continue serving the needs of you, our clients and colleagues.

To achieve this, ERA will be moving primarily into a virtual office mode, with meetings conducted by conference call or video software. As always, our team of architects, planners and specialists are on call and fully mobilized. Required in person meetings, such as architectural site visits, will be conducted following best practices in health, and in partnership with clients and constructors to ensure the health and safety of all parties.

Be assured that ERA’s commitment to you is to keep the caliber of work high; to understand and respond to changes beyond our control as quickly as possible; and work with our clients and colleagues to address these issues on a project-by-project basis. Our shared deadlines and goals are important to us, and we are making the changes needed to both adhere to the advice of Health Canada, the Ontario Health Agency and Toronto Public Health, and keep our workflow moving.

If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Best regards,

ERA Architects Inc.

Senate of Canada Building receives international recognition with 2020 Civic Trust Award

Photo: Doublespace Photography

The Senate of Canada Building has been awarded a 2020 Civic Trust Award, the longest-running international awards program recognizing outstanding architecture, planning and design in the built environment.

The award was given to Public Services and Procurement Canada, Diamond Schmitt Architects and KWC Architects on Friday, March 6 in Manchester. The Senate of Canada Building was just one of two North American projects to win the award. As heritage architects on the project, ERA is thrilled to congratulate our project partners on such a notable achievement.

Constructed in 1912 as Ottawa’s Union Station, the Senate of Canada Building is one of the most important cultural and historic landmarks in Ottawa. The building is an excellent example of the Beaux-Arts railway station tradition, popular in the early 20th century. In 1966, with the decline of passenger railway travel, the building narrowly escaped demolition and was converted into the Government Conference Centre. The former station has since been refurbished to accommodate the Senate of Canada during the rehabilitation of the Centre Block.

The interior of the Senate of Canada

ERA worked as heritage architects from 2014 until 2018 together with Diamond Schmitt Architects and KWC Architects in joint venture. Our work included a full rehabilitation of the building’s exterior and interior, ensuring it could appropriately accommodate the Senate of Canada.

The building was recognized by the Civic Trust Awards Panel for its adaptive re-use: “A bold re-use of an old building which recognises the gravitas of the original can be repurposed for social and environmental benefit, with a strong identity and a real architectural clarity,” read the comments.

We’re thrilled to add the Civic Trust Award to the building’s accolades. Read about the award from Diamond Schmitt and learn more about ERA’s work on the Senate of Canada Building project.

Affordability and resiliency: Renewing Toronto’s towers

Photo courtesy Jesse Colin Jackson

Over time, Canada’s aging mid-century towers have become the backbone of the country’s affordable rental supply, home to hundreds of thousands of low and middle-income households across the country.  

There are 2,000 postwar apartment towers located throughout Ontario’s Greater Golden Horseshoe Region alone, representing nearly half of the region’s affordable rental stock. In 2006, more than 40 per cent of tower households in the city are considered low-income, up from 25 per cent in 1981. As the housing crisis continues to mount, it’s only imaginable that this number continues to rise. Maintaining these largely privately-owned buildings to ensure their continued affordability is a vital and necessary part of improving Toronto’s housing ecosystem.

A tower

ERA’s Tower Renewal projects focus on rehabilitating these aging and neglected towers, creating comfortable, affordable and healthy homes for residents. These tower renewal projects also include energy-efficient and low-carbon retrofits that help maintain affordability while limiting the impact on the environment.

Through the Tower Renewal Partnership, ERA collaborated with the City of Toronto and ULI Toronto to host a week of events focused on exploring how we can better retrofit our apartment towers in order to create a more resilient city. 

A group of people in a meeting

ERA hosted an opening session on affordability and resilience in our tower blocks at the office.

The week culminated with an Advisory Panel on Friday, February 28, where experts focused on solutions, providing a series of recommendations to the City to encourage broad investment in the improvement of private apartment towers while maintaining rents at affordable levels.

The recommendations emphasized the importance of acting swiftly when it comes to retrofitting these towers. They include: incentivizing higher levels of affordability and accessibility, accelerating tower renewal with a retrofit program and more. Watch the presentation below, and for the full list of recommendations, visit the Tower Renewal Partnership website.

These conversations could not have been held at a more critical time. This week, residents began to return home to their building at 650 Parliament Street following an August 2018 electrical fire.

Graeme Stewart on CBC Radio.

The displacement of the building’s more than 1,500 residents paints a clear picture of the potential future of some of our towers if they are not upgraded to ensure they remain safe and affordable for Torontonians. ERA principal Graeme Stewart was interviewed on CBC Radio’s The World at Six about Tower Renewal and 650 Parliament. 

A group touring a tower neighbourhood in Toronto

Learn more about the Tower Renewal Partnership, and the Advisory Panel event, and explore more ERA tower renewal projects.

Celebrating Laskay through Memory’s Gate

Residents and Small artists gather at the opening of Laskay's Gate

Public art has the ability to represent and celebrate the identity of a place. As an architecture firm specializing in built heritage and cultural values, we are increasingly interested in how art and other placemaking interventions can not only represent unique histories but do so in a way that transforms underused spaces into thriving places for community.

We’re seeing this idea come to fruition through Small, which works with communities to express cultural heritage in a tangible way.

In November, local residents, the Township of King and Small celebrated the opening of Memory’s Gate, a new public art installation in Laskay, a rural village located northwest of Toronto. 

Together with the Township of King’s Parks, Recreation and Culture department and the public art committee, Small created an architectural installation that recognizes the heritage of the village – both intangible and tangible.

Memory’s Gate is a weathered steel archway etched with lines from the poem that served as its inspiration – “Musings at Memory’s Gate” by King City’s Reverend Martin Jenkinson. The poem, written in 1953 and included in the Laskay Women’s Institute 60th Anniversary Portfolio in 1968, speaks to community connectivity across generations.

The Memory's Gate structure in Laskay.

The Gate connects tangible and intangible heritage of the village with the ever-changing landscape of the Humber River Valley. The artists hope to inspire contemplation and reflection for those who take rest upon the bench, which is fastened to a boulder that once sat outside the historic Laskay hall.

We’re thrilled the piece is already sparking conversation and remembrance for the Laskay community. At the unveiling, community members gathered to hear about the piece and to share their own memories of the village from decades past.

ERA and Small would like to thank those who helped shape the project along the way, as well as the Township of King for the wonderful placemaking opportunity. A special thank you to the Laskay Women’s Institute, who granted the reproduction rights of the poem on the gate and bench, and to FILOTIMO for providing excellent collaborative approach to Memory Gate’s fabrication and installation.

Finally, congratulations to the artists who brought this work to life: Stuart Chan, Jasmine Frolick, Max Yuristy, Carl Shura and Heather Campbell.

Learn more about Small, a initiative developed by ERA that works with rural and remote communities across Canada to express their unique cultural values, whether that be through artistic installations like Memory’s Gate, or with the revitalization of local main streets and creation of visionary masterplans.