ERA Architects

In-House Experts: Barrier-Free Design and Heritage Buildings

At ERA we thrive on finding new uses for existing buildings and integrating the heritage fabric of our city into contemporary designs. One of the ways we approach conservation of existing fabric is through modifications to buildings and cultural landscapes that enable all users to enjoy our shared heritage. Many heritage structures are not barrier-free by today’s standards: the main entrances often are only accessible by stairs, they have heavy doors without automatic operators, the washrooms don’t accommodate wheelchair users, the stairs don’t have the tactile and colour-contrasting nosing that aid users with low-vision in navigating them.

Improving upon our heritage fabric to create a more accessible environment requires a careful and sensitive approach. Whereas a barrier-free approach to a new building design is integrated from the very beginning, a barrier-free retrofit requires considering the impact of the alterations on the historical features of the building: How can we position a new entrance ramp to minimize its visual impact? How can we modify existing doors to accommodate power door operators without damaging the existing fabric? How can we renovate an existing washroom to allow for universal access? What materials can we use to provide tactile and colour-contrasting nosing without negatively impacting a historical wood stair?

Two of our most recent projects in downtown Toronto feature smart designs that integrate barrier-free features into the existing fabric of heritage structures: the Sultan Street Development and 330 University Avenue.

The Sultan Street Development features the integration of a row of red brick Romanesque houses with a new office tower development designed by Hariri Pontarini Architects (HPA). As the original entries to the heritage houses featured a series of steps up to the doors, they impeded the possibility for barrier-free access from the street. ERA proposed a simple modification to the entrances which lowered the doors to street level and enabled barrier-free access without the need for a ramp or elevating device.

At 330 University Avenue (also known as the Canada Life Building), ERA took a different approach to providing barrier-free access. In this case, the existing steps to this Beaux Arts building were maintained and a ramp was designed to allow barrier-free entry through one of the three main doors off University. In addition, the original bronze and glass doors were equipped with power door operators to ensure a fully barrier-free path of travel to the public lobby.

Post by guest writer Max Yuristy.
All photos courtesy of ERA Architects.

Archaeology in The Ward: A New Exhibit

Just a few steps northwest of Toronto’s city hall is a quiet, empty plot of land and a former parking lot that will soon be the home of the new Toronto courthouse. But long before this site was just a place to park, it was a bustling part of St John’s Ward (The Ward), an area where newcomers to Toronto established themselves for over a century. In 2015, Infrastructure Ontario (IO), on behalf of the Ministry of the Attorney General, led a complex excavation and archaeological dig of the new Toronto courthouse site which revealed tens of thousands of artifacts from The Ward, providing an unprecedented level of insight into Toronto’s early multicultural history. As part of the heritage interpretation efforts for the site, IO and the City of Toronto developed a partnership to create opportunities to share the artifacts and their stories in four display cases at City Hall.

Archaeology in The Ward display case, showing a selection of bottles and glassware recovered from the excavation site. An enlarged Goad’s Insurance Map of Toronto shows the site in context.

ERA Architects is no stranger to the histories related to The Ward—Michael McClelland and Tatum Taylor helped to literally write the book. As heritage professionals and editors of ‘The Ward: The Life and Loss of Toronto’s First Immigrant Neighbourhood’ (Coach House Books, 2015), they were well positioned to approach the exhibition project with a comprehensive understanding of the site context along with the ability to provide powerful interpretations for the subjects reflected by the artifacts. ERA has been pleased to offer our expertise in this unique documentation of Toronto’s history, providing contextual research and interpretation for emergent themes, as well as designing the exhibit spaces in collaboration with City of Toronto Museums and Heritage Services.

The first of many planned exhibit installations was officially opened in February 2017 with the Mayor’s Reception for Black History Month and featured stories and important artifacts focused on Black History in The Ward, including the foundation stones of the British Methodist Episcopal Church, and a rare Black doll’s head.

We are excited to announce the latest installation of the ‘Armoury Street Dig’ series of exhibits at City Hall has opened this past week. This latest installation focuses on ‘Work in the Ward,’ showing that with the rapid industrialization of the late 19th century, manufacturing moved from homes to factories. In The Ward, this industrial and social shift can be seen clearly, with factories steadily replacing houses between 1895 and 1950. The exhibit is open now and on view during regular public hours in city hall’s main floor rotunda, located adjacent to both the east and west elevator bays, and will be on display through spring of 2018.

In the west exhibit cases, artifacts from the ‘Armoury Street Dig’ highlight two 19th-century household industries that were prevalent on the site: shoemaking and tailoring. The excavation site includes one of the largest archaeological collections of 19th and early 20th-century shoes ever unearthed in Canada, most too fragile to display but documented by photographs and reproduction tools. Other artifacts on display include tools commonly used by tailors and seamstresses in the period: straight pins, buttons made of ceramic and glass, thimbles, wooden spools, and bodkins.

