ROM: A Museum Addition with Much To Say

Institutions grow out of their historic buildings as their functions and purposes change and time progresses. They will need new space. Architects design the latest trends, looking to make a mark on the world. Preservationists seek to find common ground and conversation between historic buildings and architects. Yet, architecture – old and new – remains subjective. The Royal Ontario Museum (“ROM”) in Toronto, Canada is a prime case study for this discussion.

Let’s start here:

The Royal Ontario Museum  (

The Royal Ontario Museum (“ROM”) in Toronto, Canada.

What is that?, you might ask. That is the 1912 Royal Ontario Museum building with the 2007 “Crystal” addition designed by architect Daniel Libeskind. Intriguing, yes? Take a look at more photos before we talk (and click here for the project photos from Studio Libeskind).

The view across the street.

The view across the street.


The glass facades provides interesting angles and reflections of the adjacent historic buildings.

The glass facades provides interesting angles and reflections of the adjacent buildings.


View down the street towards the entrance to the museum (via the Crystal).

View down the street towards the entrance to the museum (via the Crystal).


My first question: is that addition over the building or through the building?

My first question: is that addition over the building or through the building?


Checking out the connection on the facade.

Checking out the connection on the facade.


The Crystal peeks over the side of the building, too.

The Crystal peeks over the side of the building, too.

Still with me? It’s a crazy building, but you can’t ignore it or turn away, right? Unable to answer the question of how does the addition connect to the original building from the outside, I ventured inside. Here’s what I found:

The atrium, of sorts.

The atrium, of sorts.


I walked around to see the wall junctions. The Crystal addition creates odd shaped spaces.

I walked around to see the wall junctions. The Crystal addition creates odd shaped spaces.


Another connection view.

Another connection view.


In many places, the addition seems to be a facade for the original.

In many places, the addition seems to be a facade for the original.

The entire floor of the new building sloped towards the front door; a little disorienting for those of us accustomed to walking on generally level surfaces. After chatting with one of the employees, I learned that the building was quite controversial and does not have plumbing (it remains in the original building). Interesting. This employee indicated that the addition had a lot of political pressure behind it.

Regardless of public opinion, I want discuss, with you, the addition in terms of historic preservation (or heritage conservation as the Canadians say). Is this style of architecture appropriate for the historic 1912 museum? Is it intriguing? Atrocious? Offensive? Welcoming?

The architect’s portfolio describes the addition as this:

The entire ground level is unified into a seamless space with clarity of circulation and transparency.  The Crystal transforms the ROM’s fortress-like character, turning it into an inspired atmosphere dedicated to the resurgence of the Museum as the dynamic centre of Toronto.

The design succeeds in inviting glimpses up, down, into galleries and even from the street. The large entrance atrium, the Gloria Hyacinth Chen Court, separates the old historic building from the new, providing a nearly complete view of the restored façades of the historic buildings.   The Chen Court also serves as a venue space for all kinds of public events.

Where to start? Well, it’s interesting. It does offer glimpses of the other buildings. One street facade is restored. Still, is this an appropriate treatment of this historic building? Let’s consider what the National Parks Service and Parks Canada would say.

In the United States, we follow the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation when dealing with historically significant buildings and new additions or alterations, most notably the following two:

  • (#3) Each property will be recognized as a physical record of its time, place, and use. Changes that create a false sense of historical development, such as adding conjectural features or elements from other historic properties, will not be undertaken.
  • (#9) New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction will not destroy historic materials, features, and spatial relationships that characterize the property. The new work will be differentiated from the old and will be compatible with the historic materials, features, size, scale and proportion, and massing to protect the integrity of the property and its environment.

In Canada, the regulations are not identical, though Parks Canada has The Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada. Similar to the US Standards, Parks Canada offers this about rehabilitation:

  • (#2) Conserve the heritage value and character-defining elements when creating any new additions to an historic place or any related new construction. Make the new work physically and visually compatible with, subordinate to and distinguishable from the historic place.
  • (#3) Create any new additions or related new construction so that the essential form and integrity of a historic place will not be impaired if the new work is removed in the future.

Basically, both the US & Canada’s guidelines say that new addition should be recognizable as new and simultaneously compatible with the old and the environment. And, should the addition be removed it should not impact the historic building (presumably the historic – the more prominent building – would be the one remaining). Due to these standards and guidelines, additions are often subservient to their predecessors. Setback from the original, additions employ similar architectural features without being renditions. Sometimes they are successful. Sometimes they are boring, because – at least if they’re boring – the additions do not overpower the original. From one streetscape, the Crystal overpowers the original, wouldn’t you say?

