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.

The Suburbs

Above: 32 Saintfield Road by Jerome Markson, 1961

In the 1950s and 60s, Toronto’s Bridle Path was not just an enclave of faux-châteaux, but an architectural hotbed for Toronto’s young modernists looking to execute designs for clients with large lots, and large budgets. Continue reading…

Yonge Street

Michael is currently featured on the Yonge Street website, where he discusses postwar Toronto architecture.

Usually, even when people like a building, that initial appreciation declines and it continues to fall for several decades. After 40 years, it hits an all-time low. But if a building can survive past that 40-year period, then there will be a renewed appreciation of the building. Take Old City Hall. Today people think it’s a wonderful Romanesque building but in the 1940s, they said it was fussy and overdone. Our purpose in addressing these concrete buildings is to examine whether that pattern of evolving tastes meant people were dismissing some architectural jewels. Not all these buildings are beautiful or interesting. But we really wanted people to look more closely before jumping to that conclusion.

Read the full interview here.

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.

ERA and the Goethe-Institut

Ecology.Design.Synergy Presentation & Discussion

Reclaiming the City: The Architect/Planner as Eco-Urbanist
Stephan Lanz in conversation with Graeme Stewart

The series “Ecology.Design.Synergy: Green Architecture and New Ideas from Germany and Canada“ is presented by the Goethe-Institut Toronto in cooperation with OCAD University and the MaRS Centre.

At the presentation this evening, Graeme will be discussing on-going international research and local applications of Tower Neighbourhood Renewal. For more information, visit Geothe-Institut Toronto.

April 7, 2011. 6pm
OCAD University, Auditorium, Room 190,
100 McCaul Street, Toronto, ON
Admission free
+1 416 593 5257 x 205

Graeme and Stephan Lanz at Goethe Institute event at OCAD, April 7th, 2011

Toronto the Good

The 2011 Toronto the Good party was a great success! For more details, please visit and stay tuned to our ERA Office Blog for event photos and discussions of the issues raised at the Tower Neighbourhood Renewal symposium.

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 was a new venture to celebrate the University of Toronto’s urban research centre.

Fogel Residence

Inspired by this photograph of Irving Grossman’s Fogel Residence on TOBuilt, we went to the library and dug up a bit more information about this now-demolished modernist gem.  Built in North York, Ontario, and completed in 1959, the Fogel Residence was a finalist for the Massey Medals in Architecture in 1961.  Scanned photocopies from the August 1960 issue of Canadian Architect are presented below.

Continue reading…

Transport-related energy consumption

Edwin found this telling little graph in a supplement to Topos magazine.  It clearly illustrates, using a range of international examples, how per-capita transport-related energy consumption reduces with increasing population densities. Interesting with reference to our previous studies on visualizing density, and with the on-going uncertainty surrounding the future of Transit City. The illustration accompanies an article by Udo Weilacher, Professor of Landscape Architecture and Industrial Landscapes at Technische Universitat Munchen titled Landscape must become the law – again.

Of the ‘descriptive coloured dots describing trends’ theme, this excerpt from the documentary The Joy of Stats, presented by Hans Rosling, is incredibly effective. The full, hour-long documentary is equally fascinating.

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)

North York’s Modernist Favorites, Volume Three.

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.

The Betel Residence, 1953.
Architect: Irving Grossman.

Project description from the original 1997 version of North York’s Modernist Architecture.


entry pond.

looking to the back-yard.

looking back to the front entry.

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.

Peter Dickinson

The O’Keefe Centre for Performing Arts, 1960.

In the vein of raising awareness for Toronto’s modernist legacy, BlogTO has a good little feature on Peter Dickinson (1925-1961) inspired by the recent monograph authoured by John Martins-Manteiga and published by Dominion Modern.  Born in England and educated at the AA, Dickinson immigrated to Canada in 1950.  He immediately began working with Page & Steele Architects, and after only three years was promoted to partner-in-charge of design.  “Dickinson was like an atomic bomb”, fellow architect and former associate Rob Robbie later recalled.  In 1958 Dickinson left Page & Steele to establish his own firm, and enjoyed an incredibly prodigious output before succumbing to cancer at the young age of 35.  Check out the article for some great images, and pick up the book to learn more about just how influential Dickinson was in shaping our modern city.

Spread from ‘Peter Dickinson‘, published by Dominion Modern, showing the lobby of the O’Keefe Centre and a number of Dickinson’s early sketches from 1957.

Top photograph from the City of Toronto Archives.
Fonds 1257, f1257_s1057_it0815.

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.

The animals of the Coliseum

As one small component of the interior restoration of the East Annex vestibule in the Coliseum Complex at Exhibition Place, ERA was asked to remove the wooden wall assembly and install new stair handrails. We considered a number of options and found that the most economical and appropriate for the space was a steel handrail with a solid metal panel to meet the code requirements.

An initial concern was that the design of the railing would have no relation to other elements in the building.  Looking for references and precendents, the design team drew inspiration from the animal-head reliefs on the sculpture wall outside the Heritage Court.  Since 1922, the buildings have been used for the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, and were primarily designed to hold animals.  The historic reliefs were translated into vectors, and the digitally-interpreted silhouettes were laser-cut into the railing panels – paying tribute to the building’s programming and history.  Note that the panels will be site-painted green to match the other historic steel elements, including the refurbished original steel industrial windows.