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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.

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.

ERA voted Best Design Firm by NOW Magazine readers

NOW Readers' Choice Winner Best Design Firm

ERA has been named as Toronto’s Best Design Firm as part of NOW Magazine’s Readers’ Choice Awards. We’d like to take the time to thank everyone who voted for us as part of this year’s awards. 

As a firm specializing in heritage conservation, it is a privilege to get to work on some of the most beloved buildings in Toronto. We aim to expand our impact to build community through adaptive reuse, placemaking and design. We look forward to many more years of working with you, Toronto. 

Congratulations to the Best of Toronto!

Conservation of Paradise Theatre wins national and provincial awards

Paradise Theatre

Thanks to its careful conservation, and inclusive and accessible programming, Paradise is once again a space for the community to gather and celebrate. We’re thrilled to see this building reinstated as an important focal point for the local neighbourhood and are pleased to say the conservation community feels the same!

Paradise Theatre has recently won a Peter Stokes Award for Restoration from Architectural Conservancy Ontario. The award was followed by the Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals’ (CAHP) announcement the project had won an Award of Excellence in the Conservation – Architecture category. We’re honoured to be recognized by our colleagues provincially and nationally for this amazing project.

We’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate the entire project team on these achievements:

ERA Staff: Graeme Stewart, Jessie Grebenc, Julie Tyndorf, Shannon Clayton
Site owner: Moray Tawse 
Prime architect: Ware Malcomb
Interior design: Solid Design Creative
Masonry: Clifford Restoration
Stainless Steel: Brascon Stainless Steel Fabricators Inc.
Signage: Pride Signs

Read more about the Paradise Theatre project.

Historic farmsteads drive a new rural cultural economy

Ontario’s smaller municipalities are facing a transformation. Many are making the transition from resource-based to diverse, creative economies, fuelled by population growth and an increase in local tourism in Ontario. As these municipalities look to prepare for growth, many farmstead owners are left with swaths of land ripe for adaptive reuse to add to the local economy and fill a community need.

ERA has had the opportunity to work closely with a number of these farmsteads and their owners in recent years. These property owners are looking for innovative adaptive reuse opportunities to help catalyze their local cultural economy by leveraging their heritage asset.

Cambium Farms barn and silo

ERA engages with these projects using the framework of the Historic Ontario Farmstead. The Historic Ontario Farmstead typology helps us understand the distinct built and landscape features that characterize a farmstead – what are the visual cues that make a property legible as a farmstead? Do these features contribute to a broader agricultural landscape context? With a baseline understanding of these typological features, we ensure that their conservation or interpretation is top of mind throughout our project work.

Ontario Farmstead Typology

ERA Associate Shelley Ludman (OAA OAQ) recently presented at the 2020 APT/National Trust conference on this theme. She spoke about three case studies, where ERA worked with local partners to re-imagine the uses of farmstead sites, relying on the Ontario farmstead typology. Two of these case studies are highlighted here.

Goodlot Farmstead Brewery

Originally established as a hops farm in 2011, the owners expanded their offering in 2017, announcing that they would be opening a brewery on site. This decision was instigated by a local tourism boom, Caledon’s population growth, and a desire to encourage people to get outside and engage with agricultural sites in their vicinity. ERA worked with the owners to renovate one of the barns on their property, converting the vacant building into a brewing facility. Given the barn’s proximity to the road, most of the alterations were limited to the building’s interior, ensuring that it remained legible as a barn from the public realm.

Goodlot adaptive reuse stages

Cambium Farms

In 2017, ERA was approached by Cambium Farms [link] to upgrade an 1873 barn facility, as the owners wanted to push their site’s potential beyond a seasonal single use. In order to serve a larger market, and draw a variety of users, they needed to upgrade a few key aspects of the site.

ERA considered how we could achieve the programmatic upgrades required while conserving and capitalizing on the cultural heritage value of the existing farmstead configuration. Two contemporary additions were built to accommodate washrooms, a prep kitchen and a formal entry for the lower level and designed with reference to the forms and materiality of farmstead outbuildings. We also worked with the owners to upgrade the bank barn’s lower level, previously used as storage, to create usable space during winter months. The renovated lower level now operates year-round, and the open floor plan facilitates programs such as yoga classes, pop-up dinners with local chefs, intimate concerts, and winter weddings.

These two case studies demonstrate how sensitive adaptive reuse projects can create opportunities for farmstead owners to contribute to an emerging rural cultural economy, while capitalizing on their sites’ historic value and character.

Written by Shelley Ludman + Emma Abramowicz

ERA and Heritage Conservation in Hong Kong

Heritage Conservation in Hong Kong title with building image in the background

Conservation is a worldwide industry, one rooted in collaboration and shared learning. It’s vital we continue to share our expertise with one another, learning new innovations, techniques and approaches.  

ERA is thrilled to continue to be involved in these important conversations. The newly released Heritage Conservation in Hong Kong: A Technical Guidebook was developed in conjunction with training workshops that took place over a year-long period by Hong Kong Institute of Architectural Conservationists (HKICON), which were developed and lead in part by ERA principal Andrew Pruss.

Hong Kong Conservation adaptive reuse examples

The end result of these workshops is the resulting guidebook that looks to further the conservation industry in Hong Kong, serving as a module for site owners, architects, contractors and students. It looks to support Hong Kong’s heritage community through increased collaboration, and knowledge about heritage sites and conservation best practices. Subjects in the guidebook range from the history of heritage conservation, accessibility for heritage places to repair and maintenance of building materials.

Congratulations to Andrew, as well as the ERA staff who developed, wrote and edited this guidebook: Diana Roldan, Noah McGillivray, Adam Krop, Ray Lister, Aly Bousfield, Jordan Molnar and graphic designer Carl Shura.

The guidebook is available for all to download. Visit the HKICON website for more. 

Pandemic effect: ERA Architects for Canadian Architect magazine

A rendering of the exterior and entrance of Ken Soble Tower.

As part of Canadian Architect’s Pandemic Effect series, ERA Architects’ Ya’el Santopinto and Graeme Stewart wrote about how the current pandemic is shining a light on the importance of prioritizing the retrofitting of existing mid-century towers. 

“Canada’s affordable apartment towers are the backbone of its purpose-built rental housing system, representing more than half of all high-rise units in the nation. Legacies of the post-war apartment housing boom of the 1960s and 70s, many of these buildings are now a half-century old and in need of critical repair. Months of sheltering in place due to COVID-19 have underscored the inequities of the housing system, and the acute challenges in upgrading this stock are more visible than ever.”

Read more from Ya’el and Graeme, and other articles on how the pandemic is influencing the world of architecture from Canadian Architect.

 

Remnants of Mid-Century Toronto

 

Spacing’s new book celebrates Toronto’s mid-century architecture, from landmark buildings like City Hall to unique elements of the time, such as the zig-zag roofs that can be spotted atop many of the city’s churches. 

Edited by Spacing’s creative director Matthew Blackett and with photography by Vik Pahwa, much of the writing in the book has been provided by ERA staff. 

Congratulations to Spacing on this beautiful publication. We’re thrilled to have our staff involved in such an evocative project celebrating an often forgotten form of Toronto architecture.

Read more about the book on Spacing’s website or purchase it from the Spacing Store.