If we’re talking personal opinion: I like it for its intriguing angles and new approach to additions (I’m tired of boring additions that look like subdued versions of the old, unless the environment calls for such a thing). Yet, after looking through the architect’s portfolio and searching for other modern buildings, this one is not as unique as I would have expected.

But, on a professional review: the addition does not comply with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. It is not visually compatible and removal would damage the building. However, is it not visually compatible because we’re not trained to read buildings with striking modern additions? Should we redefine how we look at buildings and additions? After all, there are countless style-less additions that ruin buildings. Maybe this one doesn’t ruin it so much as highlight a restored facade and engage conversation and community.

What do you think? Does it comply with the Standards? If yes, how? If no, should we look at the Standards in a new way? Or do you despise such modern architecture?

I’d love to have a discussion and hear your thoughts, so please comment below if you’d like to join.

Alleys of Old Quebec City

Earlier this week, we rambled down streets of Old Quebec City and noted the cleanliness of each, as well as the architectural beauty. Those same qualities carry into the alleys of Quebec City. Neat as a pin, filled with art or interesting fire escapes, these are not typical alleys squeezed between blocks or buildings. Take a look:

A stone walkway, red staircase, and a light: quite welcoming for an alley.

A stone walkway, red staircase, and a light: quite welcoming for an alley.

Sort of an alley, sort of a street. Closed doors, lots of awnings – it was hard to tell what purpose this served, when looking at it at night.

That same alley in the day. An artists' alley, which explains all of the awnings.

That same alley in the day. An artists’ alley, which explains all of the awnings.

An alley filled with sculpture and a shiny metal fire escape.

Looking up in that same alley. The sculpture connects to the building and continues up. Look up!

I wouldn’t hang out in alleys (by choice or on a regular basis), but these Old Quebec City alleys filled with art are inviting people into them. What do you think?

Streets of Old Quebec City

Quebec City (Ville de Quebec, in French) is the capital of the Canadian province of Quebec and one of the oldest European settlements in North America. Chock full of history, to say the least, and the architecture is spectacular. For preservationists (or heritage conservationists, as Canadians say), architectural historians and those who simply like to look at or photograph pretty buildings, every single building around every corner proved picture-worthy.

Narrow streets, stone buildings, casement windows… it was almost too much to handle. And what continued to be striking: just how neat and tidy and clean every street was. Seriously, one of the cleanest and tidiest cities I’ve seen. Rather than ramble on and on, I’ll let you ramble through these images of the streets of Old Quebec City.

View from dinner.

View from dinner.

So lovely, even without any trees.

So lovely, even without any trees.

Stone and colors!

Stone and colors!

Looking down the street to one of the many University of LaVal buildings.

Looking down the street to one of the many University of LaVal buildings.

Street after street.

Street after street.

Impeccable.

Impeccable.

Down another street.

Down another street.

See? You could take photos for days.  Left to my own devices, I’d still be there doing just that. And that’s only part of Quebec City. Stay tuned. Have you been?

Abandoned Quebec: Henrysburg Church

For years on my travels from Burlington to Montreal, I’ve caught glimpses of a small brick church beside the highway giving me an “abandoned” vibe. Even from the highway at 60mph, I could see that this church didn’t have any windows.

Finally, I was able to take a detour to visit this church. Getting off the exit at Henrysburg, Quebec, I was stunned. At first, there didn’t appear to be a way to get to the church, as it appeared to be encircled by the highways and ramps, without an access road. Fortunately, that was not the case. A small road off the access ramp led to the church.

A view from the side of Autoroute 15.

A view from the side of Autoroute 15.

The stone is the edge of the church property. See Autoroute 15 and the overpass. The church is practically in traffic.

The stone is the edge of the church property. See Autoroute 15 and the overpass. The church is practically in traffic.

See that island of trees? The church sits in there.

See that island of trees? The church sits in there.

Just sitting there in the middle of an interchange. (I do not know what Noel Canada means in this location.)

Just sitting there in the middle of an interchange. (I do not know what Noel Canada means in this location.)

The access road leading to the church.

The access road leading to the church (looking back to the highway on/off ramp). 

Despite the proximity to Autoroute 15, this is one of the most peaceful locations that I have visited. The church sits in an oasis of trees. The grass is mowed, probably because there is an active (as recently as 2012) cemetery on site.

Henrysburg Methodist Church, 1861.

Henrysburg Methodist Church, 1861.

Church & cemetery hiding in the trees.

Church & cemetery hiding in the trees. And, no windows on the church. 

The cemetery beside the church.

The cemetery beside the church.

Some headstones date to the mid to late 1800s.

