ERA Architects

Culture of Outports: Burlington Freelab

ERA’s Culture of Outports project, through the Centre for Urban Growth + Renewal, and sponsored by TD Canada Trust, is now taking shape in Newfoundland.

The team includes Principals-in-charge Michael McClelland and Philip Evans, Project Architect Will MacIvor, and Assistant Laila MacDougall-Milne, as well as six students from Dalhousie University’s School of Architecture in their design build project in the outport of Burlington, on the Baie Verte peninsula. Continue reading…

On the grill

ERA celebrated the summer season with grilled food and cold drinks at the firm’s annual BBQ yesterday. Once again Andrew generously provided his back yard for the festivities, which always seem to take place on the hottest day of the summer. All the new ERA-babies made for a really wonderful family atmosphere this year.

More photos after the jump..

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New Orleans

New Orleans is emerging from a long process of rebuilding following the devastation brought on by the hurricanes of 2005.  And while much of this gorgeous city has regained its vitality, 6 years later some families have still fallen between the cracks of of insurance payments and official funding, struggling to repair or rebuild their homes.  The non-profit community based St. Bernard Project was started in 2006 to organize volunteer labour under skilled supervision to undertake the reconstruction of individual houses and whole neighbourhoods.

On his vacation last month in New Orleans, Scott W and his partner Ron Reaman volunteered with St. Bernard Project and installed drywall as part of the reconstruction of what had been a badly damaged house.  Because of its location in Gentilly, a low lying neighbourhood, the bungalow was raised one storey to allow any possible future flooding to leave the main floor of the house untouched, much like the 19th century pattern of building in this region.  Scott and Ron were part of a volunteer team from the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association (CRFA) organized by President and CEO of White Spot Hospitality, and Chairman of the Board of CRFA Warren Erhart and his wife Marie.

Scott also managed to eat a great deal of fabulous Louisiana seafood while he was there, which has recently been declared safe by the FDA following intensive testing related to last year’s oil spill and cleanup.

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.

ERA wins a PUG Award!

ERA, in association with Rounthwaite Dick Hadley Architects, Shoalts and Zaback Architects recieved the Paul Oberman Award for Adaptive Reuse and Heritage Restoration, in the commercial category.

The PUG Awards, this year in their 7th edition, are the people’s choice awards for architecture in Toronto.

For more on the Bloor Gladstone Library, please click here.

Solstice at the Brickworks

DSAI held their annual Solstice party at the Evergreen Brickworks last night. The weather on the longest day of the year was beautiful, and the venue was perfect. The party gets bonus points for a Jeanne Beker appearance.

Learning from Europe

Over the past several years, the Tower Renewal team at ERA and CUG+R have conducted a series of study tours throughout the European Union, visiting numerous cities and neighbourhoods, and meeting with local experts to learn about best practices in tower refurbishment and neighbourhood revitalization. Many of these findings have been compiled in the report Tower Neighbourhood Renewal in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, and its accompanying International Best Practice Research Highlight.

This past weekend, The Toronto Star featured highlights of this research as part of an ongoing series looking into the future opportunities of Toronto Community Housing. Featured in the article are selected best practices found throughout the EU related to social housing. These include:

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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.

Building a ship in a bottle

The exterior masonry restoration work at MLG is progressing well, and will be complete by the end of the summer. Work has begun on the restoration of the historic Carlton marquee, which will be a wonderful public face to this adaptive reuse project.

Inside, the floor slabs are almost all poured, and the internal spaces are really starting to shape up… Loblaws is set to open late this year, and the Ryerson spaces on the new floor levels above will open early spring 2012.

Auchmar Estate

Since 2006, ERA has been engaged in a series of conservation and repair projects at Auchmar Estate in Hamilton, Ontario.  Most recently we have been examining and recording the finishes on both the exterior of the house and on the interior walls of the main front hall.

Working with specialist paint analysts, we have identified two main decorative schemes on the interior plaster.  The oldest scheme is a faux ashlar stone finish dated to the building’s origin in the 1850s.  The second scheme is a golden-coloured marbling application probably dating from the 1880s.  Uncovering these schemes gives us a better understanding of the historic timeline of the house and gives insight into the lives and values of the people who once lived there.

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Out East

Philip and Will recently took a trip out to Halifax, to give a public lecture at the Dalhousie School of Architecture and to introduce the Culture of Outports Free Lab project to the students and faculty. Continue reading…

Canada Hair Cloth

ERA is currently working with DSAI to convert the former Canada Hair Cloth factory in St. Catharines, ON, into Brock University’s new school for the performing arts.  We’ve been down to site a few times to survey the conditions of the existing buildings – the oldest of which dates to 1888 – in order to cost and direct the restoration and adaptive reuse work.

Edwin surveying the existing conditions of the exterior masonry.

Exploring, analysing, and understanding old buildings such as these – and then developing strategies to help them adapt to the needs of contemporary society in the interest of the public good and in the service of the larger rejuvenation of the surrounding community is what really gets us excited to be involved in this profession.  A few images the buildings follow after the jump.

