ERA Architects

Tuckpointing: a note on detail

This month we are posting on a few masonry-related topics in honour of an upcoming visit by our friend Gerard Lynch, who is leading heritage masonry workshops at Evergreen Brickworks, from October 23 to 31. Today’s post is on an ingenious but little-known art called tuckpointing. The term tuckpointing is often used today as a synonym for repointing, the replacement of old mortar in brickwork. But historically, this term in fact refers to a less common subtlety of the mason’s practice. Continue reading…

Heritage masonry courses with Gerard Lynch

Oct. 23 to 31 – various one- and two-day courses.

Masons, heritage professionals, architects, historians, and all interested parties are invited to join us for a series of very special courses in brickwork. Learn from scholar and master mason Gerard Lynch about traditional limes and mortars, traditional binders, historical forms of pointing and jointing, causes of failure in brickwork, and all manner of rich detail in the mason’s art. Continue reading…

Amendments to Heritage Policies in Toronto’s Official Plan

The City of Toronto has just brought forward draft Official Plan Amendment No. 199 regarding Public Realm and Heritage policies. In May of this year, a staff report recommending the adoption of revised heritage policies was brought forward, and a public open house was scheduled. Prior to the public open house on September 10th, ERA submitted comments to the City outlining our concerns. We are pleased to report that some of our comments have been incorporated into the newly drafted OPA No. 199, but find that some areas could benefit from further revision. Continue reading…

Stone Engravings at Soldiers’ Tower

One of the projects we have been involved with for several years is the ongoing masonry conservation of Soldiers’ Tower, a monument built just to the west of University of Toronto’s Hart House. An interesting aspect of the project has been to catalogue and document hundreds of lines of engraved text on several stone faces within and adjacent to the Tower.

The Tower began construction in 1919 and was designed by Sproatt & Rolph Architects. Funded through donations raised by the University’s Alumni Association and benefactor Vincent Massey, the Tower was completed in 1924.  It is a solid stone masonry structure designed in the Late Gothic Revival style and built to honour members of the University of Toronto who lost their lives in World War I. Additional names where later added in the archway after World War II.

While the Tower, which stands 143 feet tall, is architecturally significant in its own right, the carefully cut engravings, which list the names of 1185 fallen members, are arguably the most important element. So when members of the Soldiers’ Tower Alumni Committee told us that the names had never been recorded, we took the opportunity to do so.

What ensued was a process of ladder climbing, photo-documentation, and numerous careful measurements assembled in a graphic catalogue identifying the content, form, location, and dimensions of each line of engraving.

Having been through this process, we now see the monument not only as a record of our collective past, but also as a carefully constructed work of art. Its typesetting and engraving are artfully conceived and finely crafted, while its scale and grandeur convey with appropriate weight the loss of life in war.

A page from the catalogue of documentary photographs.

For information on Soldiers’ Tower and its annual remembrance service, please see University of Toronto’s Soldiers’ Tower webpage. For images and information on ERA’s work with Soldiers’ Tower, please see our portfolio page.

Proposed Heritage Policies in the ‘Toronto Official Plan’ Review

As part of the current review of the Toronto Official Plan, new heritage policies have been drafted and presented to City Council for public discussion.

Over the past months, we here at ERA Architects have thoroughly reviewed the proposed municipal heritage policies. We are concerned that a great opportunity may be lost, for three key reasons:

  • The proposed policies primarily address regulatory and process issues rather than goals and objectives,
  • They don’t significantly advance us beyond the status quo, and
  • They show no sense of strategic implementation. Continue reading…

Brickwork course w/ Gerard Lynch: postponed

Postponed until October, we apologize for the inconvenience…

Masons, heritage professionals, architects, historians, and all interested parties are invited to join us for a series of very special courses in brickwork. Learn from scholar and master mason Gerard Lynch about traditional limes and mortars, traditional binders, historical forms of pointing and jointing, causes of failure in brickwork, and all manner of rich detail in the mason’s art. Continue reading…

East Scarborough Storefront: Wood Inventory Part II

As we have mentioned previously on this blog, ERA Architects is collaborating with ArchiTEXT and Sustainable.TO on the exciting Community.Design.Initiative at East Scarborough Storefront. Over the course of an intensive 19-week mentorship semester we worked with community youth on the design of a kitchen garden and patio, a unique green-roof pavilion, a bee and butterfly garden, and a small orchard. Summer and fall 2012 will see further collaboration with the community as we move toward construction of this dynamic new environment.