Some headstones date to the mid to late 1800s. That’s the highway in the background. 

Others are much more recent, including up to 2012.

Others are much more recent, including up to 2012.

It's always sad to see a vandalized headstone. I wonder if this person's descendents have any idea.

It’s always sad to see a vandalized headstone. I wonder if this person’s descendents have any idea.

View on the other side.

View on the other side.

Front of the church. Note the tower is covered in vinyl. Meaning, not all that long ago, someone "cared" to take care of this church.

Front of the church. Note the tower is covered in vinyl. Meaning, not all that long ago, someone “cared” to take care of this church.

I was not expecting to find what I did when I looked in the church windows.

Rubble!

Rubble!

The interior was completely stripped of all materials - walls, floorboards, everything!

The interior was completely stripped of all materials – walls, floorboards, everything!

Upon further investigation, I found a demolition permit. It expired in 2014. Perhaps they started and were stopped?

Upon further investigation, I found a demolition permit. It expired in 2014. Perhaps they started and were stopped?

Montee Henrysburg.

The former address: 138 Montee Henrysburg.

I stood there fascinated while simultaneously feeling like I was attending a building’s funeral, or memorial service and having so many questions. Why is this church stripped of everything? How long has it been in the middle of this interchange? When was the roadway completed? Why was demolition stopped? Is there a community group, or perhaps the descendents of the departed have rallied? So many thoughts and questions. What are yours?

Presumably, the church was active until the overpass was constructed, until Autoroute 15 was widened or completed. The road was completed around the 1960s, though I cannot find a definitive date, nor one for roadway upgrades such as widening. A lot of google searching reveals only that the church was constructed as a Methodist Church in 1861 and active until 1975, but burials have continued until 2012.

And why strip the church? Perhaps to protect it from fire? It’s much harder to burn a brick building than one filled with wood and other flammable objects.

Does anyone care about this church? I cannot think of another example of a building stuck in the middle of an interchange. One on level, the interchanged caused the demise of the building. Yet, it’s also preserving this structure. It doesn’t appear to be a spot where anything else would be built, so why not leave the church there?

You can see the super-tall  highway lights over the ridgeline of this church.

You can see the super-tall highway lights over the ridgeline of this church.

Do you know anything about this church? I’d love to hear more and find out it’s fate, hopefully with good news.

Reclaim the Streets for Summer

We’ve talked about parklets previously, and you’ve probably seen them in one form or another, as they are popping up more and more. (Learn about parklets in this post, and check out Montreal examples here.) Technically, parklets are for the public – literally, mini resting areas/green spaces that borrow the street for people instead of cars and are free to the public. However,  restaurants create their own versions of parklets in the form of outdoor seating in parking spaces – usually on wood decks at curb height. On my last visit to Montreal I noticed another one, seen below.

See the parklet across the street?

And diagonally across from the restaurant seating, I found an actual parklet. This one was quite simple: benches and planters. This set up gives people a spot to sit and gaze at the architecture, allows for more pedestrian use of the sidewalk, cafe space, and creates a more park like setting on this historic street. What do you think?

A parklet in Old Montreal.

Parklets and outdoor seating areas are reclaiming* the streets for pedestrians, which make summer even more fun (especially for those of us with long, cold winters). Choosing to cater to people rather than automobiles is an important aspect of placemaking, and it can make a big difference a city’s vitality. Seen any lately? If you have, I’d love to see them. Use #presinpink on social media (Twitter, Instagram) to share!

*Reclaiming not to be confused with road construction reclamation. Just a transportation joke for you. haha. ;)

Brookfield Floating Bridge

Brookfield, Vermont is the sort of town that refuses to have its roads paved. In fact, the National Register of Historic Places nomination specifically mentions the dirt roads as character defining features of the village. It is also home to one of the few floating bridges in the world. The floating bridge means just as much, if not more, to its residents as the dirt road. It, too, is listed in the National Register – as a contributing resource to the Brookfield Historic District.

The story goes that a man fell through the ice one winter and drowned, prompting residents to lay logs across the water and tie them together in the winter of 1820. When the ice melted the log bridge remained, creating a floating bridge. Over the centuries, the bridge was replaced many times, with wood barrels to float the deck and eventually plastic barrels. Remember this photo from 2010? That’s when it was the sinking bridge, and closed to traffic. This 1976 bridge was the 7th floating bridge across Sunset Lake, but it had seen better days.

December 2010, Brookfield, VT.

Because of the bridge’s historic significance and the determined people of Brookfield, the Vermont Agency of Transportation designed a new floating bridge to replace the deteriorating 1976 bridge. The bridge opened on May 23, 2015 in grand celebration, with probably more people than Brookfield’s seen in decades! I worked on the project a bit while at VTrans, so it seemed like a fitting celebration to attend. Here are a few photographs from the day.

