ERA Architects

After you left, they took it apart

Buffalo photographer Chris Mottalini has produced an astoundingly beautiful and poignant set of images from now-demolished Paul Rudolph homes in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Florida. The images speak for themselves:

In Chris’ own words:

My intent was to pay homage to Paul Rudolph and his work, as well as the more abstract and elusive qualities of architecture – decay, destruction, loss, and fragility.

Many more images from the project can be found at Chris Mottalini’s website.

Grant Whatmough 1921-1999

ERA is currently studying the above house by Grant Whatmough, designed for Canadian Homes and Gardens managing editor Gerald Maccabe in 1956.  The Maccabe house is an example of the many early modernist ‘gems’ which are only now being rediscovered in the suburbs around the Greater Toronto Area.

Born in Toronto, Whatmough served in the Royal Canadian Air Force and studied in England after the war.  Upon graduation he practiced in Portsmouth as a Naval Architect, before returning to work in Canada. His career as a designer combined interests in technical innovations and modern aesthetics with a practicability that allowed him to execute a wide range of design and construction projects.

From 1953 onward Whatmough worked independently as an Architect in Ontario. His focus was on suburban and estate homes, though he also completed a number of commercial projects. Not satisfied with established building contractors, Whatmough also founded a small construction company to execute his commissions. He revisited his earlier interest in marine design in completing a floating offshore drilling rig, tug and fire boats, and a research vessel for Radar Explorations Limited of Toronto. Commercial projects included industrial plants in Oakville, Port Credit and Islington, studios for an Oakville radio station and alterations to retail stores.

Available records show that Whatmough’s commissions focused in the areas of Oakville, Burlington, and Milton. He also designed a number of commercial buildings in Toronto. However, more research is required to establish a complete record of his career.

In honour of Whatmough, this week at ERA our Friday afternoon social hour became Friday afternoon at the movies: we watched an episode of the 1957 CBC program Open House that George had unearthed from the CBC Archives.  The show featured interviews with three of Whatmough’s clients, including the Maccabes, and tours of three of his houses. It also included the mandatory posed, awkward shots of the architect in his studio, redrawing existing lines (with OAA certification propped conveniently on the drafting table) and leaning down to consider a model of his own work.

Favorite line from the episode:  “Your pool is very inviting Jim, but so is your wife’s tea.”

Two other houses designed by Whatmough can be found near the Maccabe House, on Argyle and Barrington streets. The house on Argyle Drive, which looks on to Lake Ontario, was designed for Jim Floyd – lead designer of the (in)famously abandoned Avro Arrow.

2011.08.23: Edited title to remove the middle initial P, as per comment below.

Evergreen Brick Works

Construction and conservation work are ongoing down at the Evergreen Brick Works, and the project has recently been attracting a good deal of attention. The Toronto Star reports today that National Geographic Traveler named Evergreen Brick Works a Top 10 destination for sustainable travel, and ERA was present for the recent royal site visit from HRH The Prince of Wales.


The Prince gives the Brick Works Farmers’ Market produce the Royal review.

ERA is currently working to stabilize the south east corner of Building 11, which will be adjacent to the new site entrance and welcome centre.


Building 11, as it currently stands

The floors between building 14 and 15 have been excavated and prep work is underway for the new greenways.

ERA is also working with Shawn Selway, of Pragmata Historic Machinery Conservation, to develop a conservation strategy and interpretation of the Martin A. Brick Machine.



The Martin A. Brick Press

Work is ongoing, so check back soon for further updates…

People per Hectare _ Installation Documentation


We often talk about density in terms of numerical ratios, or other quantitative abstractions. Our intention here is to try and map the spatial experience of specific densities to their numerical signifiers, and then relate these examples directly to similar conditions in Toronto.

Continue reading the full post below for expanded versions of the neighbourhood and density studies shown at the COMMUNITY CENTRED exhibition.

Continue reading…

People per Hectare _ Toronto by Numbers

Density is one of the key tools currently used for planning cities. Architects, planners, and policy makers all use density as a calibration of the city.

We want to make our cities better, more vital, more full of possibilities. As our cities change, we want to propose change intelligently. To change intelligently, we need to understand density.

For the ERA installation at the Harbourfront Centre, as part of the COMMUNITY CENTRED exhibition, we asked our office to contribute examples of places they had recently visited. How did density affect built form? How did density affect the quality of the environment?

We often discuss density in terms of numerical ratios, or other quantitative abstractions. Our intention with this installation is to try and map the spatial experience of specific densities to their numerical signifiers, as free of imported bias (culture, context, etc) as possible.

By assembling this information we are now able to consider: how do Toronto’s neighbourhoods compare?

Please join us for the opening reception:

Friday January 22, 2010
6:00 to 10:00pm

York Quay Centre
235 Queens Quay West

Union Station Train Shed Renewal



The interior of the Union Station Train Shed, shortly after opening.

Completed in 1930, the Union Station Train Shed was designed by Toronto Terminals Railway Assistant Bridge Engineer A.R. Ketterson. The design was a variation on the Bush train shed, invented by American Engineer Lincoln Bush in 1904. Bush sheds replaced the expensive and difficult to maintain, large balloon-framed train sheds that were common in 19th century Europe. Linear smoke ducts directly above the tracks would permit the evacuation of smoke from locomotives while protecting passenger platforms from the elements. Other Bush sheds include: Chicago Union station 1925, Hoboken NJ 1906, Winnipeg 1911, and Montreal Windsor Station.


The western end of the Union Station Train Shed, currently.

ERA, as Heritage Consultant, is responsible for the conservation of the Train Shed as part of Union Station Train Shed Rehabilitation. The Train Shed Rehabilitation is a major part of the 10-year program of repair, restoration and upgrading of the Metrolinx facility and railway corridor.



