2434 subscribers


2. Developers learning heritage buildings can be money-makers: Hume
3. CRB: Old London school not worthy of designation
4. 50 years on, TD Centre still stands out:
5. Curbed: The rise of the McModern

submit a link


Matters Ripp forwarded by Richard Unterman

NEW: 7 Principles for heritage based urban development - Final publication of COMUS-Project available!

On-going efforts towards sustainable development require sound and innovative perspectives on human rights and democratic governance, beyond solely economic concerns. With the consideration of heritage as a social, economic and political resource, it is essential to develop a new way of looking at heritage, by setting the ground to reframe relations between all involved stakeholders. This has been done in the COMUS-Project.

Communities at the heart of heritage governance

In the context of eastern Europe, there are many small and medium-sized heritage towns with historic urban areas and valuable cultural heritage assets facing various challenges. Some of these challenges include economic downturns, emigration of skilled people, as well as ageing populations. Experience with participatory practices and local community engagement for the preservation and reactivation of the cultural heritage to support the cultural, socio-economic urban development is in its early stages. In this context, preserving and reactivating heritage sites – whether they are historic, spiritual or industrial – implies the double challenge of dealing with low investment in capacity and limited skills and resources. Sites that had previously been significant for their heritage value and importance for local or national identities became neglected or even derelict; others suffered due to the legacy of centralised planning systems and limited capacity and resources at the local level to deal with the growing responsibilities of decentralisation.

Download full report





2. Developers learning heritage buildings can be money-makers: Hume
Christopher Hume

Developers learning heritage buildings can be money-makers: Hume

The Great Hall at Queen and Dovercourt was a mess until someone recognized its architectural, cultural, social and economic value.

The restored Great Hall includes design details and materials rarely seen these days, such as Crown mouldings, oak floors and hand-painted walls.

The restored Great Hall includes design details and materials rarely seen these days, such as Crown mouldings, oak floors and hand-painted walls. (Dominique van Olm)

Toronto's past may have a future after all. Despite the city's rush to tear down anything that stands in the way of yet another condo tower, developers are beginning to realize there's money to be made in heritage.

The most recent example is the Great Hall, a stately Victorian pile that has presided over the corner of Queen and Dovercourt since 1889. During its 128-year history, the building has housed a YMCA, the Royal Templars of Temperance, the Polish National Union Alliance as well as a gallery, theatre centre and an art school. It has also hosted weddings, diverse cultural events and countless indie rock concerts.

But for decades the Great Hall was a mess. Inside and out it was shabby and rundown, almost derelict. Visitors had to look hard to see beyond the dirt, dust and peeling paint. Though Torontonians have loved the building forever and feel a personal connection to it, until now no one was willing to invest the money needed to restore it and bring it up to modern standards.

Enter Steve Metlitski, a Belarusian immigrant who saw the Great Hall and immediately recognized its architectural, cultural, social and economic value. His firm, Triangle Development, bought the building and spent more than $4 million it to refurbish the west end landmark. His goal, he freely admits, was not just to make a profit, but a profit with honour. In its newest incarnation, it is a rental venue available for everything from classical music and rock concerts to corporate events and parties.

The building wasn't up to code but it had kept its original charm, Metlitski says. It has a lot of personality and character. It's living history; people can feel it when they come. The best use of a real estate asset like the Great Hall is to keep it as is. It's something you couldn't build today.

No doubt about that. Wandering through the urban homogeneity of a city created by bottom-line builders and hapless bureaucrats, it isn't hard to understand what Metlitski saw in the hall. Though the default response in Toronto is to demolish first and beg forgiveness after, as he points out, Sometimes it's about more than money.

Indeed, the search for the sort of experience offered by the Great Hall has grown intense. According to a U.S. study commissioned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Edge Research and the American Express Foundation, millennials are the reason. The report claims that fully 80 per cent of millennials would rather spend money at businesses supporting efforts to preserve and protect buildings, architecture and neighbourhoods over those that dont. It also found that twice as many millennials (52 per cent) choose to shop and eat in historic downtowns . . . and places with historic appeal . . . over malls and planned commercial districts or recently constructed places.

The report reflects what weve seen in cities from Los Angeles to Buffalo to Houston, Trust president and CEO Stephanie Meeks said in a news release, millennials prefer to live, work and play in neighborhoods with historic buildings. The revitalization of many urban communities is being driven in large part by the influx of young people seeking authentic experiences and places with character that are found in historic neighborhoods.