Dirt roads through the center of Brookfield.

Dirt roads through the center of Brookfield. The main road is actually State Highway 65.

Hundreds gathered for the bridge opening.

Hundreds & hundreds gathered for the bridge opening.

Food, souvenirs, bands, red, white and blue!

Food, souvenirs, bands, red, white and blue!

The brand new floating bridge still contributes to the Brookfield Village Historic District.

The brand new floating bridge still contributes to the Brookfield Village Historic District.

All details were discussed.

All details were sweat over in the design process – including bridge railings, guardrails, and the connection from the bridge to the roadway.

View across Sunset Lake.

View across Sunset Lake.

View from Ariel's Restaurant in town to the bridge.

View from Ariel’s Restaurant in town to the bridge.

If you’re in Central Vermont, visit the Floating Bridge (and drive across it). It’s a trip!

Burlington, Vermont City Guide

Views in Burlington.

Views in Burlington.

Welcome to Memorial Day weekend, also known as Marathon Weekend in Burlington, VT. It’s the unofficial start of summer (though we have been saying summer for weeks now – as we must take advantage of the too-short season in Vermont), and it’s one of the biggest events for Burlington, home to the Vermont City Marathon + Relay. My love of Burlington runs deep, so when a Twitter friend, @CaitAmirault, asked what to see, do, and eat in Burlington, it inspired me to make a list of my favorite places.

Top of Church Street.

TO SEE & DO

  • Church Street Marketplace is a must and where you’ll find most everyone. Stroll the pedestrian mall for food, shopping, people watching, and the unmistakable giddiness of this time of year in Vermont.
  • Head down to the Burlington Waterfront & bike path, where the marathon will end. You can watch the finish. And when the crowd clears, you’ll be able to see the renovated boardwalk (looks great), as well as the gorgeous Adirondack Mountains set in the background of Lake Champlain. If you’re adventurous, rent bicycles and head down the Island Line bike path, the old railroad line.
  • If you’d like to see some mixed-use areas of Burlington, stroll down Pine Street to the South End Arts District. It’s a mix of artist studios and small shops and restaurants – definitely the fastest growing area in the city. Walk up Marble Street or Howard Street into the Five Sisters neighborhood for walking among adorable bungalows and early 20th century homes.
  • In the mood for more high style architecture? Walk up to South Union and South Willard Street. Champlain College and UVM have beautiful campuses, too.

Arts Riot Truck Stop.

To Eat & Drink

  • Here for the marathon weekend on Friday? Head to Pine Street for the Arts Riot Truck Stop for delicious food and a great crowd. Get there early or wait in long lines! Actually, the long lines are fine. Just eat in courses.
  • Need breakfast? Myers Bagels on Pine Street for Montreal style bagels approved by this New Yorker.
  • Coffee? Also on Pine Street: Speeder & Earls for locally roasted coffee and a good place to get work done or catch up with a friend.
  • Or, August First for more coffee and fresh food and baked goods. It’s a screen free café and it’s located in a rehabilitated service garage.
  • Brunch is a local favorite at Penny Cluse. The scrambled egg tacos are my current meal of choice.
  • The best views in Burlington can be found at the Burlington Bay Market & Café. Grab some ice cream or a beer and enjoy gazing at the lake.
  • And for dinner, go to El Cortijo. Hands down, you’ll find the best margaritas in all of BTV, and the freshest, most local tacos you can eat. Worth the wait, and it’s located in a renovated diner.

Church Street, just before a storm passed by.

Really, there is no shortage of good places to eat and drink in Burlington. It’s what we do best. I could go on and on, but those are just a few places to get you started.

I love Burlington, and I’m excited for marathon watching this weekend (this is one race I prefer to watch, not run). Happy Memorial Day. Cheers! Good luck runners! And visitors, welcome. Have a great time. xo!

Church Turned Condos in Toronto

Large churches struggle to find alternative uses once they no longer serve as houses of worship. Whether located in a small town or a large city, too many churches sit empty and abandoned. Once in a while you’ll come across a success story. This church in Toronto has been converted into condos. Take a look at the photos and let me know what you think.

The Victoria Presbyterian Church converted to condos.

The Victoria Presbyterian Church converted to condos.

Only being able to see these from the outside you can see that floors have been added. The balconies are clear glass. The original windows have been removed, but the fenestration remains.

Only being able to see these from the outside you can see that floors have been added. The balconies are clear glass. The original windows have been removed, but the fenestration remains.

