ERA Architects

2021: Honours & Awards at ERA

collage of award-winning projects

As the days get colder and we head into the final days of 2021, ERA is looking back at the recognition and awards we’ve received this year for some very deserving projects, alongside some fantastic teams who are looking forward and building our cities and communities into tomorrow.
The highlights from 2021 cover a range of work from heritage conservation, restoration, and craftmanship, to adaptive reuse projects, urban design and planning, to landscape design and advocacy.

interior photo of new UC library showing stacks on left and right, with new spiral staircase centred.

University of Toronto: University College

ACO Awards
Peter Stokes Restoration Award: Large-Scale/Team/Corporate
Canadian Interiors
Best of Canada: Institutional

The University College Revitalization project updates the building to respond to the demands of 21st century academia, renewing its facilities to expand its use and create a more inclusive space for students to mirror the college’s diverse and inclusive programs of study. A main priority for the team led by Kohn Shnier and ERA Architects in association, was to improve barrier-free access within the historic portion of the building. Accessible features were integrated sensitively into the heritage fabric. These features include providing new ramps between existing floor levels and stone walkways, a new elevator tower providing centralized vertical circulation, and the provision of concealed accessible hardware into historic door assemblies.

Kennedy Collegiate, Windsor ON

Windsor Built Heritage Awards
Heritage Conservation

The Honourable W. C. Kennedy Collegiate, designed by Architects Cameron & Ralston and constructed c.1929, had needed large-scale repairs for some time. The Greater Essex County District School Board recently invested approximately $5 million to conduct extensive exterior repairs and upgrades to the interior facilities. ERA as the heritage architect, directed the conservation efforts alongside lead JP Thomson Architects, including replacement of the majority of the roof on the school, extensive masonry repointing at multiple locations around the building including the side/courtyard elevations, parapets, and at the towers at the rear; restoration of the masonry front façade including the leaded glass bay windows; installation of refinished front doors; storm lines and sidewalks replacement along the front elevation; renovation of interior spaces such as the library and creation of new offices with new cooling system; and electrical upgrades.

Exterior of Centennial Downsview College, showing industrial building facades

doublespace photography

Centennial Downsview, Bombardier Centre for Aerospace and Aviation

National Trust
Ecclesiastical Insurance Cornerstone Award
ACO Awards
Paul Oberman Award for Adaptive Reuse: Large-Scale/Team/Corporate
Heritage Toronto
Built Heritage Award for Adaptive Reuse
Toronto Urban Design Awards
Award of Excellence

ERA Architects as heritage architects, worked with MJMA and Stantec on this reuse project to sensitively integrate old and new structures and re-use original materials in meaningful ways – providing a continuity in the site’s historic narrative. The revitalization of the centre of aviation manufacturing and design in Canada,has created opportunities to support the next generation of innovators in Canadian aviation Centennial College’s new campus, serves as a model for other educational institutions seeking to house their programs.
Recognized for its considerable contribution to Canadian aviation during the World Wars, Plant #1 sits on a 500-acre site that, from 1947 to 1996, was protected from surrounding city developments, making it a unique entity within urban Toronto. Now known as the Bombardier Centre for Aerospace and Aviation, the new campus features labs and learning spaces for aviation engineering and mechanics. From quiet study rooms to social seating and ping-pong tables, the public spaces were designed with optimal views into the primary Hangar, labs and teaching spaces, aiming to connect students with each other, the Aerospace program, and the essence of the building.

Paradise Theatre at night, marquee sign on.

Nathan Cyprys

Paradise Theatre

Heritage Toronto
Built Heritage Award for Craftmanship

The Paradise Theatre is a surviving example of Toronto’s hallmark 20th-century theatres, complete with distinct Art Deco styling specific to the World War II era, with abstracted classical and geometrical elements. It was designed by Benjamin Brown, one of the earliest Jewish architects in Toronto, also credited with designing the Standard Theatre, one of the earliest Yiddish theatres in North America. Situated prominently between Dovercourt and Dufferin, the theatre is an anchor to its section along Bloor Street.
As the heritage architects on the project, ERA worked to restore elements of the theatre lost over time, including the recreation of the Paradise blade sign and marquee. The project team also reconstructed the historic stainless-steel box office and entrance doors after the originals were removed during previous alterations to the building. The reinstating of these key Art Deco attributes, which were not specified in the heritage designation, as well as the inspired interior led by Solid Design, is a testament to the level of commitment the project team had to celebrating the original building and its heritage attributes.
With its reopening in 2019, the theatre is once again part of a collection of unique community-oriented heritage buildings highly visible in the Dovercourt neighbourhood, along with the Bloor-Gladstone library. Thanks to its careful restoration and commitment to accessible design, the Paradise Theatre is once again a thriving place for all to celebrate and gather.