3. CRB: Old London school not worthy of designation
Dan Schneider

CRB finds old school doesn't pass the test


4. 50 years on, TD Centre still stands out:
Shawn Micallef

50 years on, TD Centre still stands out:

Renovation project is a lesson in the importance of maintenance, being true to good design, and reinvesting in the buildings weve already built, Shawn Micallef writes.

Fifty years ago when the Toronto-Dominion Centres first black slab tower appeared on the citys skyline it preceded Stanley Kubricks 2001: A Space Odyssey by a year. In the Kubrick film, an impenetrable black rectangular monolith lands on prehistoric Earth from some alien civilization, causing momentous things to happen.

Archival pictures of the TD Centre rising above Toronto in the mid-60s has the same kind of resonance: a low-scaled, provincial city, with an assortment of buildings in various classic and colonial styles surround an austere black tower that seems like it landed from another planet.

The space ship that is New City Hall had already opened a few blocks north, having caused a stir here when completed in 1965. But the TD Centre was much taller and dominated a skyline that was once the dominion of the Royal York Hotel, Commerce Court and various church steeples.

That it was one of the last projects by German-American architect Mies van der Rohe, a continuation of the International Style themes he made famous with his 1958 Seagram Building in New York and others that followed, added to its gravitas.

Mies original plan was for two towers and the banking pavilion at the corner of Bay and King Sts., but in the decades after his 1969 death, three more towers were added. Purists say the towers diluted his rather pure vision, but most people passing by or through the complex wouldnt notice unless they looked closely, save for the final Ernst & Young tower that was built slightly differently and over the old Toronto Stock Exchange.

Though not an official centennial project, TD Centre shares a 50th birthday with quite a few other modern Canadian buildings from that year with their forward thinking and stark newness that still seems new today. However, like many 50-year-old humans, age is catching up, and it needs some rehab so Cadillac Fairview, its owner, is in the midst of a multi-year, $250 million rehabilitation of all six buildings and exterior plazas.
The TD Centre, which this year marks its 50th birthday, is set to undergo a $250 million renovation.
The TD Centre, which this year marks its 50th birthday, is set to undergo a $250 million renovation. (Philip Castleton Photo)

It takes six years to repaint the tower, says Dora Yeoh, senior manager of tenant projects for Cadillac Fairview, glancing up at the workers dangling on rigs suspended on the side of the original and tallest tower. Hopefully this will last 25 years.

An architect, Yeoh has been with Cadillac Fairview for six years and before that was with B+H Architects, the firm that was contracted to work on the TD Centre and, when they were known as Bregman & Hamann, were one of the Toronto firms Mies collaborated with on the original plan and who also designed the subsequent towers on the site.

Mies famously said God is in the details, and Yeoh is the guardian and caretaker of his Toronto details.

The challenge of this complex is its steeped in architectural history, she says. Sometimes we have to remind people of that. On a recent tour of the buildings I asked her if, after all these years caring for these buildings, if she has Mies dreams. Yes, she chuckled.
The first tower of the Toronto-Dominion Centre, which was completed in 1967, would eventually be surrounded by a sea of skyscrapers.
The first tower of the Toronto-Dominion Centre, which was completed in 1967, would eventually be surrounded by a sea of skyscrapers.

The buildings are austere monoliths only from a distance, and walking around the complex Yeoh referred to the many details that she and her team worked on, such as the tower directories. The directory and lobby in the original tower remain as they were in 1967, with each occupant listed on a backlit panel, a detail that is part of the buildings heritage designation. Yeoh pointed out that if one tenant takes up multiple floors, it leaves an awful lot of blank space on the old style directory. The other lobbies have had touch screens fitted into the original directory frames, and LED lights have been added in another building lobby. Its about tweaking the original design while respecting it, says Yeoh.

Other tweaks include a lush green roof over the banking pavilion, white rather than black-grey rooftops to keep them cooler, and reglazed windows, all things that have contributed to the Centres LEED Platinum certification, the highest environmental efficiency ranking possible.

The centre remains a unique aesthetic experience to walk through today, distinct from the heterogeneous jumble of much of downtown. The way the towers are set in urban space with all this open and green space is outstanding, says Yeoh. It set a precedent that very few developers have been able to match.

Below those vast plazas is one of the oldest parts of the PATH system too. Its interconnected and near-identical labyrinthine corridors can confuse even long-time Torontonians and downtown dwellers with repeating chain stores and food courts, but you could always tell when you were in the TD Centre. It was calming, clean and uniform, distinct from the visual clutter and noise in much of the rest of the PATH.
Members of Local 721 of the Iron Workers celebrate topping off the first TD Centre tower in April 1966.
Members of Local 721 of the Iron Workers celebrate topping off the first TD Centre tower in April 1966. (EDDY ROWORTH)

However, that rigorous attention to detail changed a decade ago when the uniform white-on-black typeface Mies designed himself for the underground shops was largely scrapped, and each store allowed to install their own individual vernacular signage. Perhaps only those who care about these things will notice the Miesian bits that are gone and those that are still there, but it remains a shame: Toronto had a mall designed by Mies van der Rohe. Now it has more of the same.

