ERA Architects

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!”

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.

 

Tower Renewal Solutions on CBC Radio

As aging apartment buildings begin to contribute to the housing crisis, (exposed this week in the infrastructure failure at 260 Wellesley, Toronto) the clear response is system-scale reinvestment — and it’s underway right now across Canada.

Of particular note, the Ken Soble Tower Project is one of the most significant and precedent-setting tower retrofit projects in North America, and it’s happening in Hamilton, Ontario:

Listen to ERA’s Graeme Stewart talk about Tower Renewal solutions on CBC’s Metro Morning, January 24, 2019 (the conversation begins around the 4-minute mark).

Click to listen to the audio of CBC Metro Morning, January 24, 2019 episode: in conversation with Graeme Stewart.


A Tower Renewal Primer:
Postwar apartment towers are the backbone of Canada’s purpose-built rental stock, and provide affordable housing to millions of Canadians. Now is the time to explore innovative strategies for transitioning these aging apartment tower neighbourhoods to meet the demands of our 21st century cities.
Tower Renewal is a strategy for action.


For more information on Tower Renewal, visit TowerRenewal.com
For more information on the current Ken Soble Tower Project in Hamilton, visit the link here.

 

The Legacy Lives On: Hamilton’s Built Heritage Inventory as an emerging practice in historic urban landscape stewardship

ERA Associate Victoria Angel’s article in Plan Magazine’s Winter Issue ‘Urban heritage: A living legacy’ on the UNESCO Historic Urban Landscape (HUL) Recommendation (2011) illustrates its implications and emerging practices, using the City of Hamilton’s Built Heritage Inventory as a case-study. The recommendation encourages a more holistic, integrative approach to urban heritage conservation, focusing on the urban landscape. It proposes that future considerations around urban development should enhance sustainability, functionality, inclusivity, place-making and local identities. Governments have experimented with its implementation, in spite of the complexity of the various urban systems.

Practices that have emerged as a result include a greater use of community consultation, and the characterization of large urban areas through the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS), which integrate well with other municipal information systems.

Hamilton’s Built Heritage Inventory process was adopted by its City Council in the spring of 2014 and was the subject of a paper by Victoria Angel, Angela Garvey and Mikael Sydor that was published by the International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing. The City of Hamilton intends to implement the strategy one neighbourhood at a time, at a citywide level.

By incorporating the HUL’s recommendations, ‘…Citywide surveys and inventories, landscape characterization, and an understanding of people’s perceptions of the places they inhabit could, in the future, be used by cities to identify a much broader range of conservation opportunities, better understand an area’s capacity to change and evolve, and reposition historic resources to serve as the springboard and foundation for new development….’

Article in CIP’s PLAN Canada Journal: http://www.kelmanonline.com/httpdocs/files/CIP/plancanadawinter2017/index.html
Related content: https://www.eraarch.ca/2017/hamiltons-durand-built-heritage-inventory-project-incorporates-digital-innovation-to-develop-a-citywide-approach-to-heritage-planning/
https://www.eraarch.ca/project/hamilton-downtown-built-heritage-inventory/
https://www.eraarch.ca/2013/9295/

All images courtesy of ERA Architects.

One Spadina Crescent: When All is Finally Revealed…….

ERA has been eagerly anticipating the official opening of One Spadina Crescent, the University of Toronto’s new home for the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design. Our collaboration with NADAAA and Adamson Associate Architects has seen the transformation of the historical landmark that is Knox College, conserved and updated with a beautiful new addition. The history, relevance and inspiring new context of the building is captured in an insightful piece in the Globe and Mail by Dave LeBlanc, including a few words from Michael McClelland (see link below).

The site was originally designed as a garden feature for the Baldwin family, who owned the Spadina park lot that extended from Queen Street West to Bloor. In the 1870s, the Presbyterian Church bought the land and commissioned architects James Smith & John Gemmell to build Knox College. Having been adapted over the years to a number of different uses, the structure survives today as a fine example of Gothic Revival architecture, with a heritage designation (designated under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act on March 17, 1976).

Beginning in 2006, ERA worked with the University of Toronto and advised on heritage issues related to the site’s re-development. Since 2011 ERA has been working closely with prime architects, NADAAA, on the project. Phase 1 included the conservation of the exterior, and Phase II, the new addition extending from the historic building.

