ERA Architects

Sabina Ali & Graeme Stewart Speak to ‘Modern Tower Blocks and the 21st Century City’

Harlyn Thompson Lecture Series – Faculty of Architecture, University of Manitoba
Thursday, March 16, 2017
6PM Lecture
Eckhardt Gramatte Hall
University of Winnipeg

Speakers:
Sabina Ali – Chair, Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee
Graeme Stewart – Principal, ERA Architects, Co-Founder/Board Member, Centre for Urban Growth and Renewal (CUG+R) and Co-Editor, Concrete Toronto: A Guidebook to Concrete Architecture from the Fifties to the Seventies

Graeme Stewart and Sabina Ali will introduce the case of Toronto’s built legacy: upwards of 2,000 modernist tower blocks that define its urban landscape. Hidden in plain sight on the political radar for decades, they have experienced an extended period of neglect, however a season of change has recently emerged.

‘Tower Renewal’ sprang forth as a resolution to engage policy-makers and members of the public through research, development and calls-to-action. It shone a light on the under-estimation of the importance of these towers as vast, vertical communities whose social and structural preservation are imperative in meeting the challenges of the city’s demand for greater density and enhanced quality of life amid dwindling resources.

Toronto’s Tower block urbanism is ubiquitous, complex and contentious in nature for its physical and cultural landscape. Conservation solutions refuse to be pigeonholed, requiring a multifaceted and customized approach. The Tower Renewal initiative is nimble and dynamic in approach, successfully and sensitively addressing each project as separate and unique.

Photo credit: Chloë Ellingson

Evergreen Brick Works Demonstrates How Revived Heritage Spaces Create Sustainable Cities

The 53,000-square-foot kiln building at Evergreen Brick Works is set for a conversion that will create a collaboration zone to aid in building sustainable cities, with a target of developing systems and technologies for reducing carbon emissions. To set the standard, project partners EllisDon, Brookfield Global Integrated Systems, CRH Canada, Levitt Goodman Associates Architectural Partners and ERA Architects will strive to attain a carbon neutral design target for the site, a first in Canada. Once completed, the doors will be open to citizens, the public/private sectors and thought leaders to contribute to the initiative.

The heritage adaptive design approach was created in consultation with the City of Toronto’s Preservation Services, Ontario Heritage Trust and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority to support the preservation of heritage features in the building. ERA was directly involved in the conservation of the unconditioned kiln building, one of 16 historically significant buildings on the campus of Evergreen Brick Works. This structure houses a large collection of industrial brick firing kilns that are currently subject to flooding and freeze-thaw cycles. Enclosing the open west wall of the building, raising the floor, and conditioning the building will be a significant contribution to stabilize these artefacts, while continuing to highlight the heritage aspects of the historic space.

The Brick Works have become a notable destination for locals and tourists alike, drawn to the consistently eco-friendly programming housed within the walls of its LEED platinum-certified building. It will be a gathering place for interactive workshops and community programs that focus on working collaboratively, and will strengthen networks, inspiring action through new and enhanced gallery and meeting spaces. This latest endeavour will catalyze advancements in renewable energy technologies, while preserving the heritage features.

Congratulations to the ERA project team: Philip Evans, Shelley Ludman and Eunice Lam!

To review the Canadian Architect-published press release, click here.
To review the related Globe and Mail article by Alex Bozikovic, click here.
To review the Blog TO article by Amy Grief, click here.

Feature rendering courtesy of LGA Architects.
Photos courtesy of ERA Architects.

The (Lane)way Forward: Exploring the Potential of Under-Served Public Space

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As Toronto’s population increases in density, it places more pressure on ever-shrinking resources, including public space. The use of laneways in the city to increase public space offers the opportunity to release some of this pressure.

ERA’s Annabel Vaughan moderated a panel discussion on November 30th on just this subject. Organized by The Laneway Project, panellists included Jake Tobin Garrett of Park People, Jessica Myers of the Junction BIA, Jonathan Morrice of Toronto Police Service’s 55 Division, Mark van Elsberg, Public Realm Section, City of Toronto, and Monica Wickeler, a visual artist who works in street art and murals.