In the east exhibit cases, industry in factories is examined through narratives that range from small-scale family operations such as the Edward Lye and Sons Church Organ Builders which operated first out of their home, to the large-scale T. Eaton Co. Tent and Awning  Factory on Chestnut Street. On display are two moulds used in mass production: one small drawer handle mould, likely used in furniture manufacturing on the site, and a large rubber hat mould used to form men’s brimmed felt hats from the Fashion Hat & Cap Company, which occupied the former Eaton’s factory on Chestnut Street from the 1940s to the 1960s.

The exhibit is on view during regular public hours in city hall’s main floor rotunda, located adjacent to both the east and west elevator bays, and will be on display through spring of 2018.

Infrastructure Ontario is creating an online archive of past exhibit displays available at infrastructureontario.ca/armourystreetdig

Link to the Toronto Star’s coverage: https://www.thestar.com/news/immigration/2018/01/11/new-exhibit-sheds-light-on-torontos-early-immigrant-entrepreneurship.html

Related content:
https://www.eraarch.ca/2015/the-ward-a-new-book-coming-2015/
https://www.eraarch.ca/2015/the-ward-a-new-book-update/
https://www.eraarch.ca/2017/coming-up-the-ward-songs-and-sounds-of-a-lost-toronto-neighbourhood/

Post by guest writer Carl Shura.
All photos courtesy of ERA Architects and TMHC.

When Crazy Gets Creative

Crazy Dames Share their Innovative Approach to Community Engagement and Design Development

Inspired by the work of Jane Jacobs and a desire to use the artist’s studio as a site for fostering creative engagement, Jennie Suddick, and Sara Udow founded Crazy Dames. Their focus is on enhancing the user experience of urban spaces, empowering communities to drive the change they desire through ‘tactical and collaborative approaches’ to city-building. Crazy Dames utilize unconventional, yet playful methods from which innovative ideas evolve.

Their portfolio includes activities as diverse as building a blanket fort as part of a residency at the Gardiner Museum, entitled ‘We Built This City’. There they programmed events over the course of two weeks in the summer of 2016, including workshops, artist-led ‘walkshop’ walking tours, a collaborative art project, and closing event and panel discussion. The pair have also found attentive audiences through public engagement projects at the Yellowknife Artist Run Community Centre, and Create Your Path initiative.

In each case, they strive to create an experience that will bring broad communities together, break down barriers, and ignite their imaginations to ultimately express their thoughts/feelings about the city they live in, generating ideas for change. At the end of the day, it’s about talking to people, listening to divergent perspectives, and encouraging long-term community involvement and ownership.

Fast forward to August 2018, Jennie and Sara have been invited to participate in a residency in Valletta, Malta, European Capital of Culture. They have also recently been chosen as Varley Art Gallery’s inaugural Community Artists in Residence. This residency will run in 2018 in Markham, ON.

ERA was delighted to host them for an interactive presentation on Wednesday, January 10th, 2018, when they shared an informative slide presentation. Not wanting to rest solely on traditional methods however, they invited staff to get out of their seats, split into two groups and create a 3D drawing using balls of black yarn. The objective of the exercise was to define the space we were in, how it’s used and how it has evolved. The teams discussed various perspectives before creating two intricate webs. The communication and designs that resulted made for an interesting collaborative experience.

For more information visit: http://www.crazydames.com/
U of T News article: https://www.utoronto.ca/news/these-crazy-dames-want-us-rethink-way-we-engage-city

All photographs courtesy of Crazy Dames.

Nothing is Impossible: NXT City defines its strategies for city-building through an inspirational presentation at ERA

On December 13th, NXT City visited ERA to engage staff as part of our Wednesday Morning Forum ‘Spark Sessions’, a series of talks presented at ERA’s office by people and organizations who are at the forefront of their respective practices, and pushing the boundaries of design, policy and development in our city.

NXT City is a not-for-profit organization that unites the desire of emerging leaders to make a difference with city builders looking for innovative ideas to program and develop public space. It was established in 2013 by founders Christine Caruso, Mackenzie Keast and Justin Leclair, who have since garnered much attention for their exciting initiatives, such as an annual NXT City Prize, public space symposium, quarterly talks and secret warehouse parties.

In the early days, the team identified a gap in opportunities for Toronto’s current and future city-builders to assemble, in order to network, strengthen partnerships, and synergize ideas. As a result, they devised a strategy to connect various stakeholders whom they admire (Jennifer Keesmat was an early supporter), programming approachable, exciting events that draw people together to brainstorm on methods of reshaping the city in delightful, unexpected ways.

The various platforms compliment and reinforce their objective: the NXT City Prize was initiated as an opportunity to encourage and reward thought leadership on relevant topics. Teams are invited to submit proposals for jury review based solely on the quality of the idea. The NXT City Symposium promotes itself as ‘public space on a global stage’, offering up discussions on civic innovation and ideas by industry leaders challenging the boundaries and limitations of public space. The mix of speakers is a potential tension-builder, arranged as a counter-point to create a more meaningful dialogue. The NXT City Talks are small-scale panels with a ‘how to’ approach to project development. The secret warehouse parties offer an opportunity for the community at large to connect and celebrate all that is exciting and ground-breaking in the Toronto region and beyond.

To gain more insight on NXT City visit: https://nxtcity.ca/

Photos courtesy of Nicky Brunn-Meyer