Continue reading…

Lime Mortars for Traditionally Constructed Brickwork

ERA, in cooperation with Historic Restoration Inc., hosted one- and two-day workshops for Heritage Professionals and Masons, titled Lime Mortars for Traditionally Constructed Brickwork, lead by Dr. Gerard Lynch. The workshops, held at the Evergreen Brick Works, included both theoretical and practical components, and covered such topics as; binders in historic mortar, historic forms of joining and pointing, re-pointing historic brickwork including colour washing, and tuck pointing.

Dr. Lynch is an internationally acclaimed and highly respected historic brickwork consultant, master bricklayer, educator and author.  He is considered the world’s leading authority of gauge brickwork, and affectionately known by the historic term ‘The Red Mason.”

As quoted in a Toronto Star article covering the workshop, Dr. Lynch explained:

“We were taught to work in two worlds,” says Lynch, 56, whose five-year apprenticeship started at age 17. “We had to work reasonably fast to build modern houses and factories, so we could earn our boss money.

“But we were also taught how to do traditional craft skills. I am proud of doing what I can to pass on those skills. I hope that I will be a pebble in a pond that will radiate out.”

A number of ERAers were able to attend the course, and spoke very highly of the inspiring, practical training.

The Red Mason at the Brickworks

ERA Architects, in cooperation with Historic Restoration Inc., is hosting one and two day workshops for Heritage Professionals and Masons, titled Lime Mortars for Traditionally Constructed Brickwork, lead by Dr. Gerard Lynch.

Dr. Lynch is an internationally acclaimed and highly respected historic brickwork consultant, master bricklayer, educator and author, considered the world’s leading authority of gauge brickwork, and affectionately known by the historic term, ‘The Red Mason.’

1 Day Courses for Heritage Professionals will be taking place on Tuesday August 9 OR Wednesday August 10

2 Day Courses for Masons – Please note that we have added another session for Monday August 15th and Tuesday August 16th.

To download the the information sheet, please click here.

We have extended the registration deadline to this Friday August 5th, 2011.

For more information contact Sonya Tytor at 419 963 4497 x 224.

On mapping

With any exercise in mapping there are a whole series of interesting Borges-like adventures that reveal themselves.  There is the story or stories the map-writer wishes to tell, but to the map-reader there are countless other stories which may appear as unpredictable discoveries beyond the intentional.

As a child, playing the game of ‘connect the dots’ is an early exploration in map reading.   One carefully draws the lines from dot to dot until the little rhinoceros reveals itself, and there is a moment of discovery, recognition and pleasure.   With every map this same moment of discovery lies in wait – and the more complex the map, the greater the pleasure there is in reading it.

In reading any map there are the representational issues between the map and the place on the ground; the real place to which the map corresponds.   The map is a selective recording of some specific data.  The reader must connect the dots between the data, and find the correspondence that tells her more about that place.  Beyond the simplest of storylines the reader’s own experience and knowledge of the place and knowledge of the data can provide a rich, nuanced, synergistic reading.

A map can also be like an architectural drawing – which is a series of visual instructions, or a map for action – in that it can be a delineation of something that does not yet exist.  And in this case, can the reader visualize the impact and understand the potential should this mapped fictional place slip into the real world?

Mapping of places is an act of the imagination, both for the map-maker and the map-reader.  Wellbeing Toronto presents new and different data from what we have seen before and has the potential to reveal patterns of the city that had previously been unreadable.  With this mapping tool the City of Toronto are opening up room for discussion leading to multiple readings, multiple interpretations, and the potential for action.

The image above overlays the 1894 and 2010 built-form maps of Toronto, produced by ERA.