As heritage consultant, ERA prepared the Heritage Impact Assessment, Conservation Strategy and Conservation Plan, and provision of heritage architecture services related to the conservation scope of work (exterior and interior) throughout all phases of the project. The project team includes: Michael McClelland, Andrew Pruss, Julie Tyndorf, Alana Young, and Tatum Taylor.

The article reintroduces the heritage building to the public mindset, reinforcing its position as a work of prominent architecture in its own right, as well as a new asset in Toronto’s evolving cultural landscape.

Link to Globe and Mail article: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/real-estate/toronto/an-overlooked-university-of-toronto-gem-brought-back-to-thespotlight/article36984536/

All photos courtesy of John Horner Photography

The Lost Craft of Tuck Pointing

Pointing, repointing, tuck pointing, ribbon pointing, flush pointing, there are many techniques and they are all different. Tuck pointing is a style of jointing that was predominantly used on English brickwork from the late seventeen century and it continued in popular use through the early 20th century. Done properly, it is the most highly skilled of all pointing finishes and gives the illusion of finely pointed gauged brickwork on principal facades. It helped give the impression of quality to buildings constructed of damaged or irregular bricks. When laid in the normal manner of the day, such bricks produced walls with wide joints of irregular and uneven pattern which appear the sum of their constituent parts rather than as a coherent surface or plane. In the late 17th century the problem was avoided by using soft, rubbed bricks which could then be laid with thin, straight joints, however such work was costly. Tuck pointing was a less expensive alternative which seems to have been particularly popular for use on terraced housing up to the late 19th century. One of the most famous terraced houses in the British empire was tuck pointed: 10 Downing Street. While the technique is no longer in prominent use, knowledge of it is needed to repair those buildings which remain.

The effect is achieved by filling joints with a base mortar which has been coloured to match the surrounding brickwork. Where necessary, it covers the rounded or damaged brick edges in order to finish flush with the wall face. Over this is a narrow ribbon of fine, vernally white or cream coloured pointing material of well-sifted lime mixed with fine silica sand. This is skillfully applied or ‘tucked’ onto the regular grooved centres of the prepared joints and precisely trimmed to size.

Walking through neighbourhoods such as Cabbagetown, lower Rosedale and Parkdale, you still see the remnants of original tuck pointing on old brick buildings. This was a prominent aesthetic element throughout the city. However, it can be difficult to determine whether an historic building had been tuck pointed originally, mainly because of the sand blasting practice in recent decades.The abrasion of the sand on the surface removes paint and staining, but also often erodes the surface of the brick, mortar, and adjacent materials, including the tuck pointing ribbon if present, effectively removing any evidence of the brick building being tuck pointed.

Such a specimen can be seen at 62-64 Charles Street, where recent conservation work has restored the tuck pointed building to its former glory, under the expert hand of Hunt Heritage. This is the largest application of the process that ERA has been involved with and it’s an exemplar for bringing this lost craft back to the city.

Launching the RAC Zone

 

 

Property owners, entrepreneurs, community members, academics and city builders will gather at York University in celebration of Toronto’s newest zone: the Residential Apartment Commercial (RAC) (www.raczone.ca). Moderated by Graeme Stewart, Principal of ERA and the Centre for Urban Growth and Renewal, this event hosted by the City of Toronto will centre discussions on the zone’s implementation as well as its economic and social opportunities.

Topics will touch on:

  • Where does the zone apply?
  • What new things can be done there?
  • Why is this a great idea?
  • How does RAC zoning make it easier to implement sensible changes?
  • Who can benefit from these changes?

