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 building 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.

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.

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!

Toronto Facadism

Toronto is an interesting city, and one thing is apparent when strolling through Toronto: so much of this city is new. And new as in post urban renewal. Or newer, if you saw the condo construction behind Roundhouse Park. Much of downtown Toronto and Toronto’s historic neighborhoods were struck by urban renewal, though churches remain scattered between their large-scale, large massed neighbors. And today, high-rise tower construction continues at a rapid rate. Redevelopment continues. New development has its place, of course. However, sometimes when new development takes over, crazy things can happen. Take, for instance, this building near the University of Toronto.

IMG_7158

What is your initial thought? Historic? Disney World? Building constructed around it?

Just a façade.

Just a façade. There’s actually a Starbucks in there.

You might be asking, what in the world? As was I. See that plaque on the left. Here’s a photograph of it:

IMG_7155

It says: John M. Lyle Studio, 1921.This façade was part of a studio designed by John M. Lyle for his architectural practice. Lyle, one of Canada’s most distinguished architects, trained a number of noteworthy Canadian architects at the studio and worked there until his retirement in 1943. The building was set behind the homes that fronted Bloor Street, and was accessed by a pedestrian laneway located at 230 Bloor Street West. A portion of the studio’s façade was dismantled and reconstructed in its current location as part of a residential development completed in 2011.

That is to say: the building was in the way of development, so the façade was moved and stuck on this new building. Not ideal preservation, huh? The good part is the plaque that at least identifies where it was located and why it was moved.

What do you think? Acceptable? Not? I’d say it’s a case of relocated facadism, and the historic integrity no longer remains. Still, it’s interesting. I’d love to hear your thoughts! Please share below.

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With Your Coffee

My mom and me at the Lake House in Lake Placid, NY. I love my mom!

My mom and me at the Lake House in the historic Lake Placid, NY. I love my mom!

Happy Sunday Mother’s Day (or Happy Monday, depending on when you read this)! To all the mothers out there, may you have a lovely day and know how much we all love our mothers and mother-figures. Here are a few reads from around the internet talking about history, architecture, design and culture:

How was your weekend? Favorite reads? Favorite activities? Have a great week!

A Springtime Preservation Song

Springtime brings everything back to life; it makes everything seem magical. Leaves and flowers blooming. New seasons work wonders. Inspiration, hope, optimism – these are all foundations of preservation. One of my dear flamingos sent along this song, citing this stanza:

“So much for used and abused, abandoned, thrown away
Some things are destined to live another day
It takes a certain kind to look deep enough to find the beauty within
And I thank God for those who make the old new again”

Thank you, Ali!

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?

With Your Coffee

Happy weekend! How are you? This week I escaped the Vermont April weather by heading to Florida for a few days with my family and that sunshine sure felt great to this northerner. While I didn’t see much by way of historic districts or get the sense of urban planning, I did see a fair number of classic concrete block one-story mid century Florida homes. It was such a different environment. The sun, warmth, and palm trees were fabulous, but it’s always nice to come home to Burlington, Vermont. Thank you for the comments on last weekend’s “With Your Coffee.” Here are some good links for your morning coffee this weekend. Comment below if these articles speak to you. I’d love to chat.

Have a lovely weekend. Coffee cheers!

61 Summit Street, Burlington, VT

Interested in a beautiful house tour? Hang around with preservationists and you’ll have the privilege of touring the best places. Last Friday, the UVM HP Alumni Association visited the Wells House in Burlington, Vermont – an 1892 Queen Anne residence once home to Edward Wells, then the Delta Psi Fraternity and soon to be the UVM Alumni Association. I’d be wanting to view this house since I moved to Burlington in 2009 – it only took 5.5 years! Visit the UVM Historic Preservation Alumni blog to read more about this house and see additional photos.

Second floor stairwell.

Second floor stairwell, as the sun set. 

Second floor bedroom.

Second floor bedroom.

#ihavethisthingwithceilings

#ihavethisthingwithceilings

Trusses over pocket doors.

Trusses over pocket doors.

As an alumni association, we’re interested to know what your graduate program does. What events do you host? Tours? What would you hope to get out an alumni association? And, are you a preservationist or a friend of preservationists? You can join the UVM HP Alumni Association. We’re working hard to get events off the ground, from house tours to happy hours and much more. Spread the word. Thank you!