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Missed Connections

Inspired by our friends at Coach House, we put out a discrete little Missed Connections box near the entry of the Toronto the Good party this year.  If you met or saw someone interesting, but couldn’t quite muster up the nerve to exchange information, maybe the magic of Missed Connections could help.

Below are a small, curated handful of the best submitted messages. Many were un-printably raunchy, an unfortunate number were self-promotional, and there were even a few entirely inappropriate solicitations of employment (sorry, “up-and-coming Architect – looking 4 a intro job“).

If you think you’re the person mentioned, please contact us at and we can forward your reply to the original author.

“You – tall, dark & handsome. Me – way too drunk.”
“Sweet Baboo, where are you?”
“You look like my boyfriend, but I am taken. If I was single we would have flirted.”
“Sunny, thanks for the company. Let’s meet for a rum.”

And by far our favorite:

“You were a raven haired beauty in a black + white dress. I want you to renew my tower.”

original images from here and here.

Brick work

Andrew and Philip took a group of recent ERAers out for a quick tutorial on assessing the existing conditions of a masonry building, and on how to better understand Toronto’s nineteenth-century architecture.  They discussed the various styles of brick treatment of the period, and the differences between the 1860’s style and 1880’s style.  They also demonstrated typical kinds of deterioration to clay bricks, different mortar mixes of the era, what sandblasted brick looks like, how to recognize step cracks, the different stages of spalling, etc. A good primer for new employees, and a great way to pass along years of experience in a hands-on setting.

Baist’s Detroit

Like Goad’s Fire Insurance Maps in Toronto, the Baist Real Estate Atlases were produced for insurance underwriters who used them to evaluate a site’s degree of risk and establish premiums. These maps were adopted by city planners and local developers to understand the city, as they showed an accurate demarcation of buildings with materials, use, street address (and changes) and subdivisions, along with locations of lamp standards, cisterns, fire hydrants and boundaries. Today we at ERA rely on them to show the prior context of a particular site, and they are invaluable tools to illuminate our work.

Recently Scott W. acquired the complete bound Baist’s for his hometown, Detroit, entitled “Baist’s Property Atlas of the City of Detroit, Michigan, Complete in One Volume, Compiled and Published from Official Records, Private Plans and Actual Surveys”, by G. Wm. Baist, Surveyor and Map Publisher, 1896, and a second smaller printed version from 1916.

Open, the larger book measures 22” x 36”, and consists of 29 linen backed hand coloured lithographs mapping all areas of Detroit at that time. These books were heavily used, and like most of the remaining folios of this type, its condition could be described as “well loved”.

Admit One

A handful of ERAers paid their dues this year (both literally and metaphorically), and attended the OAA admissions course. The OBC, the Construction Lien Act, and a number of other essential components of professional practice were presented and absorbed in short order. A necessary marathon, which brings us all one step closer to accreditation. Get it done, team.

After the (TTG) party it’s the afterparty.

Thanks to everyone who came out to Hart House last Thursday! Toronto the Good 2011 was a huge success, and attracted record crowds. The Tower Neighbourhood Renewal symposium was also packed to the rafters, and over a hundred people unfortunately had to be turned away at the door.  Stay tuned for more photos from the day’s events, and further discussions of the issues raised. Continue reading…

The Millionth Tower Teaser Trailer

At the Toronto the Good party last week, the National Film Board screened a teaser trailer for the upcoming Millionth Tower documentary.  The Millionth Tower is the latest installment in the Highrise project, which looks at the experience of living in post war concrete towers around the world.  As a part of the Millonth Tower, ERA has been working with the Kipling Towers community in north Etobicoke; helping to inspire the community to dream big, and providing design guidance to help communicate their ideas.

The Millionth Tower has evolved away from a linear documentary narrative to become a spatial film experience in HTML 5, built with Popcorn provided by the Mozilla Foundation.  Look for The Millionth Tower to be launched in a few short months..

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.

TTG 2011!

The 2011 Toronto the Good party is this Thursday May 12th at Hart House.
For more details, please visit

ERA started the Toronto the Good parties to bring together a broad cross-section of Torontonians who are interested in the city and in city building. We started these parties with Spacing Magazine and [murmur], and they have continued to be involved each year. Other partners have included Heritage Toronto, the Carpenters Union, the Toronto Society of Architects, the Distillery District, Harbourfront Centre, and Cities Centre.

The first Toronto the Good took place at the Distillery District, but there was one at Fort York, when the Mayor shot off a cannon. The 2011 invasion of Hart House is a new venture to celebrate the University of Toronto’s urban research centre.

Modern Toronto Homes

Modern Toronto Homes maps contemporary residences in and around Toronto. Quite a few important contemporary houses are still missing (KPMB, Superkul, etc), but look forward to checking back as the inventory grows. A great initiative which helps demonstrate that infill housing doesn’t need to be faux-historic or banal by nature.