And Panelists will include:

  • Jennifer Keesmaat, Executive Director and Chief Planner City Planning, City of Toronto
  • Jason Thorne, General Manager Planning and Economic Development, City of Hamilton
  • Dr. Eileen de Villa, Medical Officer of Health, City of Toronto
  • Doug Saunders, Author and Journalist
  • Maurine Campbell, Coordinator, 2667/2677 Kipling Avenue Tenant Association
  • Gobal Mailwaganam, Managing Director, Municipal Affairs & Housing and Operations CAPREIT

 

The RAC Zone was initiated through a long term collaboration between a group of partners including the Centre for Urban Growth and Renewal, United Way Toronto & York Region, Toronto Public Health and the tower Renewal Office at the City of Toronto. Approval of the RAC zone ushers in a new era for communities within Toronto to emerge as a more healthy, resilient and vibrant places.
For more coverage on the RAC Zone, check out the CBC’s article “How a zoning bylaw could transform 500 apartment sites across the city”.
Illustrations by Daniel Rotsztain

Refreshing Allan Gardens

The Friends of Allan Gardens (FOAG) are leading efforts to ensure that this historic public garden remains relevant and integrated into its ever-evolving surrounds. ERA’s Tatum Taylor, who also sits on FOAG’s Board of Directors, has published an article in the Summer/Parks issue of Spacing Magazine that describes the process for renewal. In her words:

‘…For decades, Allan Gardens has struggled to maintain its identity and integrity within Toronto’s rapidly evolving downtown core. The diversity of its uses sets it apart within the City’s parks system, but also imposes competing demands on its aging infrastructure. The newly released Allan Gardens Refresh, produced by the Friends of Allan Gardens (FOAG) in collaboration with the City of Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation Department, envisions a future for the park that evokes its former grandeur. In keeping with Allan Gardens’ traditions of horticulture innovation and social activism, the Refresh initiative is an inventive approach to planning, stewardship, and revitalization – shaking up the existing model of master planning for Toronto’s parks…’

To read the article in its entirety, please pick up a copy of Spacing Magazine online or at your local newsstand outlet.

To learn more about the Allan Gardens Refresh – a vision document produced by FOAG in partnership with the City of Toronto Parks, Forestry & Recreation Division – visit friendsofallangardens.ca

Allan Gardens feature image courtesy of Brent Wagler.
Workshop image curtesy of ERA Architects.
Spacing cover image courtesy of spacing magazine.

 

Evergreen Brick Works Demonstrates How Revived Heritage Spaces Create Sustainable Cities

The 53,000-square-foot kiln building at Evergreen Brick Works is set for a conversion that will create a collaboration zone to aid in building sustainable cities, with a target of developing systems and technologies for reducing carbon emissions. To set the standard, project partners EllisDon, Brookfield Global Integrated Systems, CRH Canada, Levitt Goodman Associates Architectural Partners and ERA Architects will strive to attain a carbon neutral design target for the site, a first in Canada. Once completed, the doors will be open to citizens, the public/private sectors and thought leaders to contribute to the initiative.

The heritage adaptive design approach was created in consultation with the City of Toronto’s Preservation Services, Ontario Heritage Trust and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority to support the preservation of heritage features in the building. ERA was directly involved in the conservation of the unconditioned kiln building, one of 16 historically significant buildings on the campus of Evergreen Brick Works. This structure houses a large collection of industrial brick firing kilns that are currently subject to flooding and freeze-thaw cycles. Enclosing the open west wall of the building, raising the floor, and conditioning the building will be a significant contribution to stabilize these artefacts, while continuing to highlight the heritage aspects of the historic space.

The Brick Works have become a notable destination for locals and tourists alike, drawn to the consistently eco-friendly programming housed within the walls of its LEED platinum-certified building. It will be a gathering place for interactive workshops and community programs that focus on working collaboratively, and will strengthen networks, inspiring action through new and enhanced gallery and meeting spaces. This latest endeavour will catalyze advancements in renewable energy technologies, while preserving the heritage features.

Congratulations to the ERA project team: Philip Evans, Shelley Ludman and Eunice Lam!

To review the Canadian Architect-published press release, click here.
To review the related Globe and Mail article by Alex Bozikovic, click here.
To review the Blog TO article by Amy Grief, click here.

Feature rendering courtesy of LGA Architects.
Photos courtesy of ERA Architects.

New Visions for Social Housing in Canadian Architect Magazine

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In the November issue of Canadian Architect author Jay Pitter investigates how spatial issues contribute to community challenges such as isolation, despair and violence in urban social housing communities.

