ERA Architects

Concrete Ideas

The book Concrete Ideas: Material to Shape a City was launched in January, 2012.
Edited by Pina Petricone, the book considers new approaches to concrete architecture by exploring a variety of new technologies and possibilities for the material. First introduced by Pina’s article in Concrete Toronto, the book is a compilation of ideas, articles and interviews assembled over the past several years.

The volume includes exploratory design work by ERA’s Jessie Grebenc, as well as a pair of articles by Graeme Stewart focused on Tower Renewal; one examining the state of concrete tower blocks internationally and the other exploring their potential architectural and urban futures in the Toronto context.

Congratulations to Pina and the publication team on a wonderful and beautiful book.

Read about Concrete Ideas in a John Bentley Mays review in the Globe and Mail here.

Concrete Ideas: Material to Shape a City will be available for order online at soon.

For more on concrete, Concrete Toronto can be found here.

Maple Leaf Gardens marquee restoration

The very public face of the on-going Maple Leaf Gardens adaptive reuse project was installed this morning. The restored marquee recreates the historic character of the iconic building signage, which was in place for decades. It was a recognized priority for both Loblaws and Ryerson to honour and evoke the rich and varied history of the former arena, which is also a National Historic Site. Continue reading…

The Donald Standard Chemical Building

Rural architectural heritage extends beyond farm houses and small towns. Last summer, ERA helped the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario in support of the Green Step Project, an initiative to rehabilitate an abandoned industrial site east of Bancroft as showcase for environmental stewardship, heritage, and building technologies. Continue reading…

ERA x Sweden

This month a number of ERAers took a trip to Sweden, in order to kick off a neighbourhood rejuvenation project at Semlal Lagerlöfs Torg in Gothenberg. Following the extensive site tour and project brief, the team visited precedent projects in Stockholm, Malmo and Copenhagen to view the latest in housing design and neighbourhood renewal from our Nordic cousins. The following images illustrate the project’s existing context ‘as found’, and future blog posts will expand on both the trip and the on-going project.

Continue reading…

Modern Toronto Homes

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


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…

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

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…

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.

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.

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.

Download North York’s Modernist Architecture Revisited

Download the full 2010 edition of North York’s Modernist Architecture Revisited in PDF format.  A hard-copy of this booklet was made available at the November 9th, 2010 North York Modernist Architecture Forum.

North York’s Modernist Architecture Revisited is an extension of and complements ERA’s 2009 reprinting of the original 1997 report and inventory.  It includes current photographs of over 200 buildings from the original inventory plus additional notable buildings built between 1945 and 1981 in North York.  Also included is a proposed heritage policy strategy, biographies of several prominent architects, and an essay on North York’s modernist beginnings.

Please note that North York’s Modernist Architecture Revisited includes over 300 photographs, and the PDF is quite large.  At 32mb, the file may take some time to download.

North York Modernist Architecture Forum on Tuesday November 9th

ERA with Heritage Toronto, the City of Toronto and the North York Community Preservation Panel will be hosting an evening of presentations and discussion on the former city’s Modernist stock. The evening will be hosted by Heritage Toronto executive director Karen Carter with presentations by the Globe and Mail’s Dave LeBlanc, Heritage Toronto’s Gary Miedema, the City of Toronto’s Leo deSorcy, North York Community Preservation Panel Chair Geoff Kettel and ERA’s Michael McClelland.

The Forum will be held on Tuesday November 9 from 7:00 to 9:00 pm in the Council Chamber at the North York Civic Centre at 5100 Yonge Street.

ERA will be releasing a document updating the entire inventory of 1997’s North York’s Modernist Architecture. This newly printed document will complement last year’s reprinting and will be available at the event.

People per Hectare _ Toronto by Numbers

Density is one of the key tools currently used for planning cities. Architects, planners, and policy makers all use density as a calibration of the city.

We want to make our cities better, more vital, more full of possibilities. As our cities change, we want to propose change intelligently. To change intelligently, we need to understand density.

For the ERA installation at the Harbourfront Centre, as part of the COMMUNITY CENTRED exhibition, we asked our office to contribute examples of places they had recently visited. How did density affect built form? How did density affect the quality of the environment?

We often discuss density in terms of numerical ratios, or other quantitative abstractions. Our intention with this installation is to try and map the spatial experience of specific densities to their numerical signifiers, as free of imported bias (culture, context, etc) as possible.

By assembling this information we are now able to consider: how do Toronto’s neighbourhoods compare?

Please join us for the opening reception:

Friday January 22, 2010
6:00 to 10:00pm

York Quay Centre
235 Queens Quay West

Jerome Markson: Houses and Housing 1955-1980

Legendary architect Jerome Markson came in and gave a presentation on the residential projects produced over the first third of his career – from 1955 up until 1980.

He showcased a number of experimental single family housing designs, and his transition to multi-family and social housing projects. Alexandra Park featured heavily, and we were all eager to learn more about the lessons contained in the project that can be applied to our understanding of our collective urban environment.

1957 _ Housing for Stanrock Mines Ltd.

1959 _ Winston Avenue Residence

1960 _ Saintfield Residence

1962 _ Montressor Drive Residence

1965 _ Alexandra Park Public Housing

1968 _ Folkstone Crescent Stacked Housing

1971 _ Unionville Stacked Housing

In Mr. Markson’s own words, from 1981:

In all of our work we constantly attempt to produce a solution which respects a site, street or ambiance worth respecting, to reflect a client’s needs with warmth and humanness and to recognize that no single solution or architectural approach handles all problems. While striving for innovative design and the use of appropriate construction techniques and materials, we keep an open attitude necessary for creative solutions.

We are very grateful to Mr. Markson for sharing his time and insights with us, and look forward to part two…

All scans above from Jerome Markson Architects: Twenty Five Years of Work.

North York’s Modernist Architecture


ERA Architects assisted with a recent forum on North York’s modernist architecture, which sought to raise awareness for modernist buildings and landscapes in the city of Toronto. The event included a panel discussion consisting of Dave LeBlanc (Globe & Mail), Leo deSorcy (City of Toronto Planning Division), Kim Storey (Brown and Storey Architects), and Lloyd Alter (Architectural Conservancy of Ontario), and was moderated by Matt Blackett of Spacing Magazine.

ERA contributed to the event by preparing and printing an update to the document North York’s Modernist Architecture put together by the former City of North York in 1997. The update – available here as a PDF file – includes the complete 46 page original document, new essays by the aforementioned panelists, and current photographs of a number of the featured buildings.

Dave LeBlanc also wrote an article in the Globe and Mail about the forum and the republication of the document, which is available on the Globe’s website.

Download North York’s Modernist Architecture

Download the full 2009 edition of North York’s Modernist Architecture in PDF format.

This document contains the complete, unaltered original 1997 report and inventory, along with updated photographs and new contributions from Lloyd Alter, Geoff Kettel, Edith Geduld, Moiz Behar, Michael McClelland, Kim Storey, Leo deSorcy, Helene Iardas, Joey Giaimo, and William MacIvor.

The PDF version presented here is substantially similar to the hard-copy booklet which was distributed at the October 29th, 2009 forum on North York’s modernist architecture.  We are happy to present it in electronic format, such that it may be accessed by the greatest number of people possible.

A word of warning – the file is large (22mb), and may take a few minutes to download. Additionally, please use Acrobat to view the document (not Preview), to ensure that the images are clear and sharp.