ERA Architects

North York’s Modernist Favourites, Volume Two.

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.

36 Green Valley Drive, 1960.
Architect: Peter Dickinson.

36 Green Valley Drive is, incredibly, the last surviving private home designed by the late Peter Dickinson. Designed for his friend Isadore Sharp – founder of Four Seasons Hotels – this house presents a modernist aesthetic with a unique Canadian material palette and sensitive siting.

Rough flagstone walls create a monolithic appearance from the street, and curve outwards to embrace the incoming car – a move reminiscent of the ground level of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye.  A dark wood roof tilts up to the North, forming clerestory windows that allow light to filter into the building.  The rear wall of the house is all glass, opening up to the golf course behind.  The house currently has no heritage designation.


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.

Montreal Trend House to be lost?

The fate of Montreal’s Trend House is currently uncertain. A demolition permit has been issued, but support for preservation is growing rapidly. Dave Leblanc has a very interesting article in the Globe and Mail concerning the on-going local debate, and the ramifications for our larger shared built culture. To quote:

I’ve said it time and again: We don’t celebrate our own. If this was the United States, more people would know about Canada’s “Trend House” program; there’d probably be a book about it, too, just like the ones on California’s “Case Study House” program. But that would mean we regard architecture as something that transcends generations, or a teaching tool, or as our collective dreams made real from bricks and mortar.

But we don’t, and that’s why we’re on the verge of losing the Montreal Trend House in suburban Beaconsfield, Que.

For more information on the Montreal Trend House, or to support the cause, please visit the Montreal Trend House website established by Michael Goodfellow. Beaconsfield City Council is set to vote on the issue on February 21st, 2011.  The Trend House program was Canada’s answer to the Case Study House program, and Mr. Goodfellow writes:

… the national program spanned from 1952 and 1955, and was sponsored by the BC Softwood Lumber Association. All homes were open for public viewing following construction to demonstrate the innovative ways they planned for modern life, used wood products and furnished with modern amenities and appliances. The interior of the homes were furnished by Eatons, employing primarily furniture and textiles from Canadian designs, selected by the National Industrial Design Council of Canada. Of the 11 homes built across Canada, this is the only example in Quebec.

On the Trend House Chronicles site, Michael Kurtz writes:

As in the Case Study program, the design parameters for each of the houses was left up to the architects, who were selected from local firms, and were proponents of modern design. Designers were told to create houses that were slightly ahead of the current building technology, giving people a view of what residential homes might look like 5 or 6 years in the future.

The Trend Houses exposed Canadians to new ideas in architecture, construction and interior design, and influenced the design of middle class houses in Canada for years to come.

Irving Grossman

Over the next few weeks, the E.R.A. Office blog will be presenting a series of  brief biographies of Toronto’s modernist architects. The first in this series is Irving Grossman.

Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am Synagogue, 1959

Born in Toronto in 1926, Irving Grossman earned his Bachelor of Architecture at the University of Toronto in 1950. In this period, the University was transitioning from a Beaux Arts into a high-modernist institution under the direction of Eric Arthur. Upon graduation, Grossman received the Pilkington Glass Fellowship, which allowed him to work and travel abroad for three years. He worked first with the MARS group in London, England, and then with R.M. Schindler in Los Angeles.

Flemingdon Apartments, 1962

The ‘Flemingdon Park Concept’ of vehicular traffic separation.
Diagram from Norbert Schoenauer, McGill University.

Edgeley in the Village, 1967

Mr. Grossman commenced private practice in 1954, and designed many major urban renewal and large scale planning works in Toronto. His Sultan Street studio was a vibrant heart of Toronto’s artistic and cultural scene in the nineteen sixties. Buildings to his credit include Edgeley Village, the Somerset, Flemingdon Park, the Administration Building for Expo67, and many private houses and synagogues.

Expo67 Administration Building, 1966. Photo from the Claude Latour collection.

Betel Residence, 1953

Fogel Residence, 1959 (demolished). Photo from TOBuilt.

Irving Grossman was awarded the Massey Medal and the Centennial Medal in 1967, and a 2009 landmark award for his contribution to the design of Toronto’s St. Lawrence Neighbourhood.

Fiction and Intervention

Artist Luke Painter has a number of wonderful flash animations in the Architecture at Harbourfront Gallery, as a part of the ongoing Neighbourhood Maverick show. The animations illustrate vacant sites on the verge of development, and play with memories of the site’s former uses.

Neighbourhood Maverick runs until June 11, 2011.

Have a look at the rest of Luke‘s portfolio for more beautifully haunting, architecturally themed works.