ERA Architects

Allan Gardens: a new public space design competition

E.R.A. Architects is pleased to announce its participation in Friends of Allan Gardens (FOAG), a group of neighbours and citizens concerned with actively promoting the vitality of Allan Gardens park. This volunteer group’s mission is to revitalize the park through creative strategies that will improve open spaces, nurture local culture and attract a larger and more diverse group of users.

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Concrete Ideas

The book Concrete Ideas: Material to Shape a City was launched in January, 2012.
Edited by Pina Petricone, the book considers new approaches to concrete architecture by exploring a variety of new technologies and possibilities for the material. First introduced by Pina’s article in Concrete Toronto, the book is a compilation of ideas, articles and interviews assembled over the past several years.

The volume includes exploratory design work by ERA’s Jessie Grebenc, as well as a pair of articles by Graeme Stewart focused on Tower Renewal; one examining the state of concrete tower blocks internationally and the other exploring their potential architectural and urban futures in the Toronto context.

Congratulations to Pina and the publication team on a wonderful and beautiful book.

Read about Concrete Ideas in a John Bentley Mays review in the Globe and Mail here.

Concrete Ideas: Material to Shape a City will be available for order online at soon.

For more on concrete, Concrete Toronto can be found here.

ERA x Sweden

This month a number of ERAers took a trip to Sweden, in order to kick off a neighbourhood rejuvenation project at Semlal Lagerlöfs Torg in Gothenberg. Following the extensive site tour and project brief, the team visited precedent projects in Stockholm, Malmo and Copenhagen to view the latest in housing design and neighbourhood renewal from our Nordic cousins. The following images illustrate the project’s existing context ‘as found’, and future blog posts will expand on both the trip and the on-going project.

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Gothenburg Renewal

ERA has been invited to participate in a parallel commission for the neighbourhood renewal of Selma Lagerlöfs Torg in Gothenburg Sweden. Sharing many similarities to Toronto’s Inner suburbs, the neighbourhood renewal program will incorporate many of the strategies developed in Toronto for Tower Renewal…

ERA Wins Toronto Urban Design Award

ERA was awarded a 2011 Toronto Urban Design Award in the Visions and Master Plans category for the Avenues & Mid-Rise Building Study. Congratulation to team lead Brook McIlroy Planning + Urban Design/Pace Architects and project consultants Quadrangle Architects Limited, and Urban Marketing Collaborative.

More information related to this project can be found here.

East Scarborough Storefront

Community Design – Image courtesy of Expect Theatre / Spark Productions

The East Scarborough Storefront is a community agency offering multiple services in a tower neighbourhood in East Scarborough.  Containing a community kitchen and garden, market, resource centre and access point to over 50 different agencies such as job search support and literacy service, the East Scarbourough Storefront is a significant asset to Toronto. To expand its reach, the Storefront is currently undergoing a long term community lead expansion and revitalization strategy.

Over the past several years, ERA has been aiding the Storefront in this process,  in collaboration with  Sustainable.TO, ArchiTEXT, LoCALe, the Tower Renewal Office at the City of Toronto, and a group of vibrant and active community youth.

A recent article in the Summer 2011 issue of Sustainable Builder Magazine showcasing this ongoing work can be found here, or downloaded in PDF format here.

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On mapping

With any exercise in mapping there are a whole series of interesting Borges-like adventures that reveal themselves.  There is the story or stories the map-writer wishes to tell, but to the map-reader there are countless other stories which may appear as unpredictable discoveries beyond the intentional.

As a child, playing the game of ‘connect the dots’ is an early exploration in map reading.   One carefully draws the lines from dot to dot until the little rhinoceros reveals itself, and there is a moment of discovery, recognition and pleasure.   With every map this same moment of discovery lies in wait – and the more complex the map, the greater the pleasure there is in reading it.

In reading any map there are the representational issues between the map and the place on the ground; the real place to which the map corresponds.   The map is a selective recording of some specific data.  The reader must connect the dots between the data, and find the correspondence that tells her more about that place.  Beyond the simplest of storylines the reader’s own experience and knowledge of the place and knowledge of the data can provide a rich, nuanced, synergistic reading.

A map can also be like an architectural drawing – which is a series of visual instructions, or a map for action – in that it can be a delineation of something that does not yet exist.  And in this case, can the reader visualize the impact and understand the potential should this mapped fictional place slip into the real world?