Wellbeing Toronto

The City of Toronto has just launched ‘Wellbeing Toronto‘, which, in their own words, is:

a new web-based measurement and visualization tool that helps evaluate community wellbeing across the city’s 140 neighbourhoods. Using geographic information software, Wellbeing Toronto allows you to select, combine and weight the significance of a number of indicators that monitor neighbourhood wellness. The results appear instantly on easy to read maps, tables and graphs. This free tool supports decision making and seeks to engage citizens and businesses in understanding the challenges and opportunities of creating and maintaining healthy neighbourhoods.

What an incredibly powerful tool. The City should be roundly and loudly celebrated for making this data available, which will allow residents to draw powerful associations and build convincing arguments for targeted change.

New Bloor

Marcus Gee has an article in the Globe today discussing the public realm improvements to the ‘Mink Mile’ along Bloor:

The sidewalks have been widened by four feet to accommodate the bustling street life of Canada’s ritziest retail strip. The tired concrete of the old sidewalks has been replaced by Quebec-quarried granite paving stones of dark “Atlantic grey.” The 134 new London Plane trees are planted in specially designed soil cells to ease them through the stresses of urban life. Stone benches and specially designed new bike rings punctuate the avenue. On a late spring afternoon, shoppers and gawkers stream along the street, passing the gilded storefronts of Hermès, Tiffany and Holt Renfrew. Despite all the bad press, the project is an unmistakable success – proof that some city-building exercises are worth the wait.

A huge congratulations to our neighbours Brown + Storey, who are responsible for the design.  The attention to detail in all elements of the project is remarkable – we love the weathering steel tree-ring and service covers, all aligned with the joints in the pavers.

Building a ship in a bottle

The exterior masonry restoration work at MLG is progressing well, and will be complete by the end of the summer. Work has begun on the restoration of the historic Carlton marquee, which will be a wonderful public face to this adaptive reuse project.

Inside, the floor slabs are almost all poured, and the internal spaces are really starting to shape up… Loblaws is set to open late this year, and the Ryerson spaces on the new floor levels above will open early spring 2012.

Auchmar Estate

Since 2006, ERA has been engaged in a series of conservation and repair projects at Auchmar Estate in Hamilton, Ontario.  Most recently we have been examining and recording the finishes on both the exterior of the house and on the interior walls of the main front hall.

Working with specialist paint analysts, we have identified two main decorative schemes on the interior plaster.  The oldest scheme is a faux ashlar stone finish dated to the building’s origin in the 1850s.  The second scheme is a golden-coloured marbling application probably dating from the 1880s.  Uncovering these schemes gives us a better understanding of the historic timeline of the house and gives insight into the lives and values of the people who once lived there.

Continue reading…

Canada Hair Cloth

ERA is currently working with DSAI to convert the former Canada Hair Cloth factory in St. Catharines, ON, into Brock University’s new school for the performing arts.  We’ve been down to site a few times to survey the conditions of the existing buildings – the oldest of which dates to 1888 – in order to cost and direct the restoration and adaptive reuse work.

Edwin surveying the existing conditions of the exterior masonry.

Exploring, analysing, and understanding old buildings such as these – and then developing strategies to help them adapt to the needs of contemporary society in the interest of the public good and in the service of the larger rejuvenation of the surrounding community is what really gets us excited to be involved in this profession.  A few images the buildings follow after the jump.

Continue reading…

Brick work

Andrew and Philip took a group of recent ERAers out for a quick tutorial on assessing the existing conditions of a masonry building, and on how to better understand Toronto’s nineteenth-century architecture.  They discussed the various styles of brick treatment of the period, and the differences between the 1860’s style and 1880’s style.  They also demonstrated typical kinds of deterioration to clay bricks, different mortar mixes of the era, what sandblasted brick looks like, how to recognize step cracks, the different stages of spalling, etc. A good primer for new employees, and a great way to pass along years of experience in a hands-on setting.

The animals of the Coliseum

As one small component of the interior restoration of the East Annex vestibule in the Coliseum Complex at Exhibition Place, ERA was asked to remove the wooden wall assembly and install new stair handrails. We considered a number of options and found that the most economical and appropriate for the space was a steel handrail with a solid metal panel to meet the code requirements.