Historic Bank of Commerce building in foreground, Neoclassical style, with new glass tower behind and above. Busy Yonge Street traffic passes by.

Sean Galbraith

Massey Tower / 197 Yonge St.

Heritage Toronto
Award for Heritage Planning and Architecture
Toronto Urban Design Awards
Award of Merit

Led by MOD Developments in collaboration with ERA and Hariri Pontarini Architects, this project has prioritized the rehabilitation of the Canadian Bank of Commerce Building, maintaining its visibility on Yonge Street by setting the connected tower behind the heritage building, and ensuring the 1905 building be conserved, renovated, and integrated into a new mixed-use tower, bringing contemporary life to the historic site.
A two-story glass pavilion was constructed between the two heritage banks, subordinate to the two heritage buildings, but filling a gap in the street face of the project. It was vital the street façade of the building remained unaltered. Entrance stairs were modified to provide the barrier-free route, and new granite steps were laid over the existing sandstone steps to bring the landing flush to the doorway, with oil-rubbed bronze handrails installed between the piers and columns.

Archival photo of Loblaws Groceteria

West Block, Loblaws Groceteria Lakeshore

Toronto Urban Design Awards
Award of Merit

West Block Est 1928, the restoration of the 1928 Loblaws Groceteria building, relieves a local food desert, accommodates 1,100 digital economy workers, and rejuvenates a significant waterfront intersection. The prime architect Architects Alliance worked with heritage architect ERA, and devised a mixed-use plan that inserted significant residential density at the north end of the site, with servicing and parking access slipped beneath the Expressway. The value unlocked by this strategy financed the restoration of the Art Deco brick building, and the addition of a four-storey commercial annex that sits lightly atop the 1928 heritage structure. Clad in glass and a steel bris soleil, the addition is set back from the existing exterior walls to allow a clear reading of the historic and new-build elements. West Block is certified LEED Gold, with planted and low-albedo paving on the heritage rooftop terrace, highly efficient window assemblies, recycled and locally sourced materials, and FSCcompliance for all wood materials.

collage of interior apartments showing triple-glazed windows, outdoor amenities, and the tower itself reaching into the sky.

Ken Soble Tower

Hamilton Urban Design Awards
Civic Achievement

With ERA Architects as the lead, the Ken Soble Tower Transformation is a ground-breaking project rehabilitating a 1967 social housing apartment building in Hamilton, while reinvigorating community spaces, planning for aging-in-place and barrier-free living, and building resilience to a changing climate. One of the first such retrofits in North America, the Ken Soble Tower is set to be one of the largest EnerPHit (Passive House retrofit) certified projects in the world. The renewal project brought 146 units of deeply-affordable seniors’ housing back online, making the Ken Soble Tower one of the most ambitious social housing transformations in the country, and paving the way for the nation’s aging housing supply to secure a healthy, resilient future for millions of Canadians.

Outdoor sport court aerial view from above.

Gordonridge Community Multi-Sport Court

CSLA Awards of Excellence
Residential Landscapes

The Gordonridge Community Multi-Sport Court is a landmark community-led project located at the heart of a Toronto Community Housing campus. Led by ERA Architects as Landscape Architect, this dynamic project organizes play for all ages and abilities in an integrated landscape, at the centre of a post-war apartment tower community at Danforth Road and Midland Avenue in Toronto’s Scarborough area. The project was funded by Toronto Community Housing, MLSE Foundation and Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities.
The Multi-Sport Court brings together basketball, volleyball, pickleball, table tennis, skateboarding and parkour play elements — framed within a new dynamic court surfacing and running track. It also provides barrier-free access, landscape-integrated spectator seating and a central tree canopy. Through integration of the court with the adjacent topography, it has become a nexus of neighbourhood activity.
ERA’s unique collaborative design approach made Gordonridge residents the core decision-makers, with the outcome reflecting the values, interests and identity of the community. ¬¬

Archival photo of Rand Estate showing a tea house and manicured gardens in foreground, vast landscape behind.

Save Our Rand Estate

ACO Awards
The Margaret and Nicholas Hill Cultural Heritage Landscape Award

As longtime consultants and research experts on the Estate, ERA would like to acknowledge this significant award for the ‘Save Our Rand Estate’ community group. The Margaret and Nicholas Hill Cultural Heritage Landscape Award recognizes an individual, group, and/or community action project (as opposed to a professional commission) that has endeavoured to preserve a significant Cultural Heritage Landscape, or has worked to raise awareness of, and appreciation for a significant Cultural Heritage Landscape as defined by the Ontario Heritage Trust.
Established in 2018 in response to a commercial development and subdivision proposal for the Rand Estate in Niagara-on-the-Lake, a group of residents came together to champion the site as a significant cultural heritage landscape, and its importance to the community. Save Our Rand Estate (SORE) was founded with a mission to support the responsible development of the site through respect for the landscape and the significant historical elements of the property.
Located in Old Town Niagara-on-the-Lake, the Rand Estate, historically 50 acres in size, is representative of the early 20th century ‘Country Place Era’ in North America and has played a vital role in the history of the town and its identity. In the Shaw Festival’s formative years, for example, the Estate was the setting of recurring events with high-profile guests including prime ministers, premiers, and ambassadors.The estate is a significant work of Howard and Lorrie Dunington-Grubb, credited in part with the establishment of the profession of landscape architecture in Canada.