The Laneway Project – a not-for-profit corporation – champions change, initiating action through a grassroots approach, specializing in ‘tweets to shovels’ social media activism in the realms of planning, urban design, architecture, landscape, communications, research, community engagement and public policy. They would like to see a time-based sharing of spaces: to push laneways to offer an ebb and flow as dynamic, multi-purpose community spaces over a 24-hour cycle.

Laneways lie on the marginal edge and are often associated with crime, however they are vital as potentially thriving public spaces. Toronto often lags behind other international centres when it comes to optimizing our public space. An interesting precedent is Detroit’s TAP (The Alley Project), where garages host street art workshops and animated laneways are adorned with graffiti, creating spaces to engage youth, ultimately changing the focus of their use.

The City of Toronto aims to facilitate stakeholder-driven, incremental interventions of a similar nature, seeking out opportunities to revitalize and enliven existing laneways. This has included limiting parking to enable restaurants to set up licenced patios in alleys, reinventing micro-retail environments, developing parking spot parklettes, retaining historic laneway networks, developing guidelines for housing, and supporting laneway innovations hosted by BIAs and communities as part of the public realm.

The panel successfully fleshed out these opportunities; for Toronto, the conversation is just getting started.

For more information please click here.

‘Tower, Slab, Superblock: Social Housing Legacies and Futures’ Sparks the Imagination on Postwar Design and Construction

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Participants included: Geraldine Dening, Co-Founder, Architects for Social Housing, Simon Elmer, Co-Founder, Architects for Social Housing, Phineas Harper, Deputy Director, The Architecture Foundation, Paul Karakusevic, Founder and Partner, Karakusevic Carson Architects, Jean-Louis Cohen – Sheldon H. Solow Professor in the History of Architecture at New York University, Javier Arpa, Research and Education Coordinator of The Why Factory at Delft University of Technology,
Kenny Cupers, Associate Professor in the History and Theory of Architecture and Urbanism at the University of Basel, Frédéric Druot, Founder and Partner, Frédéric Druot Architecture, Susanne Schindler – Architect, writer, and housing columnist for Urban Omnibus, Martine August, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, and Graeme Stewart, Principal, ERA Architects.

“Never demolish, never remove or replace, always add, transform and reuse!”
– Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal

On December 10th a group of international guests will assemble at the Cooper Union Rose Auditorium in New York City to share thoughts on policy and design improvements to enhance the existing stock of postwar social hosing in North America and Europe, reflecting on the need for creating solutions to reimaging this housing stock.

Hosted by the Architecture League of New York, the focus of the symposium will be the approaches and best practice of three cities: London, Paris, and Toronto. ERA’s Graeme Stewart will speak of the Toronto experience and emerging opportunities through our ongoing work on Tower Renewal.

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When: 9:30 AM – 6:30 PM Saturday, December 10, 2016
Where: Rose Auditorium, The Cooper Union, 41 Cooper Square, New York

For background event information please click here.
For event information please click here.

New Visions for Social Housing in Canadian Architect Magazine

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In the November issue of Canadian Architect author Jay Pitter investigates how spatial issues contribute to community challenges such as isolation, despair and violence in urban social housing communities.

Using the community where she grew up in Toronto as a case study, Pitter explores the design deficiencies of the Corbusian “Towers in the Park” style favoured by Robert Moses in the 1930s. In this piece she reaches out to a group of design leaders from Toronto and Vancouver to discuss how to develop an approach that integrates design, policy and social development by cultivating trust, engagement and collaboration with communities to build social housing for a new generation.

The group consisted of:
Michael Gellar: Vancouver based Architect, Planner and Real Estate Consultant
Gregory Henriquez, FRAIC: Managing Partner of Henriquez Partners Architects
Michael McClelland, FRAIC: Founding Principal of ERA Architects
Graeme Stewart, MRAIC: Principal at ERA Architects
Sheila Penny: Toronto based Architect and VP of Facilities at Toronto Community Housing

Out of this discussion emerged thoughtful ways of building more complete social housing communities by considering the lived reality of residents made up by the systems and structures that shape their daily experiences. The group emphasized the importance of developing trust through a more collaborative process and providing the tools to allow residents to shape their own neighbourhoods and respond to community needs.

