ERA Architects

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.

Big Cities in a ‘small’ Context

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How do cities grow? Do we limit growth or encourage it? Direct it or simply discover its natural rhythms? While municipal planning, land use policies and settlement patterns have shaped the physical aspect of North American cities, often social, cultural and environmental forces leave a firmer mark on our communities.

ERA’s Philip Evans and Heather Campbell were recently invited by Princeton University’s Frank and Deborah Popper to discuss with their land-use planning students how Canadian cities address population growth. This conversation prioritizes the sustainability of communities by rooting development in the broader cultural heritage context: recognizing the diversity of people, places and lifestyles which have both shaped and responded to the growth of buildings, streetscapes and communities. The role of reuse – from buildings and skills, to gathering spaces and local economies – within the evolution of our communities is essential to sustainable growth and a sense and quality of place in both countries.

ERA’s small program shifted the focus to shrinking areas, mainly rural, and the challenges of industry closure, population loss and infrastructure decline. With the Buffalo Commons project, the Popper’s study of American frontier communities addresses questions about longevity and sustainability on environmental, social and economic fronts. Similarly, small’s focus on livable communities within Canada’s unique rural context aims to develop support for small-scale cultural economic drivers, to address the shift and redesign in the rural landscape, from natural resource dependency to a new cultural economy.

These continuing cross-border conversations help us develop a deeper understanding of our possible reciprocal contributions to both sustainable city-building and the sustainability of smaller places, those often overlooked by broader policy supports. It is the conversations of the next generation of leaders, their priorities and principles which need to be reflected in the development of our communities today.

The Picturesque Gothic Villa Comes to Town: The Emergence of Toronto’s Bay-and-Gable House Type

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In a recent issue of ‘Architecture in Canada’ (Vol. 41, Issue #1), Principal Architect Scott Weir has composed an article that celebrates the typology of the bay-and-gable house. The issue is currently available in hard copy and will be posted on the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada’s (SSAC) website in the coming month. The text that follows is an excerpt.

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Teaching-based Professionals, Business-based Researchers

The magazine Landscapes: Landscape Architecture in Canada/Paysages: L’architecture de Paysage au Canada examines and explores pertinent issues in the field of landscape architecture. In their latest issue (Vol. 18, No. 2), the article “Active Praxis, Hybrid Practice,” written by Shelley Long, takes a look into the new hybrid practices found in landscape architecture, in both teaching-based and business-based environments, wherein academics and professionals are experimenting with interdisciplinary thinking to formulate new ideas, inspire innovation, and move the profession forward.

Teaching-based professionals included Marc Boutin from Marc Boutin Architectural Collaborative (MBAC) in Calgary, Alissa and Pete North from North Design Office of Toronto, and Dietmar Straub and Anna Thurmayr from Straub + Thurmary Landschaftarchiteken of Winnipeg. These individuals integrate their academic research into their landscape architecture practice to inform new methods and engage the public. Texture City (MBAC), Core Sample installations (North Design Office, 2006), and the Folly Forest project (Straub + Thurmayr Landschaftarchiteken) are all excellent examples of academic risk-taking and interdisciplinary innovation.

Business-based research and innovation relies on a creative office culture that supports and promotes interdisciplinary research and experimentation. Firms that encourage this experimental approach include ERA Architects, located in Toronto, Montreal, and Prince Edward County, Claude Cormier + Associés (CC+A) in Montreal, and the Hapa Collaborative in Vancouver. Each of these firms has advanced the field of landscape architecture through collaborative projects and community-based initiatives. For example, ERA has worked with community members to establish the non-profit group Friends of Allan Gardens (FOAG), and helped organize, alongside Janet Rosenberg and Studio and The Cultural Landscape Foundation, the first-ever conference in Canada on cultural landscapes. ERA also helped in the administration of the Tower Renewal project, which began as a thesis and is now a forceful project that will transform the future of Toronto’s tower neighbourhoods. CC+A’s design for Berczy Park in Toronto and Hapa Collaborative’s Mid Main Park’s “bendy-straw” trellis are also excellent examples of innovative projects propelled by research and experimentation.