Interior of Senate of Canada Building, showing the grand hall: arched windows and plaster ceiling.

Senate of Canada Building (formerly Government Conference Centre)

International Architecture Awards
Government Buildings

ERA Architects worked as the heritage architects with DSA-KWC Architects in Joint Venture, as well as John G. Cooke & Associates Ltd as structural engineers. The rehabilitation aimed to reveal the historical elements of the building that were concealed when Union Station was converted to the GCC, such as the theatrical character of the interior procession, the axial progression of spaces, the dramatic use of natural light, and the rich palette of materials, while meeting the project’s functional and technical requirements. In addition, previous insertions in the significant interior spaces, such as the General Waiting Room and Concourse spaces have been removed. Given the building’s rich character, it is well suited to accommodate the Senate program and support its ceremonial traditions as the new Senate of Canada Building.

The Missing Middle: Toronto’s Historic Building Typologies

Last week, Toronto City Planning brought forward to Council’s Planning and Housing Committee an interim report, Expanding Housing Options in Neighbourhoods: Multiplex Study. The initiative behind the report is exploring the potential to permit a range of low-scale housing types in Toronto’s low-rise neighbourhoods, as a key part of the solution to the city’s years-long housing crisis.

As heritage professionals, we understand that part of the answer to this Missing Middle question lies in a range of low-scale typologies that actually aren’t so foreign to Toronto, despite the last half-century of planning policy. As Toronto City Council begins to contemplate these new permissions, we explore below the city’s long history of Missing Middle-type housing, highlighting some of the 100-year-old typologies that serve to diversify the housing stock in our “established neighbourhoods” today.

Based on a century of evidence, we believe it’s possible to conserve the character of Toronto’s historic neighbourhoods while adding contemporary versions of these housing typologies. It’s imperative that we do so quickly, to start providing much more diversity in form, scale and affordability in Toronto’s stock of housing.

Multi-Unit House Conversions

The city’s existing multi-unit house conversions provide the best evidence that we can accommodate multiple dwelling units, and more affordable offerings, within typical low-scale residential forms.

Peppered throughout Toronto’s historic neighbourhoods, these are houses that have since been converted to become duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes or apartments. They blend so successfully that they are difficult to identify on the street. Sometimes, the only clues might include multiple unit mailboxes, multiple upper-storey balconies, a few extra recycling bins, and maybe a fire escape.

Typical Toronto house conversion, multi-units in 3-storey house form.

Purpose-Built Multiplexes (Duplexes, Triplexes and Fourplexes)

In addition to those houses converted to become duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes, Toronto’s neighbourhoods and avenues include a substantial roster of purpose-built multiplexes. Frequently built in tracts, Toronto’s multiplexes can be found in “established neighbourhoods” as tony as the Beaches and Casa Loma. They can be found in both single-detached and semi-detached forms – in the latter, for example, a semi-detached triplex would feature six units, at two different addresses. For a casual passerby, the width or length of these buildings, and sometimes an extra door or two, are the only cues that they accommodate multiple units of housing.

Typical Toronto typology, 4 units in 2-storey walk-up building.

Walk-Up Apartment Buildings

From its first arrival onto Toronto’s streetscape in 1899 to its ban from low-rise neighbourhoods in 1912, the walk-up apartment building has been controversial – but today, we look at the examples built in those 13 years, laud them as heritage resources, and wish there were more.

In the following decades, walk-ups would continue to be built as a result of planning variances and outside of the designated protected neighbourhoods, and would come to include post-WWII versions in neighbourhoods like Rosedale, until they were supplanted by the high-rise tower (with its own planning battles).

With five units or more, walk-up apartments were typically built on a regularized plan, stacked on top of each other – and sometimes doubled to take up four lots, rather than two, along residential streets. With most versions rising no higher than four storeys, and detailed with the same materials and architectural ornamentations as their single- and semi-detached neighbours, they fit in well on their streetscapes, particularly amid grand three-storey houses with tall details like dormers and turrets.

Typical Toronto typology, multi-unit walk-up building, 4-storeys

Where do we find this housing stock?

We find it everywhere throughout Toronto’s historic core neighbourhoods – and often in the places where we’d least expect to find a substantial rental stock. While both multiplexes and walk-ups can be found in some places in clusters (multiplexes because they were built in tracts, and apartments because they were built mostly in neighbourhoods where they were permitted), all these forms can also be found independently amid streets full of house-form buildings.