The Mies legacy is much better preserved above ground at the TD Centre and seems quite safe in the hands of Yeoh and her team. The current renovation is a lesson in the importance of maintenance, being true to good design and reinvesting in the buildings weve already built. As so many mid-century towers and structures reach a time in their lives when they need some renewal, the attention to detail and mostly gentle tweaks the TD Centre receives should be, as it was in 1967, trendsetting.

A visual and video display commemorating the 50th Anniversary of TD Centre runs until the end of August in the lobby of 66 Wellington St. W.


5. Curbed: The rise of the McModern
Kate Wagner

The creator of McMansion Hell on a new strain of modern houses for the masses

From busy rooflines to plastic shutters, mismatched windows to four-car garages, the McMansion has dominated the American suburban residential landscape for almost 40 years without a notable change in aesthetics. Many people know a McMansion when they see one. The typical McMansion follows a formula: Its large, cheaply constructed, and architecturally sloppy.

Until around 2007, McMansions mostly borrowed the forms of traditional architecture, producing vinyl Georgian estates and foam Mediterranean villas.

But in the last 10 years, this has begun to change: McMansions are now being constructed in architectural styles from the 20th century, specifically modernism. We are witnessing the birth and the proliferation of modernist McMansions: McModerns.

Though McModerns are commonly found in the places where modernism itself thrivesindoor-outdoor climates like the West Coast and the Southwest, and near liberal cities on the East Coastthey are also beginning to pop up in burgeoning tech hotbeds south of the Mason-Dixon, such as central North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia. McModern houses are following the trail left behind by NPR, Chipotle, and MacBook Pros: Theyve become popular with younger, tech-savvier, and more highly educated individuals.

What makes the McModern a fascinating case study in residential architectural history is its two separate lineages: its foundation as a McMansion, and its origins within the greater historical context of popular modernismthat is, modernism for everyday families.

McMansions have always taken a formal layout and dressed it up in a series of architectural costumes: Mediterranean, Shingle, colonial, Tudor, chateauesque, and now modern. All McMansions follow roughly the same structural form.

The McMansion has three contrastingand disproportionateparts: a central core with multi-story entryway, a side wing, and a garage wing. There are many variations to this: Sometimes the central wing has its own mass, other times its embedded with other masses. The side wing can be distinguished by different cladding or shape, or a focal point, such as a picture, corner, or bay window. Sometimes the side wing is omitted. The garage wing can be perpendicular to the main house as in the example above, or adjacent, with the doors being side-facing or front-facing. None of these forms are proportioned to one another, or scaled to the human form.

In the grand taxonomy of residential architecture, the McModern is a genus within the McMansion family. This is not to say that the modern part isnt as important as the Mc, because the McModern as we know it derives from a source not often touched upon: the everyday modern houses not designed by famous architects, but by builders, or from pattern books.

The earliest examples of non-canonical, lowercase-m modern architecture were perhaps the Prairie Style kit houses inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright and designed and built by Sears Roebuck & Co., briefly popular between 1915 and 1920. From 1920 through the 1950s, instances of non-architect-designed modernist houses were few and far between. While a few pattern books offered Art Deco or Streamline Moderne-style house plans in the 1930s and 1940s, these were not as popular as the concurrent minimal traditional style, favored by many for its small size during difficult economic times.
McModern Checklist

How to identify a McModern, as per McMansion Hell:

Single-family detached home
Constructed from inexpensive materials, such as vinyl, stucco board, and veneers, rather than traditional materials such as stucco or reinforced concrete
Contrasting exterior cladding materials and colors
Attached garage and/or two-story foyer
Sometimes features non-modern details like Tuscan columns or windows with stylized muntins
Massing and rooflines may be over-elaborate, combining several roof forms, e.g. terrace, shed, butterfly, or M-shaped
May include decorative forms like extruded walls or cantilevers clad in differing materials
Windows are erratically sized and placed in artistic configurations without consideration for overall composition
Rarely designed by AIA-licensed architectsmore often by building companies or house plan websites

The 1950s saw the dawn of midcentury modernism, popular with the general public for its forward-thinking and whimsical design. The houses built in the early 1950s by West Coast architects, especially those who worked with developer Joseph Eichler, were imitated throughout the 1950s and 1960s as catalog homes, a kit-of-parts situation that soon faded into obscurity, but also in pattern books published by architectural plan companies like the National Plan Service and Garlinghouse, as well as major home economics publications (Better Homes and Gardens, House Beautiful) and building materials companies (e.g. 84 Lumber).