Another view of the church, now condos.

Another view of the church, now condos.

A bit about the Victoria Lofts:

Converted from a turn-of-the-century church into 38 gorgeous units, this building is beautiful, rooted in history, and ideally located.  Boasting soaring ceilings and gorgeous architecture including a dramatic sloping roof, a copper-trimmed steeple, romanesque arches and curved brick columns, suites range from 600 to 1800 square feet over one or two storeys.  Originally the West Toronto Presbyterian Church, this stunning building has been a vital part of the Junction neighbourhood since 1885, when it first opened its doors.  Renamed the Victoria Presbyterian Church to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897, this structure is one of several historic buildings in the area.  Located near the West Toronto Rail Path, a multi-use 4km path that links several Toronto neighbourhoods, the Junction is well-connected and a haven for any one seeking to reduce their carbon-footprint.  Spend an afternoon checking out the Junction Arts Festival, a neighbourhood display of music, dance and visual art, or take a fifteen-minute stroll south to High Park.

Apparently, converting churches into lofts is a thing in Toronto. Check out this post and this post. Do you want to live in a church? What do you think? A good idea? I’d like to see the inside. But, from the outside it looks pretty good. The windows would be better intact, but perhaps that wouldn’t work for the residences. In that case, the structure remains as a landmark in the neighborhood and it is legible.

Do you have a church in your town that could serve as a residence?

Abandoned New York: Fort Covington Schoolhouse

Sitting alongside State Highway 37, just outside Fort Covington, New York sits this one-room brick schoolhouse. The unmistakable bank of windows caught my eye from down the road. A quick u-turn was definitely worth it to snap a few photographs. Without a sign to its name or any indication of ownership, I had to assume it was abandoned (perhaps only used for storage). If you know anything about this lonely schoolhouse, I’d love to hear.

One room brick schoolhouse. The bank of windows gave it away.

Interesting front entrance: no windows in the front, but nice return cornices, indicative of Greek Revival style. Those trees must have been planted when the school was very young. You can envision the  coats and lunch pails in the front entrance, the blackboard on the front wall, and desks lined up facing the board, so the sun would shine over the students’ left shoulders. A small wood frame addition is on the left, and likely held the privies. A concrete block addition on the rear likely held wood or coal and other supplies. 

Closer view of the front. A slate walkway leads you to the frame door, and planters oppose each other on the large stone slab. The foundation is stone, also. 

A historic doorknob.

A historic doorknob.

Six windows in the bank. A flagpole stands in the school yard without a flag.

Behind the school is a concrete block addition and playground remnants. Here is the frame for a see-saw. No other equipment to be found.

The schoolhouse appears in relatively good condition, despite the broken window sashes. Perhaps it does have an owner, or at least a future.

New York, New York

The oddest feeling came over me on my recent trip to New York City. Odd in the sense of unexpected as opposed to strange. What was it?

Central Park, NYC

Central Park, NYC

I realized just how much of a New Yorker I am. The characteristics of New York City slipped my mind over the years of being away. Like a flashback, I was struck by the familiarity of accents, of last names, of food, of the pace.

NYC Public Library is a perfect spot for preservationists.

NYC Public Library is a perfect spot for preservationists.

I’m a New Yorker (Long Islander, if we’re being specific), born and bred, though I’ve found my home as an adult to be in Burlington, Vermont. It’s been almost six years in Vermont, much less than my time in New York.

You get used to the culture of a new home after a while. In Vermont, you can go with the typical no billboards, a focus on the local economy, green mountains and blue skies, an outdoorsy crowd of people. You get used to the habits and quirks and standard practices of wherever you live. While I’ve yet to fall into the hiking and skiing culture, count me in for the local food, environmental love, the beauty of Lake Champlain, and the pure beauty of Vermont.

Growing up on Long Island, there were many, many families with the last name O’Shea. I competed in track with another Kaitlin O’Shea! In Vermont, there are only a few O’Sheas (no relation to me). Most everyone I knew on Long Island was Irish. That is not the case in Vermont. And studying Spanish for 9 years is not as useful in Vermont; French would have been a better choice.

A snowy evening in New York City.

A snowy evening in New York City.

It’s not that I thought I had lost the New Yorker in me; I just hadn’t thought about it in a while. Have you experienced that after being away from your childhood home for a while? Vermont is my home now, and one that I love, but it’s good to know that New York will always feel like home, too, and I know where my roots are. Like the saying goes, “You can take the girl out of New York, but you can’t take the New York out of the girl.”

The Upper West Side on a lovely sunny afternoon.

The Upper West Side on a lovely sunny afternoon.

What about you? Have you ever felt something similar?