We undertook a quick study of two Toronto neighbourhoods, taking a cross-section of Parkdale (southeast of King and Queen Streets West), and another of Chaplin Estates (at Eglinton and Oriole Park), to identify forms of low-scale housing that already contribute to a diverse housing stock today. Because we undertook a windshield survey, we may have even missed a few house conversions, hiding among their single- and semi-detached neighbours.

In the study, we’ve identified house conversions, purpose-built multiplexes, and walk-up apartments. The majority of non-identified sites are comprised of single- and semi-detached housing.


map of Parkdale neighbourhood in Toronto, showing multiple sites of existing "missing middle" typologies


Oriole Neighbourhood Toronto, map marking multiple sites of existing "missing middle" housing stock types.

Based on our experience with historic Missing Middle housing, it’s clear to us that gentle intensification can work in all kinds of different neighbourhoods – and can diversify the housing stock on streets that are tree-lined, in proximity to parks and schools, and sheltered from heavy-traffic avenues.

Until Toronto City Council relaxes the permissions to construct this type of housing in replacement of typical single- and semi-detached forms, new examples of well-done gentle intensification are few and far between. This also means that many of the high-quality examples will fall squarely in the boutique affordability range, until there is so much supply that they become more attainable for a larger swath of income earners.

Today, we see these limited examples of gentle intensification in three ways: within existing building envelopes, through additions to existing buildings, and through a very small number of new builds. As planning policies evolve, we look forward to participating in more creative approaches to new construction of lower-scale multi-unit buildings, to continue to contribute in the gentle evolution of Toronto’s historic neighbourhoods to meet today’s needs.

ERA leads the conversation of digital transformation, using BIM, for architectural heritage at the Beijing Urban and Architecture Biennale

Building Information Modeling or Building Information Management (BIM) is the foundation of digital transformation in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction industry (AEC). It is a highly collaborative process that allows architects, engineers, developers, contractors, manufacturers, and other construction professionals to plan, design, and construct a structure or building within one single 3D model. It can also span into the operation and management of buildings to make informed decisions based on information derived from the model— even after the building is constructed.

The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada has the following definition:

“BIM is the process of collaboratively developing and managing an integrated digital model containing a built asset’s geometry and lifecycle information. The model acts as a ‘single-source of truth’ and supports the many practices that are involved in the design, construction, operation and management of a built asset.”

Unlike traditional building design, BIM incorporates information beyond the 3 primary dimensions (width, height, and depth), by including data regarding time, costs, asset management, sustainability, and more, allowing a quantitative and qualitative understanding of building components, manufacturers’ details, and more throughout a building’s operational life.

ERA is now at the forefront of using BIM for heritage conservation and restoration, innovating through the development and implementation of new tools, as well as contributing to academic research in the field.

Earlier this fall, ERA’s Mikael Sydor participated in the Beijing Urban and Architecture Biennale, as part of a forum discussion, The Backbone of Urban Renewal: BIM and Adaptive Reuse online forum organized by the Beijing Institute of Architectural Design.

Curated and hosted by two architects in New York and in Beijing, the 3 hour, highly condensed international panel discussion brought over 1100 international online participants to investigate the relationship between BIM and adaptive reuse projects. Six internationally renowned architectural practices from four different time zones were invited to present distinct architectural projects using core BIM and design innovations, including SOM, Heatherwick Studio, BDP Quadrangle, Batille i Roig, and ERA Architects.

As ERA’s resident digital documentation expert at the Beijing forum, Mikael presented on ERA’s innovative use of Building Information Management in the University of Alberta Medical Building, and Hamilton’s Ken Soble Tower.

In the work on Ken Soble Tower, for example, BIM (Revit) was leveraged for uses related to energy efficiency models and passive house design. Linking the energy models with the design allowed immediate review of design impacts and building geometries to conduct thermal simulations. In the end, the project team successfully reduced the building’s energy consumption by 70% and greenhouse gas emissions by 94% through design.

If you’d like to read a more academic approach to the subject,
S. Fai and M. Sydor, “Building Information Modelling and the documentation of architectural heritage: Between the ‘typical’ and the ‘specific’,” 2013 Digital Heritage International Congress (DigitalHeritage), 2013, pp. 731-734, doi: 10.1109/DigitalHeritage.2013.6743828.

Promotional Poster for the Beijing Urban and Architecture Biennale

ERA’s Graeme Stewart and Ya’el Santopinto named to the RAIC’s College of Fellows

Headshots of Graeme and Ya'el

ERA is thrilled to announce that Graeme Stewart and Ya’el Santopinto have been named to the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC)’s College of Fellows. This well-deserved honour is in recognition of outstanding achievement in architecture, and distinguished service to the profession and community.