Mapping of places is an act of the imagination, both for the map-maker and the map-reader.  Wellbeing Toronto presents new and different data from what we have seen before and has the potential to reveal patterns of the city that had previously been unreadable.  With this mapping tool the City of Toronto are opening up room for discussion leading to multiple readings, multiple interpretations, and the potential for action.

The image above overlays the 1894 and 2010 built-form maps of Toronto, produced by ERA.

Wellbeing Toronto

The City of Toronto has just launched ‘Wellbeing Toronto‘, which, in their own words, is:

a new web-based measurement and visualization tool that helps evaluate community wellbeing across the city’s 140 neighbourhoods. Using geographic information software, Wellbeing Toronto allows you to select, combine and weight the significance of a number of indicators that monitor neighbourhood wellness. The results appear instantly on easy to read maps, tables and graphs. This free tool supports decision making and seeks to engage citizens and businesses in understanding the challenges and opportunities of creating and maintaining healthy neighbourhoods.

What an incredibly powerful tool. The City should be roundly and loudly celebrated for making this data available, which will allow residents to draw powerful associations and build convincing arguments for targeted change.

New Bloor

Marcus Gee has an article in the Globe today discussing the public realm improvements to the ‘Mink Mile’ along Bloor:

The sidewalks have been widened by four feet to accommodate the bustling street life of Canada’s ritziest retail strip. The tired concrete of the old sidewalks has been replaced by Quebec-quarried granite paving stones of dark “Atlantic grey.” The 134 new London Plane trees are planted in specially designed soil cells to ease them through the stresses of urban life. Stone benches and specially designed new bike rings punctuate the avenue. On a late spring afternoon, shoppers and gawkers stream along the street, passing the gilded storefronts of Hermès, Tiffany and Holt Renfrew. Despite all the bad press, the project is an unmistakable success – proof that some city-building exercises are worth the wait.

A huge congratulations to our neighbours Brown + Storey, who are responsible for the design.  The attention to detail in all elements of the project is remarkable – we love the weathering steel tree-ring and service covers, all aligned with the joints in the pavers.

Measure up

Edwin Heathcote questions the contemporary trend of ranking cities in a very interesting article on the Financial
Ricky Burdett, who founded the London School of Economics’ Cities Programme, says: “These surveys always come up with a list where no one would want to live. One wants to live in places which are large and complex, where you don’t know everyone and you don’t always know what’s going to happen next. Cities are places of opportunity but also of conflict, but where you can find safety in a crowd.
“We also have to acknowledge that these cities that come top of the polls also don’t have any poor people,” he adds. And that, it seems to me, touches on the big issue. Richard G Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s hugely influential book The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better (2009) seems to present an obvious truth – that places where the differential in income between the wealthiest and the poorest is smallest tend to engender a sense of satisfaction and well-being. But while it may be socially desirable, that kind of comfort doesn’t necessarily make for vibrancy or dynamism. If everybody is where they want to be, no one is going anywhere.

Read the rest of the article here.

Photo above of Marzahn, Berlin by Brendan S., ERA Architects.


York University, 1960s.

York University was established in 1959, with the first classes held in Falconer Hall at the University of Toronto.  In 1962, after the province gave the university approximately 600 acres of land at the northern edge of the city, UPACE (University Planners, Architects and Consulting Engineers) was formed and commissioned to prepare a master plan for the new institution.

A model of the 1962 Master Plan for York University.

The UPACE team was led by three architects from three prominent Canadian firms: John H. Bonnick of Gordon S. Adamson & Associates; William N. Greer of Shore & Moffat and Partners, and John C. Parkin of the office of John B. Parkin Associates, Architects and Engineers. These three men prepared the master plan for the new campus, with Hideo Sasaki of the Department of Landscape Architecture at Harvard University acting as a consultant.

Clockwise from Top Left; McLaughlin College Common Room, Vanier College, Winter’s College Dining Room, Winter’s College.

UPACE also prepared a set of design guidelines that would direct future development, and ensure a consistent, coherent campus. These directives are best expressed in some of the numerous buildings designed by UPACE on the campus, such as Farquarson Life Sciences, Scott Library, Tait McKenzie Physical Education, Stedman Lecture Halls/Lecture Hall One, Behavioural Sciences, Petrie Sciences, the Ross Building, Vanier and Winters Colleges, as well as McLaughlin College – for which they were finalists for the 1970 Massey Medal.

