ERA Architects

Historic Modern

Modern buildings are funny things. Their proliferation has been accepted as the common typology for city forms, yet they are often perceived as a banal insertion to the city’s skyline and an impediment towards a richer public realm.

Following a recent talk at Heritage Canada’s annual conference on the adaptability of modern buildings, I was asked about the possibility (if any) of “fixing” the maligned relationship between these buildings and the public realm. I perceived this question as one that considered this association over with little chance of reconciliation.

Modernism’s indifference does not sit well with many, and it was evident that an optimistic approach on its structures’ adaptability would not be accepted with immediate enthusiasm.

In their book Collage City, Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter critiqued the city of modern architecture against the built conditions of the traditional city. With the adeptness of the ‘bricoler’, Rowe and Koetter state that these early city builders had the ingenuity to maneuver within and around the city’s built forms and spaces in order to complement and integrate with their surroundings. Referring to existing conditions became a moot point in the Modernists’ agenda and was largely disregarded for an opportunity to begin anew.

With some irony, it is this disregard that opportunistically positions the current generation of city builders. Presented with these latent resources, the buildings and landscapes of the recent past are now prime for reconsideration.

As they move well beyond the years of their life expectancy, the bricolers for this generation need to rethink, react to, interrogate, exploit, and most important, understand these buildings and landscapes in order to reconsider their initial ideals and to fully explore these inherited opportunities.

Artscape Wychwood Barns


Wychwood Barns under (re)construction


Grand opening weekend

A collection of street car barns constructed between 1913-21, the Wychwood Barns are the oldest surviving carhouses built as part of the Toronto Civic Railway, a transportation system with a significant role in the development of the annexed areas in the City of Toronto. When completed, the facility accommodated 50 cars inside and another 110 outside, with access to the yard via nine tracks.

ERA was the heritage consultant for this project, and was involved from the Building Permit application through to project completion. Services included providing a Conservation Plan, preparing working drawings for the alterations to the Barns, and helping to complete the Heritage Easement Agreement. Additionally, ERA worked with Gottschalk+Ash International on wayfinding and site interpretation, and with David Leinster and the Planning Partnership to convert the remaining land on the site into a new public park.

Can’t order those from a catalogue..

The interior of the Carlu is the wealth of small, custom details – from the lights to the central fountain to the return-air grilles. The grilles especially are miniature art-deco treasures, and demonstrate an artful way of elevating a necessary ‘building-systems’ component into an element which helps define the atmosphere of the larger space.

Historic photograph of the foyer of the Carlu, with grilles in place.

The grilles as they were found prior to restoration.

The restored grilles.

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 myhamilton.ca, lower image altered from an original found at dreams of grandeur)