From the RAIC’s citations:

Graeme’s career to date has largely focused on a single issue facing Canadian cities: deterioration of mid-century apartment building communities resulting from decades of neglect, policy interference, and socio-economic marginalization. Graeme is arguably the single reason “Tower Renewal” is a term familiar to Canadian architects.

Graeme’s contributions to Tower Renewal began with groundbreaking research while still a student and continued through professional research, policy development and implementation in partnership with CMHC, the Government of Ontario, various Canadian municipalities, NGOs, Canadian Universities and international partners. He led the creation of Toronto’s first “Tower Renewal Zoning” (Residential Apartment Commercial / RAC), published the Mayor’s Tower Renewal Opportunities book and through ERA and CUG+R continues the advancement of the initiative through advocacy and demonstration projects for both public and private sector clients.

Santopinto is the Director of Research for the Centre for Urban Growth and Renewal, a cross-disciplinary non-profit organization to improve liveability and sustainability across rural, suburban, and urban environments. In this role, she leads the Tower Renewal Partnership, an initiative to catalyze reinvestment and community-building in apartment tower neighbourhoods. Her work includes primary research and best practice development in housing renewal, ranging from energy retrofit standards to tenant rights and green financing.

As ERA’s lead Tower Renewal architect, Santopinto oversees complex, holistic, and resilient energy retrofits to convert postwar apartment towers into high-quality affordable housing, impacting thousands of households. She is Project Architect on the Ken Soble Tower, a Passive House (EnerPHit) retrofit of a 1967 affordable senior’s building in Hamilton. The tower was retrofitted to improve natural ventilation and thermal performance, and redesigned to provide aging in place. When complete, it will be the largest EnerPHit building in North America. Ya’el Santopinto is doing critical work in architectural research and design, as well as housing policy. Her focus could not be more timely and relevant in responding to contemporary social and environmental challenges.

Congratulations to Graeme and Ya’el on this national recognition of their work.

Read more about Graeme and Ya’el’s work at the links below:

The Ken Soble Tower transformation

Pandemic effect: Housing retrofits in Canadian Architect 

The Retrofit Economy: A Policy Roadmap to Renew Aging High-Rise Housing 

Dave LeBlanc for The Globe and Mail: The tower that once topped Toronto shines again

Once the tallest building in the British empire, the Royal Bank building at 8 King Street East is a product of the skyscraper phenomenon that arrived in Toronto at the turn-of-the century. More than 100 years after its construction, the building has been renewed. ERA is wrapping up work on this project, which required the full and extensive conservation of the Edwardian skyscraper’s exterior.

The 8 King Street East project was featured by columnist Dave LeBlanc for The Globe and Mail. For more on this project and ERA’s work, read the full article below!

The top of 8 King Street East pre-construction.

The top of 8 King Street East pre-construction.

The tower that once topped Toronto shines again

Dave LeBlanc
Special to The Globe and Mail, published April 27, 2021

Although it’s one of the smaller photographs accompanying the July, 1915 Construction magazine article, it speaks much louder than those showcasing luxurious banking interiors, sculpted friezes, or Corinthian columns marching along Yonge and King streets. About six men, wearing suits and moustaches – and no doubt clutching cigars or brandy snifters – cluster and converse behind the thin railing on the 20th-storey observation deck of the new Royal Bank building.

While it’s difficult to read expressions, likely all faces sport some combination of pride, accomplishment, or gravitas. After all, this building had just been crowned tallest in the Commonwealth and, as such, became another indicator of the shift from Montreal to Toronto as Canada’s financial centre. And if one of those men was Montreal-born architect George Allen Ross or his Melbourne, Australia-born partner, Robert Henry Macdonald, he was no doubt feeling chuffed as he looked down at the other new buildings he had bested – especially the formerly tallest-in-the-Empire Canadian Pacific Railway building with its copper-clad rooftop cupolas – along the city’s “Edwardian skyscraper row.”

“By 1915,” writes architect David E. Winterton in a 2015 issue of the Journal of the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada, “the north shore of Lake Ontario had a new metropolitan skyline, an architecturally hybrid vertical expression of Toronto’s New World prosperity … fairly – and fittingly – described as a half-Edwardian and half-Beaux-Arts concoction.”

Heady stuff.

But, around the same time Mr. Winterton was researching his very good article, his colleagues at ERA Architects were taking stock of what a hundred years of pollution, road salt, freeze-thaw cycles, insensitive renovations and other assorted abuses had done to this former crown jewel.

The exterior of 8 King East

Oxblood paint going on temple during the renovation.

Even at the very top things didn’t look good, says ERA project manager Noah McGillivray: “Instead of repairing [the roof] through the century, they just re-clad over it, trapping moisture; it was rotting, the whole roof, so we did have to take the whole thing apart … profile all the details, match them exactly, and then recreate them in copper.”

