ERA Architects

Alois Riegl and the Modern Cult of the Monument

Will and Michael teamed up to present a very brief introduction to the writings of Alois Riegl at Friday Social Hour this week.

Alois Riegl (1858-1905) was an Austrian art-historian and philosopher. In 1903 he published (in German) a seminal article titled The Modern Cult of the Monument: Its Character and Its Origin, outlining the competing values to be considered when approaching the preservation and/or conservation of historic structures. It is important to note that this article was only translated into English in 1982, in support of the criticism of the appropriation of historical forms and motifs in what has become known as the ‘postmodernist’ phase of architecture.

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Narrow Streets

David Yoon has produced a series of retouched photographs illustrating how streets in LA would look and feel at imaginary, narrower widths. One might also think of them as a very effective demonstration of urban priorities – the built reality of the North American prioritization of the automobile versus human-scale livability. See more at his blog.

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

What do architects do?

Apartment complexes at 1440-1442 Lawrence Ave. E. in Toronto

David Watkin’s book on The Rise of Architectural History has always held for me an almost Darwinian appeal — which I’ve interpreted as a delicious recognition that the cultural value related to architecture has never been static but has had its own evolutionary process.  This strikes at the heart of the idea of architecture as a monument forever holding meaning and veers towards architecture as something that is intrinsically mute.  Architecture may have cultural meaning only as an interested community applies it, from time to time.

Why and how do we apply meaning to architecture?  The publication of Concrete Toronto by ERA and Coach House Books (edited by Graeme Stewart and myself) was intended as a deliberate provocation to explore this production of cultural meaning and valuation. We didn’t approach the topic as historians, but as architects. The writing in Concrete Toronto is intentionally addressed to a broad audience leaving the theory to lurk beneath the text, theory from architectural writers like Watkins and Juan Pablo Bonta, or sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, or philosopher Richard Rorty, or even the artists General Idea. We started with some of the city’s most neglected buildings and collected what Bonta would call the pre-canonic voices — the many different opinions about the buildings and how they are perceived.  As architects we express our enthusiasms. We are honest but we also recognize that negativity does not make a city and that architects must have a heightened sense that it is their obligation not only to build buildings but to assist in the cultural production of their associated values.  General Idea asked, “if we are artists, what do artists do?” and in producing Concrete Toronto we asked, if we are architects, what do architects do?

photo by Jesse Colin Jackson

Tower Renewal

On September 2nd the Executive Committee at the City of Toronto unanimously passed the Mayor’s Report on Tower Renewal as well as the Opportunities Book, prepared for the City of Toronto by ERA Architects and the City of Toronto.

For more information, visit Toronto Tower Renewal

Building Toronto: Archives and Architects Lecture Series

February 27, 2008
Thursday March 6
7pm – 9pm

City of Toronto Archives
255 Spadina Road

Stephen Otto and Michael McClelland

The Importance of Archives

Historian Stephen Otto will address the challenges that archives face while trying to stay ahead of the collecting curve with respect to architectural records, and will suggest some strategies for acquiring the best of the best. Michael McClelland of ERA Architects will explore how academic and popular interest in building types and materials changes over time, and how important it is for archives to support primary research in these new and different areas.

* Admission to the series is free, but pre-registration is required for the lecture. Please contact Paul Sharkey at
for tickets or information.

Tower Renewal

This past Monday Graeme Stewart and Michael McClelland of ERA presented their ideas for the renewal and environmental upgrade of Toronto’s neglected suburban high-rise neighbourhoods to Toronto’s executive council committee. They demonstrated how re-imagining these buildings, along with the unused open space around them, can considerably improve the social, economic and environmental sustainability of our city and region.

Check out the Globe and Mail article on their presentation at:

Respectful Rehabilitation

This past year ERA Principal Michael McClelland was a guest lecturer at Simon Fraser University. His lectures on Respectful Rehabilitation included “Rehabilitation and New Design – The Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario” and “Balancing Heritage Conservation in the Private Sector: A Case Study of the Distillery District in Toronto”. They can now be viewed online at