An initial concern was that the design of the railing would have no relation to other elements in the building.  Looking for references and precendents, the design team drew inspiration from the animal-head reliefs on the sculpture wall outside the Heritage Court.  Since 1922, the buildings have been used for the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, and were primarily designed to hold animals.  The historic reliefs were translated into vectors, and the digitally-interpreted silhouettes were laser-cut into the railing panels – paying tribute to the building’s programming and history.  Note that the panels will be site-painted green to match the other historic steel elements, including the refurbished original steel industrial windows.

Home on the range

Scott recently completed a kitchen renovation for a private home in Cabbagetown. Centred around a six burner Wolf range, the space was just wide enough to accommodate a galley format with two runs of extra deep counters, lit by new double hung Kolbe and Kolbe windows.

More photos after the jump..

Continue reading…

Allstream Centre _ restoration photographs


A few very quick photographs from the restoration of the former Automotive Building north lobby. This part of the project included the removal of a number of unsympathetic modern additions, and a significant regrading of the original floor slope to accommodate contemporary universal accessibility requirements.  Extensive metal work and finishes were also replicated or restored (including the amazing pendant light fixtures seen in the bottom-most photograph), and new windows installed replicating the original design and colour.

More images after the jump.

Continue reading…

The Colours of the Allandale Train Station

As part of the strategy to restore the Allandale Train Station, ERA is working to identify the exterior paint scheme, as it would have appeared in 1905.  At the office social hour last Friday, Alana described how preliminary research uncovered clues to the original building colouration from a variety of sources including; archival photographs, newspaper clippings and postcards.

Additionally, ERA consulted with a professional paint analyst.  She analyzed paint samples removed from various locations on the buildings to accurately determine the original 1905 colours.

The combination of archival resources and physical samples has informed a colour scheme that uses four main colours – consistent with the standard corporate colours of the Grand Trunk Railroad.

The three buildings in the station complex were not all built at the same time.  The brick office building to the far right in the illustration above pre-dates the restaurant (middle) and passenger depot (left).  The original brick building was also decorated with Chinese screenings around windows, doors and along the fascia under the roofline.  These stencils may be restored at a later date.

Marble Madness

[Unfortunately, not this kind of Marble Madness]

A number of ERAers got together to do a group order of reclaimed Carrara marble from First Canadian Place.  All 45,000 2′ x 4′ marble panels are currently being removed from the tower, and will soon be replaced by larger glass panels.  A slick animation of the process is available here.  The reclaimed marble is available for public purchase, with a minimum order of 30 pieces.

We look forward to seeing what everyone does with their new/old marble; expect coffee tables and counter-tops galore.  Hopefully Toronto is soon awash in re-used Carrara marble.  A few words of warning for anyone else looking to get in on the fun: the batch delivery process was convoluted and involved many delays, the individual slabs were a real challenge to move once delivered (each weighing +200lbs, depending upon varying thicknesses), and the chipped, soiled, and broken condition of many of the slabs limit their re-use potential – though with a bit of effort it’s a unique opportunity to get to work with high-grade locally-sourced recycled material at an extreme bargain price.

MLG in Canadian Architect

Conceptual collage of overlapping 1930s and contemporary MLG streetscapes at the corner of Church and Carlton (including Humphrey Bogart biking by, just for good measure). William MacIvor, ERA Architects.

The on-going adaptive reuse of Maple Leaf Gardens is featured in the June edition of Canadian Architect.

ERA Architects has signed on to deal with the restoration of the façade and the canopy. … [A]bout one-fifth of the bricks will be repointed, [and] much of the material can be salvaged from the new openings for loading bays and air intake vents. The upper level fenestration will be refitted with double-glazed vintage steel industrial windows. ERA is also developing a restoration plan for the oft-renovated entrance canopy that brings its appearance (including fonts) back to the Gardens’ heyday from the 1940s to the 1960s.


The current state of internal excavation, and preliminary shoring & foundation work. ERA Architects.