On an unseasonably cold day in late April, Mr. McGillivray, his ERA associate Daniel Lewis, and building science and restoration specialist Duncan Rowe of RJC Engineers, inspect these new rooftop details – without brandy snifters in hand – and reminisce about the journey, which saw scaffolding up in 2014 for some plinth repair, then, after a change of ownership to KingSett Capital, envelope the entire building in 2019.

“A big part of the story of the project, really, is that this building faded into the background for a long time. … I think its original character was totally lost,” Mr. McGillivray says.

Something else that might have been lost was the acanthus leaf ornamentation from the columns. Chunks of the plaster, mortar and terracotta block had fallen to the street in years past, prompting the city to order the property owner to wrap them in chicken wire. The terracotta block, incredibly, had been fastened to the building’s steel frame by wrapping wire around it and then slapping mortar over top. This ad hoc approach, Mr. McGillivray explains, happened for only a short while during the “overlap” between traditional masonry construction and modern steel buildings. “They were working it out as they went,” he says, “having one foot in the 20th century and the other in the 19th century with Beaux-Arts detailing.”

New terracotta ready for installation during the Royal Bank building renovation.

New terracotta ready for installation during the Royal Bank building renovation.

Of course, as much of the original terracotta and acanthus ornamentation that could be saved was, and then remounted, in situ, with new high-strength brackets. But in cases where deterioration was too great, ERA and RJC found a local shop to make a mould – complete with the vertical tooling marks found on the originals – for the 337 reproductions that were needed. For some of this work, the two firms consulted with Chicago-based engineer Amy Lamb Woods, an expert in terracotta, brick, stone, terrazzo and stucco.

Another massive undertaking was replacement of the windows. Badly tarnished, sealed shut with screws, painted over on the inside and, most importantly, completely inefficient, once the city’s heritage folk were convinced with a mock-up, more than 300 new units were fabricated by Roof Tile Management, with brass beauties for the south and west façades, and steel for the non-decorative façades.

“The three of us went to the shop to see how they did it, how they rolled all the brass,” says Mr. Lewis, his English accent getting stronger as his excitement rises.

“It’s traditional methods, little hammers, it was like Santa’s workshop,” Mr. McGillivray says with a laugh.

New copper penthouse roof.

New copper penthouse roof.

On the 16th, 17th, and 18th storeys, what were “piles of rusty metal” around each window-set have now been restored to “mini temples” with pediments and pilasters painted a period-appropriate oxblood red. Soft lead flashing now protects sills and lugs like a “suit of armour.”

“It’s amazing how much work they put into these parts of the building that are kind of difficult for the naked eye to see,” Mr. McGillivray says. “They just suspended all of these sculptures – ”

Mr. Lewis interrupts: “The cornice is crazy, too, the projection and the decorative elements.”

And speaking of the cornice (which thankfully hadn’t been removed in what Mr. Winterton describes in his JSSAC article as “Toronto’s ‘cornice annihilation’ period of the 1970s”), it needed complete restoration as well, including the replacement of dentils that had been hacked away for cables; those with eagle eyes can spot the shiny new ones.

Uncleaned portion vs. cleaned portion is seen during the renovation.

Uncleaned portion vs. cleaned portion is seen during the renovation.

Once the last bits of scaffolding around the Corinthian columns come down – which will be relatively soon and with acanthus leaves restored and chicken wire gone – one won’t need avian vision to appreciate the work that’s gone into 8 King East. The building literally glows.

“With the shiny windows and the creamy terracotta, it does look like opening day in 1915,” Mr. McGillivray says.

“It looks crackin’ from the street,” Mr. Lewis says.

When workers return after COVID-19 is done, Mr. Rowe says, they’ll surely do a double take: “What is this building, I’ve never seen it before!”

Championing resiliency this Earth Day

As we celebrate Earth Day, ERA is reflecting on the shift needed to meet Canada’s 2050 net-zero emissions targets. Our built environment plays an important role in creating a more sustainable future and ERA is committed to being a leader that champions climate solutions through our work. Here’s how:

Distillery District

Adaptive reuse of changing infrastructures:

High-impact adaptive reuse of existing structure can help to bolster many communities’ move from resource-based to creative economies. ERA’s work with historic infrastructure to find new uses for their spaces has spurred place-based economies. At the Distillery District, we transformed a brownfield site into an arts and culture hub, driven by below-market rents for artists’ studios. Our work at Cambium Farms in Caledon has adapted a barn to find multi-seasonal cultural uses supported by the site’s historic farmstead properties, contributing to a rural creative economy in the region.

A drone photograph of the Ken Soble Tower with Hamilton harbour in the background

Net-zero-ready construction:

Developing net-zero-ready approaches to building retrofits can build resilience, improve housing quality, and renew our existing built form to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Our Ken Soble EnerPHit Tower Renewal modernizes a 1967 apartment tower to provide 94% carbon emission reductions, while taking a light-touch approach to embodied carbon by using low-emissions stonewool insulation. Our Gemini House converts a historic home to ultra-low carbon, while maintaining its historic façade. It does this by creating an interior highly insulated envelope, demonstrating that building conservation and high performance can be intrinsically linked.