Click here to view the article.

Flags: Public Artwork Complete

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A new public work by artist Josh Thorpe has just been launched at Maple Claire Park, Toronto. For this project, entitled Flag Field, ERA Architects provided landscape architectural and project management services.

Flag Field consists of fourteen custom flags on flagpoles ranging from 25 to 50 feet high. Thorpe designed the flags as simple drawings of cats and dogs, stripes and polka dots etc. — images associated loosely with the leisure of parks.

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The flags are clustered in two groups adjacent to the main pedestrian path of the park, and are intended to bring movement and colour to the site, to partly screen the surrounding urban fabric, and to create a loose system in which people can stroll or children can play.

The base of each flag is a circle of multi-coloured rubber crumb surface often associated with playgrounds and sports fields. Each flagpole is underpinned by groundscrew technology, a light-touch alternative to traditional concrete foundations. The use of ground screws in this case is more economical, more time-efficient, and makes a much smaller footprint on the site.

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ERA’s contribution to the project included support with early schematic design and concept renderings; consulting regarding view corridors and flag placement on site; construction drawings; tendering; and contract administration. Structural Engineering was provided by Blackwell and the use of ground screws was provided and installed by Aduvo Systems Ltd. They proved to be an economical solution to securing the base of the pole to their grounding.

Thorpe is an internationally exhibiting artist with new work soon to be announced at 3A Gallery, New York. See his website for more images and information.

Regent Park’s Commemoration Strategy

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How do you commemorate the heritage of a complex, evolving neighbourhood that is still in the throes of change? How do you interpret the vibrancy of a neighbourhood while considering the significance of its buildings, most of which no longer exist? ERA Architects is addressing these questions through the establishment of a Commemoration Strategy for Regent Park. We are collaborating with Swerhun Facilitation, Toronto Community Housing, and (most importantly) past and current residents of Regent Park to develop recommendations for safeguarding and promoting the community’s heritage. Continue reading…

Harvest Festival in Thorncliffe Park

IMG_4171On Saturday, September 26th, the Third Not-So-Annual Harvest Festival took place in Thorncliffe Park. Hosted by not-for-profit Diasporic Genius (DG), the festival featured a pop-up Women’s Cultural Café, an initiative of the Thorncliffe Action Group (TAG). Diasporic Genius, TAG, and ERA Architects collaborated to design, build, and run this dynamic pop-up café. Continue reading…

Visit the Markham House!

markhamhouseThis Saturday, September 19, 2015, Mirvish Village will be hosting the grand opening of the Markham House, located at 610 Markham Street. Doors will open from 11:00am to 6:00pm, providing guests the opportunity to revel in an abundance of festivities. There will be food and drinks presented by tasty cafes and restaurants from the Annex and Mirvish Village area, and beautiful music organized by the Bloor Ossington Folk Festival. Continue reading…

Newfoundland field research (by guest blogger Kathryn Douthart)

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For the past five years, ERA’s Culture of Outports team has been working with rural communities along Newfoundland’s coast to foster liveable communities through research, design, and planning. In the summer of 2014, Culture of Outports worked with Mitacs, a not-for-profit organization that builds working relationships between academia and industry by placing research interns with organizations in need of research expertise. Culture of Outports’ Mitacs internship focused on communities in Newfoundland’s Baie Verte Peninsula. Continue reading…

Charity Hicks’ passing

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Charity Hicks and Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam; photo Catherine Mombourquette

Sad news reached us this week that Charity Hicks, a well-known Detroit-based activist and leader, passed away July 8, 2014. Ms. Hicks was an advocate for democracy, grass-roots engagement, and environmental and social justice.

ERA had the privilege of witnessing a conversation between Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam and Charity Hicks at the Detroit-Toronto Symposium in 2013, where Ms. Hicks spoke passionately and inspiringly on social, economic, and cultural change in Detroit.

A fundraising campaign is currently underway to bring Ms. Hicks back to Detroit for burial and to support her family during the immediate period of trauma. If you would like to consider contributing, donations can be made online.