Left to Right; Scott Library interior atrium, Scott Library exterior.

York University has recognized its heritage as a modernist institution, and all of the buildings designed under the direction of the initial master plan have been listed on the Toronto Inventory of Heritage Properties.

Top; Ross Building model, Bottom; Ross Building today.

Gander International Airport Lounge

Stuart McLean and the Vinyl Cafe were broadcasting from Gander, Newfoundland this weekend, and opened the show with a description of the International Lounge at Gander International airport.  Once an essential stop-over for refueling planes traveling from New York to London, the Lounge has been almost magically frozen in time. A 2005 New York Times article on the lounge describes it best:

With the advent of jet fuel, stopovers became unnecessary; in the 1960’s, traffic slowed to a trickle. (These days, traveling to Gander, population 9,650, is itself like going back in time; Air Canada only flies there on tiny twin-turboprop planes.) Perfectly preserved, the terminal is a time capsule from the heady days when travel was exotic and airports were beacons of the future. ”It’s still one of the most beautiful, most important Modernist rooms in the country, if not the most important,” says Alan C. Elder, the curator of the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

Flickr images by Zach Bonnell

The new Standard

Graeme is featured on the cover of the brand new Toronto Standard online daily news portal, with an extensive interview covering the Tower Neighbourhood Renewal initiative.

This is a 20-year project. We’re talking about a huge number of buildings, hundreds of neighbourhoods and over a million [residents]. It’s about a gradual process of improvement. For now, it’s working in specific communities with different landowners, asking whether we can take down some fences, rezone for mixed use, introduce some modest demonstration projects regarding community development and building upgrade. Then we can make these new ideas viral, the new status quo. Over the long term, this can provide real opportunities for a more sustainable and livable city-region.

These buildings aren´t going anywhere, but the longer we wait, the more difficult the challenge. It’s time to get going.

Read the full interview here, titled ‘Reinventing Suburbia‘.  Half newspaper and half blog, the Standard is beautiful to look at, and is a welcome voice in the ongoing local discourse.

Fairfield and DuBois

Fairfield and DuBois are the third firm profiled in our series on Toronto’s Modernist Architects. Below is an excerpt from North York’s Modernist Architecture Revisited, augmented with photographs featured in Concrete Toronto.

Robert Fairfield graduated from the University of Toronto in 1943 with a Bachelor of Architecture, where he was awarded the Toronto Architectural Guild Medal. He commenced private practice in 1954, and his design for the Stratford Festival Theatre was awarded the Massey Gold Medal in 1958.

Stratford Festival Theater, 1957. Images via Carthalia

Macy DuBois was born in Baltimore, Maryland on December 20, 1929, and earned a Bachelor of Science in Engineering at Tufts University in 1951 and his Master of Architecture at Harvard in 1957. He immigrated to Canada in 1958, after placing as a finalist in the new Toronto City Hall competition. DuBois worked in the office of John B. Parkin from 1958, moved to Rounthwaite & Fairfield in 1959, followed by Robert Fairfield Associates in 1960, and finally partnered with Robert Fairfield to form Fairfield & DuBois in 1963.

Central Technical School Art Centre, 1962

Robert Fairfield and Macy DuBois, both in partnership and alone, were responsible for a number of significant projects in Toronto and southern Ontario, including New College at the University of Toronto and the Massey Medal finalist Central Technical School Art Centre.

New College at the University of Toronto, 1969

Robert Fairfield won awards of excellence from the Ontario Association of Architects, and designed buildings across North American, including theatres in New York and Alberta, and university buildings at Trent, Toronto, and Lakehead University.  He died in 1994.

Macy DuBois founded DuBois, Plumb and Associates in 1975 with his second wife, Helga Plumb. He was an Honorary Fellow of the Architectural Institute of America, a member and past president of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, member and past chairman of the Ontario Association of Architects, a member of the Royal Academy of Arts, and a recipient of the 1983 Governor General’s Medal in Architecture.  He died on November 9, 2007.

Oxford University Press, 1964 (Demolished)

Jack Klein and Henry Sears

Over the next few weeks, the E.R.A. Office Blog will be presenting a series of biographies of Toronto’s modernist architects. The second in this series are Jack Klein and Henry Sears, who built many housing projects in the former Municipality of North York, and yet very little is known about them. Below is an excerpt from North York’s Modernist Architecture Revisited.