Photo of cottage

Off-grid living:

Renewable technologies have revolutionized the potential for light-impact homes, both through the adaptation of historic buildings as well as through new construction. Our work on off-grid cottages has provided a model for high-performance living, helping to preserve Ontario’s pristine wilderness.

Evergreen Brick Works

Photography by James Morley/A-Frame

Mitigating impacts of climate change:

Innovative solutions can mitigate the impacts of the effects of climate change as they become all too frequent. Situated at the heart of a Toronto floodplain, Evergreen Brick Works is at constant risk of flooding. ERA worked with the project team to integrate stormwater and flood mitigation systems into the adaptive reuse of the site, including in the historic kiln building, which is now protected year-round form the harmful impacts of wind and floodwaters thanks to its enclosure and raised flooring.

Gordonridge Community Multi-Sport Court wins national landscape architecture award

ERA is thrilled to announce the Gordonridge Community Multi-Sport Court has won a Canadian Society of Landscape Architects (CSLA) National Award of Excellence in the Residential Landscapes category.

This unique community-led project is located at the heart of the Gordonridge Toronto Community Housing campus in Scarborough. The new court brings residents of all ages and abilities together in a dynamic landscape intervention which includes a running track, basketball courts, skatepark, parkour, pickleball, volleyball and table tennis, as well as a central garden. Through integration of the court with the adjacent topiary, community gardens and orchards, it has become a nexus of neighbourhood activity.

ERA collaborated with the Gordonridge community for over a year, with the outcome being a design that reflects its values, interests and identity. As co-designers, residents were integrally involved in the process from the early ideation stages through construction. The impact of the court on residents has been transformative, giving the Gordonridge community a dynamic place to play, gather, garden and exercise at the heart of their neighbourhood. Read more about the community design process.

Jury Comments:

An unusual project that activates a kind of landscape – the space between suburban apartment towers – that is often neglected. The painted pattern is crisp and striking without being too visually powerful; it adds a playful sense to the space while providing a tableau to be seen and enjoyed from the apartments above. This project is a remarkable blend of community engagement, empathetic approach, and skillful design with modest means. The project has been significantly informed by the close relationship the designers have developed with the community through dialogue, social events, collaborative design, and the testing of ideas before the final design. As a result of the process, the design is careful to support interpersonal and intergenerational connections. In this respect it captures an important goal of the profession, connecting people with their surroundings and community in a sustainable and sensible way.

View of the Gordonridge court

Congratulations to the Gordonridge community, Toronto Community Housing, MLSE Foundation and Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities on this recognition!

For more on this award and other awardees, visit CSLA.

Revitalizing waterfront sites: Exploring the potential of Ontario Place

Ontario Place

Ontario Place in the 1980s (City of Toronto Archives)

Our iconic sites have a shared value, with a conceived opinion in the public realm. As residents, we understand and view these buildings with a collective lens made up of our past experiences formed individually and as a city.

While some buildings easily come to mind, take Toronto’s Old City Hall or the ROM as examples, others have the potential to become iconic with a more careful understanding and with added celebration and support of these sites. Ontario Place has the ability to become a deeply loved space in our city and our province, but it’s lacking a shared identity, an issue exacerbated by continued disinvestment.

ERA Principal Michael McClelland spoke to this idea in a session with the Future of Ontario Place Colloquium. Held on February 17, the event titled “The Future of Ontario Place: Revitalizing Iconic Modern Waterfront Sites” placed Ontario Place within the context of both the Sydney Opera House and Montreal’s Expo ’67.

Ontario Place - the Forum and exterior views.. - 1980-1987

Ontario Place, the Forum and exterior views, 1980-1987 (City of Toronto Archives)

Michael has been a long proponent of the cultural value of Ontario Place as a shining example of modernist architecture and as an important contribution to Toronto’s public realm. In 1994, Michael was part of the group that founded Docomomo Canada-Ontario, an organization that looked to recognize the modern architectural movement in the province. Ontario Place was among the 14 sites listed to Docomomo’s International Register.

Ontario Place faced countless pressures and changes in its history, from the closure of the beloved forum for what would become the Budweiser Stage, to its eventual closure in 2012.

Now, close to ten years later, Ontario Place is at yet another crossroads. In 2019, the World Monuments Fund named Ontario Place on its World Monuments Watch list, flagging it as a heritage site at risk of being lost. In response to threats to the site, the Future of Ontario Place Project was born, a collaborative effort between the World Monuments Fund, the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design at the University of Toronto, and Architectural Conservancy Ontario. The project aims to increase public awareness and engagement about the site and its heritage values to imagine the future of Ontario Place as an asset for all.