Original structural steel drawings, above, and portions of the proposed rehabilitation work by ERA, below.

The Train Shed is designated a National Historic Site and is subject to a heritage easement agreement between Parks Canada and Go Transit. The project includes the construction of a new central atrium (designed by Zeidler Partnership Architects), the restoration of the shed over Tracks 1 and 2, and the rehabilitation of the remainder of the shed. Construction is to begin shortly, and is set to last 5 years.



The Union Station Train Shed, before and after revitalization. Prominent features include a large, elevated central atrium space, a through-connection to the Air Canada Center, and the extensive green roof.

Together with the Union Station Revitalization project initiated by the City of Toronto, the changes forthcoming at Union Station will greatly improve the efficiency and user experience of the station. For more information, please see the official Union Station Renewal site.

The Holiday Spirit

ERA celebrated the season with an insiders tour of the Distillery District (an active project in the office since 1995), and an obligatory stop at the Mill St Brewery, followed by a wonderful dinner party at the (perfectly historic) Campbell House.

Thanks go to curator Liz Driver and planner David Vallee, our gracious hosts; it was a great way to kick off the holiday season!

PS: It was all a highly dignified affair up until a certain hour, after which, it devolved (as it always must).  The 2am tequila was not really necessary.

Whatever happens after midnight demands to remain anonymous.

Jerome Markson: Houses and Housing 1955-1980

Legendary architect Jerome Markson came in and gave a presentation on the residential projects produced over the first third of his career – from 1955 up until 1980.

He showcased a number of experimental single family housing designs, and his transition to multi-family and social housing projects. Alexandra Park featured heavily, and we were all eager to learn more about the lessons contained in the project that can be applied to our understanding of our collective urban environment.


1957 _ Housing for Stanrock Mines Ltd.


1959 _ Winston Avenue Residence


1960 _ Saintfield Residence


1962 _ Montressor Drive Residence


1965 _ Alexandra Park Public Housing


1968 _ Folkstone Crescent Stacked Housing


1971 _ Unionville Stacked Housing

In Mr. Markson’s own words, from 1981:

In all of our work we constantly attempt to produce a solution which respects a site, street or ambiance worth respecting, to reflect a client’s needs with warmth and humanness and to recognize that no single solution or architectural approach handles all problems. While striving for innovative design and the use of appropriate construction techniques and materials, we keep an open attitude necessary for creative solutions.

We are very grateful to Mr. Markson for sharing his time and insights with us, and look forward to part two…

All scans above from Jerome Markson Architects: Twenty Five Years of Work.

Don Valley Brick Works

Wednesday morning’s design forum took a slightly different approach this week. The ERA team went on a field trip down to the Don Valley Brick Works, a site ERA has been working on since 2002, to meet up with the George Brown Masonry students. ERA has been performing site review to the masonry students who are in the second year of their Building Restoration Technician Program.

Professor John Jensen, an experienced heritage mason, provided us with a hands-on demonstration of various types of mortar batching including: lime putty and sand; hydrated lime, sand and water; and a pre-bagged Dubois mix which has hydraulic lime. Each mortar has it’s own unique characteristics, and we were able to explore each in turn. Once we had the mortar batched, everyone took a turn at pointing a mock-up wall.

The hands-on experience gave everyone a taste at the work involved in providing specific pointing profiles and techniques, as well a better understanding of the tools, techniques and craft of fine masonry.

Window and door openings


UC at the University of Toronto. Building designed by Cumberland and Storm, 1856-7.

This past Friday Scott gave an internal presentation about the different types of window and door openings in masonry construction, how to write about and describe each element correctly, and how these elements can help to locate a building within a specific historical period.

The presentation also included a brief tour of some architectural wonders in his hometown of Detroit, MI – many of which are currently for sale at rock-bottom prices.



More images from Scott’s extensive catalogue of architectural photographs are available on his Flickr page.

Download North York’s Modernist Architecture

Download the full 2009 edition of North York’s Modernist Architecture in PDF format.

This document contains the complete, unaltered original 1997 report and inventory, along with updated photographs and new contributions from Lloyd Alter, Geoff Kettel, Edith Geduld, Moiz Behar, Michael McClelland, Kim Storey, Leo deSorcy, Helene Iardas, Joey Giaimo, and William MacIvor.

The PDF version presented here is substantially similar to the hard-copy booklet which was distributed at the October 29th, 2009 forum on North York’s modernist architecture.  We are happy to present it in electronic format, such that it may be accessed by the greatest number of people possible.

A word of warning – the file is large (22mb), and may take a few minutes to download. Additionally, please use Acrobat to view the document (not Preview), to ensure that the images are clear and sharp.

North York’s Modernist Architecture Forum

ERA Architects is helping out with an upcoming forum on North York’s modernist architecture that is taking place this Tuesday evening at the North York Civic Centre.  The forum focuses on raising awareness for modernist buildings and landscapes in the city.  The event includes a panel discussion consisting of Dave LeBlanc (Globe & Mail), Leo deSorcy (City of Toronto Planning Division), Kim Storey (Brown and Storey Architects) and Lloyd Alter (Architectural Conservancy of Ontario).  The discussion will be moderated by Matt Blackett of Spacing Magazine.

We will be contributing to the event by printing an update to the document, North York’s Modernist Architecture, put together by the City of North York in 1997.  The original document was developed to underline the importance of modernist buildings, and many that were featured found their way onto the City’s Inventory of Heritage Properties.  The updated document – available exclusively at the forum – will include the original in addition to new essays by the featured panelists and current photographs of a number of these buildings.

Tuesday, October 27th 2009
Council Chamber, North York Civic Centre
5100 Yonge Street
7 – 9:30pm

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)