Don Valley Woods, 1961-1967

Toronto architects Jack Klein and Henry Sears focused on affordable, contemporary residential dwellings. They produced publications on housing theory and built a wide variety of both functional and experimental projects, including modernist row housing, apartment buildings and private homes.  Their firm opened in 1958 – on the same day as Raymond Moriyama’s practice, with whom they shared a three room studio in Yorkville.

Klein and Sears were most concerned with the quality of built environment in which we live; row housing of the time was slum-like and ill-considered, and suburban housing was becoming too expensive for the average homeowner. The firm authored many publications on these topics, including the Core Area housing study for the City of Toronto, Urban Renewal with Eric Ross Arthur, and Room to Learn: A Study on Housing for the Canadian Student.

Whitburn Apartments – Jack Klein and Henry Sears, with Jerome Markson, 1961

They also designed many significant multi-unit row housing projects including Oakdale Manor and Yorkwoods Village, as well as parts of the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood in Toronto, for which they were awarded the OAA award for Excellence in Residential Design. Sears and Klein were awarded a Massey Medal for the Don Valley Woods project, and completed a number of notable private residences at 54 Blue Forest Drive, 16 and 18 Bitteroot Drive, and 17 Beaver Valley Road.

Henry Sears was inducted into the RAIC College of Fellows in 1971. He died in 2003, and Jack Klein died shortly thereafter, in 2005.

Don Valley Woods, 1961-1967

The Don Valley Woods project is in the process of being rezoned, and all of the buildings on site are threatened with demolition.


Michael was recently interviewed for Spacing Magazine, as a part of their Headspace series highlighting “how Toronto can become a more engaged, accessible, sustainable city”.

Spacing: Why are heritage buildings important?

McClelland: People tend not to have a clear classification of “heritage” but if you consider cities like Montreal and London, they each have a specific sense of place. Older buildings are an important component of that.  Another concern is that you can lose much of your city’s culture if you lose what’s already been built. Older buildings, such as those in downtown Toronto, provide fairly inexpensive rental space allowing for cultural communities to flourish. If you demolish an older building and put up a new one, the tax rate changes so significantly that modest uses get priced out. You end up taking away an interesting bookstore with students living above it and replace it with a Shoppers Drug Mart or another large retailer. There is a need to retain older buildings in order to retain diversity.

Read the full interview here, and be on the lookout for the new Winter 2011 issue of Spacing magazine on newsstands now.

Photographs above (by ERA) record the transformation of the Artscape Wychwood Barns

ERA at the Drake

Toronto Life magazine this month features a little teaser article about the forthcoming expansion to the Drake Hotel, led by ERA.  The project has just been officially announced, though we’ve been hard at work behind the scenes for a good long while.  Watch this space for more information soon…

North York Modernist Favourites, Volume One.

In compiling the revised inventory for the North York’s Modernist Architecture Revisited publication, ERA staff traveled to each site and photographed the current condition of the building. Through this process a number of projects stood out and became quiet favorites, and over the next few weeks we’ll be highlighting a few of these under-appreciated, little-known buildings. These structures represent an undiscovered trove of modernist treasures in Toronto, which we drive, walk, or bike past everyday.

Forest Hills I, II and III, 1971.
Architect: Paul Ospolak.

This apartment complex was highlighted as part of the ongoing Tower Neighbourhood Renewal project research. Formally, these structures are of some of the most unique in the inventory – they feature very subtle hyperboloid elevations and plans, contrasting with their rectilinear neighbours.  They have also been very well maintained, which retains their visual impact. The stark use of solid white balcony bands clearly define the form, while the black recesses create a building-scaled super-graphic of sorts, striking a distinct silhouette against the sky.

The importance of a heritage designation

Chris Selley has an article in today’s National Post discussing the convoluted status of the John B. Maclean House at 7 Austin Terrace, designed by architect John Lyle.

On Wednesday, Toronto and East York Community Council recommended that a demolition permit for John B. Maclean House be refused on two separate grounds: under Section 34 of the Ontario Heritage Act (because it’s a designated heritage building), and under Section 111 of the City of Toronto Act, which concerns the demolition of rental properties.