It has been so long since the site was operable that there is a new host of Torontonians whose experience of the city doesn’t include Ontario Place at all. While Ontario Place may have secured a stronger shared understanding of place if it remained open and in use, its identity has become fractured over time.

But what if we focused not on its use or its identity and instead on other established attributes of the site?

When it was built in 1971 in response to Montreal’s Expo 67, architect Eberhard Zeidler wanted Ontario Place to reclaim the shoreline for people. “The meeting of water and land brought to a poetic awareness,” he wrote.

Toronto has a longstanding and shared relationship with its waterfront, from the beloved Scarborough Bluffs to Sunnyside, with Sugar Beach, Harbourfront Centre and the Simcoe WaveDeck downtown. Ontario Place has the ability to connect expressions of the waterfront experience in Toronto.

Harbourfront Centre's the Power Plant gallery with the skyline behind

Harbourfront Centre (Scott Webb via Unsplash)

This was the vision explored in the Waterfront Heritage and Cultural Infrastructure Plan that ERA helped develop in 2003. The plan established a vision focused on culture and heritage as essential components to the future investment in Toronto’s waterfront. Ontario Place was the connecter of this vision, which imagined a revitalized waterfront that included a web of experiences to reflect the diversity of the city’s cultural life.

Ontario Place’s revitalization can be successful if we begin to focus on its attributes that contribute to the shared vision of the site — as a place where water and edge meet. While we’re ways along from fully understanding the shared value of the site, we must celebrate and re-establish Ontario Place as a thriving public space in order to better understand its significance to the public understanding.

Aerial views of Fort York, Exhibition Place and Ontario Place (City of Toronto Archives)

Aerial views of Fort York, Exhibition Place and Ontario Place (City of Toronto Archives)

This takes time. We must give the site time breathe and exist, focusing on the values of water, edge and the connections that happen on the site. In due time this will help Ontario Place find its place along Toronto’s waterfront and in our collective consciousness.

Learn more about the Future of Ontario Place.

Watch the livestream of the Revitalizing Waterfront Sites session.

Celebrating community-led design with Gordonridge

Gordonridge Done image of the court and tower

Working closely with communities to create place-based, local designs is integral to ERA’s approach. In September, we celebrated the completion of Gordonridge’s new multi-sport court. This project was a collaborative effort through-and-through, with our partners at MLSE Foundation and Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities, our client at Toronto Community Housing, and its users, the community at Gordonridge.

Gordonridge is ERA’s third project in partnership with MLSE and Jumpstart, developing place-based recreational spaces with community stakeholders, providing youth and adults a safe space to play and access a variety of sports and community events within their neighbourhoods.

Bird's eye drone view of the gordonridge basketball court

The court is positioned at the heart of the tight-knit Gordonridge campus, a post-war apartment complex which is home to more than 800 households. Post-war neighbourhoods can sometimes offer disconnected car-centric, sprawling design. By contrast, Gordonridge’s “town square” is its collection of community-led initiatives: over the years, Gordonridge residents have built an apiary, community garden, market garden, and fruit orchard. The multi-sport court is  designed to be the hub that connects these spokes, tracing accessible routes through the property. Pathways, along with shaded seating and gathering areas, encourage shared multi-generational use of the space — older residents on the way to the apiary, the youth on the basketball courts.

As the Prime Consultant and Landscape Architect, ERA developed and led a series of collaborative community design-workshops, developed a design that responded to what we heard, and provided ongoing communication with the key stakeholders throughout construction to ensure that the outcomes were in line with the neighbourhood’s vision.

Gordonridge's court with basketball nets, seating and storage.

Over the course of a year, ERA listened, tested ideas, shared meals, and played basketball at Gordonridge. We learned the community was selling honey from the apiary, and that residents were learning to cultivate its fruit orchard – but that access to those initiatives was challenging, so we drew paths along those desire lines. We learned from the youth that the senior residents would like a place to walk, and so we incorporated a walking circuit into the court. We found space for the local gardeners to create a small plot in the court. By the time the court opened late last year, the community were both co-designers and co-owners of the new space.

It’s a process that for us is a remarkable and exciting endeavour. We’re thrilled the neighbourhood feels the same!

Gordonridge Representative: Nichola shares her perspective on the process. from MLSE Foundation on Vimeo.

We are patiently awaiting the spring when we hope the court will be in full use. The pandemic has not only delayed the use of the court but has underscored the importance of access to safe outdoor gathering spaces for exercise and fresh air.

A wide view of Gordonridge's court with basketball hoops and walking track.

The Gordonridge Commmunity Multi-Sport Court demonstrates the power of investment in communities, allowing residents of all ages to gather, exercise, play and continue to build local support networks so vital to our thriving cities and neighbourhoods.

MLSE Foundation has pulled together more great content, including the video above, over on their website.