Flashback Friday: A Jane’s Walk Down Memory Lane

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ERA loves the Jane’s Walk festival. Not only do the walks encourage citizens to share stories, explore communities, and connect with neighbours, they also provide platforms for discussing important urban, suburban, and rural issues that affect communities across the world. The Jane’s Walk festival is a global event that is celebrated in over 200 cities, and we’re excited that it’s just around the corner! From May 6-8, join in this worldwide event and lead or join a walk. Continue reading…

University of Toronto’s Landscape of Landmark Quality Design Competition

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The University of Toronto put forward an eight-week intensive Landscape of Landmark Quality Innovative Design Competition to revitalize the historic landscapes of St. George campus. These major public spaces include King’s College Circle, Hart House Circle, the Sir Daniel Wilson Quadrangle, Back Campus, and Tower Road. Following a qualification stage, four teams were selected to prepare design proposals. Continue reading…

Toronto House Transformation

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Throughout most of the dynamic city of Toronto, structures originally built as houses have been transformed for innovative use. These transformed houses often create spaces for businesses, organizations, and various other establishments; such alterations often generate some of the busiest streetscapes in Toronto. Continue reading…

Conference Proceedings (Videos) from TCLF: Second Wave of Modernism III

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Early this spring, the highly anticipated Second Wave of Modernism III: Leading with Landscape, a conference series led by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), was held at Isabel Bader Theatre on Friday May 22nd.

It was attended by 430 conference delegates from Canada and around the world, including a significant contingent of City of Toronto staff from various departments. TCLF has put together a series of videos from the outstanding conference for public access.

Individual speaker presentations can be accessed here.

You can read our review of the conference here.

 

Section 37 and the Public Realm: A Joint MITACS Project ( by guest blogger Jeff Biggar)

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The use of Section 37 as a planning tool has not been without controversy. This area of the Planning Act, which grants developers exemptions from planning rules (e.g., additional height and/or density) in exchange for them providing capital for public facilities and amenities (think park space, public art, and streestscape improvements), has been referred to as ‘let’s make a deal planning‘ by legal experts, a ‘shakedown‘ by former politicians, and an additional fee for developers. Continue reading…

Scott Weir presents at Society of Architectural Historians

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Last week ERA’s Scott Weir presented at the 68th Annual Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) Conference in Chicago held from April 15-19.

The SAH conference brings together innovative thinkers from around the world to examine major currents in architecture and urban design with a mission statement “to foster the understanding and appreciation of architectural history among both professional scholars and laymen.”

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Powers of Towers: New video starring Graeme Stewart and Sabina Ali

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ERA’s Graeme Stewart and Sabina Ali of the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee are featured in a terrific new video by Spacing. The video, which also includes interviews with ERA’s Michael McClelland, is entitled “Powers of Towers,” and profiles the efforts of Graeme and Sabina to transform Toronto’s aging suburban high-rise neighbourhoods into livable communities that work. Graeme and Sabina were jointly awarded the 2014 Jane Jacobs Prize, also presented by Spacing magazine. Continue reading…

Innovation and the public realm

In a time of increasing growth and reduced public spending in cities, how can we maximize the public realm as a shared interest? To explore this problem, ERA Architects joined forces with MITACS, a Canadian non-profit organization that supports research partnerships between academia and industry, and Jeff Biggar, a PhD student of urban planning at the University of Toronto. Continue reading…

Public space: Two from our library

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At ERA we often gather on a Wednesday morning or a Friday afternoon to share progress on recent projects, issues affecting our cities, or to look at both historical and contemporary research in architecture, landscape, planning, design, technique, process, theory, etc. Recently these titles came up for discussion: Continue reading…