Using the community where she grew up in Toronto as a case study, Pitter explores the design deficiencies of the Corbusian “Towers in the Park” style favoured by Robert Moses in the 1930s. In this piece she reaches out to a group of design leaders from Toronto and Vancouver to discuss how to develop an approach that integrates design, policy and social development by cultivating trust, engagement and collaboration with communities to build social housing for a new generation.

The group consisted of:
Michael Gellar: Vancouver based Architect, Planner and Real Estate Consultant
Gregory Henriquez, FRAIC: Managing Partner of Henriquez Partners Architects
Michael McClelland, FRAIC: Founding Principal of ERA Architects
Graeme Stewart, MRAIC: Principal at ERA Architects
Sheila Penny: Toronto based Architect and VP of Facilities at Toronto Community Housing

Out of this discussion emerged thoughtful ways of building more complete social housing communities by considering the lived reality of residents made up by the systems and structures that shape their daily experiences. The group emphasized the importance of developing trust through a more collaborative process and providing the tools to allow residents to shape their own neighbourhoods and respond to community needs.

Click here to view the article.

Mission Point Resort Wins Prestigious Award

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Mission Point Resort been recognized by Condé Nast Traveler’s Reader’s Choice Survey as the best resort in Michigan and one of the top ten resorts in the US Midwest.

ERA was brought on as prime design consultants in 2014, when new ownership began an ambitious scope of improvements to upgrade guest experience and comfort requirements. Working alongside local architects of record The Architect Forum, ERA has overseen renovations to the spa, salon, athletic centre and public retail space. Architectural upgrades are ongoing.

Mackinac Island has long held historic significance as a site of peace-making and commerce for the Ottawa, Chippewa, Huron, Menonminee and Potawomi peoples. Colonized by French Jesuit Missionaries in the 1670s, the island’s strategic location led it to become the centre of the Great Lakes fur trade. Later captured by the British, Mackinac and its fort became a focal point of the war of 1812. It was taken by the US in 1814.

Today Mackinac Island is a national historic landmark and a state park. The island is rich in Victorian architecture having become a popular summer resort throughout the 19th & 20th centuries. One of the only communities in the United States to still forbid the use of automobiles, the island’s preferred mode of transport is horse-drawn buggy.

Located on 18 acres of the Island’s southern lakefront, Mission Point Resort’s original buildings date back to the 1820s, with the majority of the resort being built in the 1950s & 1960s. Collectively they reference a wide array of architectural styles including classical, colonial revival, Adirondack and Michigan Modern.

For more information click here.

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Heritage Toronto Awards Announced

Photo Credit: Marcus Mitanis

Photo Credit: Marcus Mitanis

After much awaited anticipation, Heritage Toronto held its awards ceremony on Tuesday, October 13th, 2015. The event was held at the Koerner Hall in Toronto and was hosted by the host of CBC Radio’s Fresh Air, Mary Ito. This year’s Kilbourn Lecturer was Rahul K. Bhardwaj, President and CEO of the Toronto Foundation. The awards ceremony was preceded by a special Mayor’s Reception, where Mayor John Tory spoke about the importance of heritage conservation in architecture. Continue reading…

Toronto’s City Hall: An evolving icon

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Monocle recently profiled Toronto’s City Hall, designed by Finnish architect Viljo Revell, positioning it as the city’s most distinctive piece of architectural design. ERA’s Graeme Stewart is featured in the discussion of how the building began, and how it has evolved as a central moment in the urban and civic experience of Toronto.

Continue reading…

The Star’s Big Ideas: GTA’s future in high-rise suburbs

Throughout the first part of 2014, the Toronto Star is running a series called “Big Ideas“,  asking Torontonians to think big about the future of the region. What type of Toronto do we want to create in the years to come?

For our contribution to this series, we discuss Tower Renewal as the key to realizing the region’s potential. The piece can be found at Here at thestar.com, or below: Continue reading…

Gemini House in the Globe

In a recent article in the Globe & Mail, Dave LeBlanc explains how Gemini House provides a new, sustainable model for heritage homes.

The Gemini NTED approach, developed by U of T’s Kim Pressnail and Ryerson’s Russell Richman, is a new way to engineer low-energy housing. The idea is to put a box within a box, separating the home into a thermally isolated “core” and “periphery.” Continue reading…