Houses from this period often took the format of either a split-level house, a one-story ranch, or a cottage or vacation home; the most popular version was the A-frame.

The next round of influence on pop modern was the late 1960s work of architect Charles Moore.

Moores Sea Ranch condominium transfixed California. Its shack-like forms and materials (it was clad in redwood panels) were radically different from the norms of late modernism, which favored the heavy concrete facades of architects like Paul Rudolph. Moores Condominium I pays homage to rural coastal vernacular architecture: sheds, barns, and cabins. To integrate folk forms into a modernist dwelling was anathema at a time when every building was expected to be an individual monolithic architectural statement, but people responded to Moores use of wood siding and shed roofs. Charles Jencks said wryly in his book Architecture Today that, in the years that followed its construction, people started building [little] Sea Ranches all over the country. He was not wrong.

In the 1970s, the Shed-style house, which featured shed roof forms similar to the Sea Ranch, and the cedar contemporary, which extended the wood-clad, shingled-roof aesthetic to layouts like one-story ranches and houses with non-shed rooflines, replaced the midcentury modernism of the previous decades. (The A-frame would endure, perhaps because of its similar geometric form.) Part of the reason these houses became so successful was that they were easily adapted to the burgeoning environmental movement. The sloping roofs were favorable for attaching solar panels. The flexible interior spaces made for more economic heating and cooling, though several cedar contemporaries feature large floor-to-ceiling picture windows.

The cedar contemporary marked a new turn in the story of the pop modern: stagnation. Modernism as an architectural tradition came to an ideological end with the arrival of postmodernism in the 1970s. Architects as a whole turned away from modernist traditions, and so their influence on modernist residential architecture dwindled.

Builders and contractors were all too happy to fill the gap, and thus, the McMansion was born.

Even in McModern-heavy states like Washington and Texas, homes built in 2004 and 2005 werent McMansions in the middle of some sort of Darwinian evolution into McModerns. They were simply McMansions. Rarely, however, does a style evolve without some transitionary period.

Starting around 2007, as the housing market began to shrink, the Craftsman style from the early 20th century became popular again for newly constructed homes. In the immediate wake of the recession, as people become less interested in building bloated houses, the average new home size decreased for the first time since 1980. The sunken market furthered the spread of small Craftsman homes because the style was old enough to become new and exciting again and the aesthetic was well-suited to smaller home sizes; it was also facilitated by new exterior materials such as fiber cement board or shingles, which had a wood-like appearance that fit the Craftsman style better than their predecessor, vinyl siding.

McMansions easily adopted motifs from the Craftsman style, such as the tapered piers and Prairie-inspired window muntins. It then proceeded to mash these elements with elements from the earlier Shingle and Stick styles in a West Coast, premodern soup. Like an insidious, fast-forwarded rehash of the early 20th century, the McCraftsman evolved into the McPrairie, which evolved into the McModern.

Like modern art, many seem to think they can design a modern houseits just a box made up of smaller box-like shapes, right? To look at the simplicity of Philip Johnsons Glass House and say, I could design that isthough flawedrelatively understandable: To the casual observer, it is a box made of windows sandwiched between a roof and a floor. Just as Jackson Pollocks paintings are merely paint splatters, modern houses are merely boxes.

But a prospective house should be backed by some knowledge of its aesthetic language.

The McModerns boxy forms and smooth visuals have their roots in the European International Style, which was disseminated throughout America by Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe and their students. Modernism informed the design of Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wrights most famous work, and was transmitted to the West Coast by Wright, Richard Neutra, Ray and Charles Eames, and Rudolph Schindler. It became the language of corporate America at the hands of Eero Saarinen and Philip Johnson, evolved into dramatic monumentality through the works of Louis Kahn and Paul Rudolph, and was finally reinterpreted within a historical framework by Charles Moore and Robert Venturi, who paved the way for postmodernism and its subsequent movements.

Above all, modern houses have almost entirely been designed, associated with, or manipulated in some fashion by architects.

Proactive developers working in the postwar automobile suburbs, like Joseph Eichler, who collaborated with firms including Jones & Emmons and Anshen & Allen, continued the idea that a fine modernist house required some sort of involvement with an architect. This idea eroded partially in the 1970s, after the Shed and cedar contemporary styles became established, as younger architects shifted toward postmodernism.