But the council also recommended that a demolition permit be approved under Section 33 of the Planning Act (which concerns residential properties, irrespective of whether they’re rental properties), subject to eight very strict conditions — one of which is that the owner obtain a demolition permit under the Ontario Heritage Act, which (see above) council simultaneously recommended be refused.

To clarify (slightly): City staff and the community council certainly do not want the house demolished. But they had no choice except to recommend the demolition permit be issued, because, as planning staff wrote in their report to council, “where a building permit has been issued to construct a new building on a property, the courts have held that city council cannot refuse the demolition permit.”

You heard correctly: The developer has a building permit for 7 Austin Terrace — only not for the eight townhouses and six apartment units he wants to build, but rather for a single, three-storey house that he presumably does not want to build.

[W]e should take [local City Councillor Joe] Mihevc up on his proposal to treat the John B. Maclean House as a “test case for what powers [enforcement officers] do have and what powers they need to still get from the province.” If we are, in fact, fighting a hopeless battle for Toronto’s heritage buildings, it’s time to either rearm or surrender.

Read the full article.

Collaborate with entropy

At the Design Forum this morning, Will presented four European precedents for the large-scale adaptive reuse of industrial structures.

1847 Coal Mine and Coke plant Zeche Zollverein in Essen, Germany. A UNESCO World Heritage Site. 2001. The site attracts a half-million visitors each year.

Winter skating along the former shipping channel at Zeche Zollverein in Essen, Germany.

Duisburg-Nord Landscape Park, Ruhr District, Germany. The former iron mill has been converted to a cultural and leisure park, and attracts over 700,000 visitors each year.

Originally built in 1901, the former industrial complex was transformed into a recreation landscape park in 1991.

NDSM, Amsterdam. 1999. Within this former shipyard to the north of the city, independent steel structures were built inside of the long warehouse building, and these empty voids were then leased to artists and designers who were able to construct their own studios.

The presentation concluded with a projection to one or two local sites of interest, a good discussion about the realistic potentials for these types of civic projects in our North American culture, and an identification of opportunities for further study.

John Street Square _ Competition Winner Announced

Coryn Kempster and Julia Jamrozik’s proposal for an ‘Urban Ballroom’ has won the Ideas Competition for the John Street Square, located at the corner of John and King. The competition was sponsored by the Entertainment District Business Improvement Association, and is an element of the proposed John Street Cultural Corridor.

ERA developed the idea for the John Street Cultural Corridor in a 2003 cultural mapping study produced for the City of Toronto, entitled ‘Canada’s Urban Waterfront; Waterfront Culture and Heritage Infrastructure Plan‘.

For more information, please see Christopher Hume’s article in today’s Toronto Star.

The scale of the Hearn

As recent public attention has focused on heritage structures under threat – a result of the destruction of the ex-Empress Hotel – we thought it would be of value to illustrate exactly how big the R.L. Hearn Generating Station actually is.

Originally built in 1951 as a coal-burning power plant, the Hearn is, quite simply, of a gargantuan scale – 240m long and over 80m wide.

The Hearn is directly connected to the Lake Ontario waterfront, within a ten minute drive of Union Station, and will soon sit square in the heart of the Portlands residential neighbourhood that is being developed as phase two of the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Plan.

Diagrams provided by William MacIvor

Loblaws Lakeshore

The Financial Post has a small feature on the Loblaws Groceteria building at Lakeshore and Bathust.  ERA are consulting as Heritage Architects on the developing project. Though Loblaws had no comment for the story, local developer Paul Oberman described the project eloquently:

“I think that’s what heritage preservation is all about. It’s adaptive reuse: breathing a new life into old buildings and spaces,” said Paul Oberman, president and CEO of Woodcliffe Landmark Properties, which was behind such restoration projects as King James Place and the LCBO at the North Toronto Station.

“Cities, urban spaces, they have a rhythm and a texture to them, and I don’t think that we want neighbourhoods that are exclusively high-rise or exclusively low-rise. It’s about weaving an interesting and appropriate urban fabric.”

Welcome to the Brickworks

Each year, the AIAS (American Institute of Architecture Students) hosts a Forum offering architecture students from across North America an opportunity to gather in celebration of the profession.  This year, Ryerson University hosted the Forum in Toronto and welcomed approximately 900 eager American students to Canada’s largest metropolis. ERA participated in this year’s Forum by hosting a building tour at the Don Valley Brickworks.

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