Durand, Durand: A tour with Rebuild Hamilton

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Come with me on a tour of the Durand Neighbourhood and grab yourself a nice warm beverage at one of my favourite local coffee shops, Durand Coffee.

I’ll be talking about the history of the neighbourhood and of course, the architecture. It will be engaging and educational.

The tour begins at 10:30AM, but I encourage you to come around 9:30 to order something to drink. I’ll be the one of the baristas behind the counter making your beverage!

It will be a fun community event and I hope to see you there.

Special thanks to Durand Coffee for the space and encouragement, and a big thanks to Forge + Foster for sponsoring the event.

Spots are limited so be sure to sign up as soon as possible.

For more information on the event and to sign up, visit  https://www.bruha.com/event/452

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Kickstarter Rhythm Rattles by Hamilton Holmes for The Interior Design Show

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As a new father, Holmes has designed a product for babies. Like his furniture, Holmes designed the rattles to be of high quality, good style, and a lasting impression:

‘One of the best things about making things is the process of discovery and play. As I began to rough out the first few rattles, I played with shapes and textures.  I imagined myself as a baby, and tried to engage the act of playing. When the first rattle came off the lathe and made such a simple and fun noise and was a pleasure to hold, I knew that I would need to make more.  I tried different wood types with different colours, grains, smells and textures, and the journey continued.  Then when I started giving them to the babies (the real test), the success was amplified. The babies love them. They first stick them in their mouths and enjoy the smooth wooden texture. Then they learn that they can shake them and make noise. It becomes a tool of fine motor skill development as different arm patterns produce better or worse noises. Then as the baby gets older and becomes a toddler, the rattle can become their first musical instrument. With the help of their parents they learn to shake along to music. They discover rhythm, and then dance, and the ball is rolling’

These rattles are formed from a single piece of wood on the lathe. The rings are turned off the shaft of the rattle and sanded to a shine. This means that there are no joints to break, and no poisonous glues involved so that the product will last many generations of fun. The rattles are finished with food safe mineral oil, so that they can be used as a teething object. Each rattle is slightly different from the last, as each piece of wood is different. These are not made by a machine, they are made with hands.

This reward will allow Holmes to take the next step toward his success. With the funding help of this Kickstarter Holmes will be able to cover the admission, transportation and production costs associated with the Interior Design Show.

To donate and get yourself an amazing Rhythm Rattle visit: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/543230426/rhythm-rattles-solid-wood-baby-shakers?ref=user_menu

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Coffee Talk: Agata Mancini of McCallum Sather

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Photo Courtesy of McCallum Sather

What got you into architecture?

It’s kind of hard to say. For my graduation write-up in grade 8 I said I was going to become an architect, travel the world, and to settle in the south of France. Hamilton is a bit of a far cry from the south of France, but somehow in grade 8 when I really had no idea what architecture was, it was kind of what I wanted to do. I have a slight inclination that my mother may have brainwashed me a little bit, because later on when I was in architecture school, at the University of Waterloo, I found out that it’s what she wanted to do. I really don’t know where it came from, but what I have always loved about being an architect is the story telling aspect. You look at a building and you can tell when the building was built, the materials, the style, and who it was made for. That’s always been my favourite part. It’s just this natural thing that crept up on me and I just grew into it.

What’s it like as a female in what is a predominately male profession?

When I was at Waterloo the number of women was 2-to-1. In a class of 60 students it was 40 women and 20 men. But what happens is you see the OAA numbers and the percentage decreases from the women in school to women practicing and women in principal roles. There’s a large part of us that are starting off in architecture and fewer continuing and if that has to do with traditional gender roles or whatever, it’s kind of hard to tell. The low number of principal architects is because they’ve been working towards it for the last 30 years and there weren’t as many female architects at that point, so you’ll definitely see those numbers increase.

It’s been a little different for me, because I never felt out of place. However, you do get comments here and there that remind you that you’re one of a few. We’re lucky in Hamilton, though. There are so many strong female architects in this city and I’m happy to have them as my peers. This is what’s so exciting about Hamilton. And women that came before us, like Joanne McCallum, have really paved the way. The amount of work they’ve done and the stigmas they had to brush off is an inspiration. It was a lot harder back then for a female in this profession. It’s still tough to show people you’re in charge sometimes, but it also comes down to personality and how you approach it. Overall the support here in Hamilton has been pretty awesome.

Tell me about your career path so far.

Well, University of Waterloo and back Waterloo for my masters. While I was there I did a bunch of co-ops. My very first co-op was in San Francisco with a firm called Baum Thornley and that was really awesome. I essentially landed that job by being very persistent. I just kept calling back because it was a choice between San Fran and Lindsay, Ontario and thank goodness I got it, because I didn’t want to do work in Lindsay. From there I worked at MMMC Architects in Brantford. I also worked at Jestico + Whiles in London, England which was a cool experience. I also went to Melbourne, Australia and worked at the firm Omiros, but I think I worked more in a bar because it paid better. It was an interested climate.

And then Bill Curran posted in our Masters E-group at Waterloo for a position available at TCA. I had no intention of moving to Hamilton, really. I have no roots in Hamilton and didn’t really know anyone, but I applied, and thought the interview went terribly and thought it was a huge waste of time. Surprisingly, Bill offered me the job like 3 days later. I commuted for about 9 months and then I had to move here. The commute was killing me.

I was at TCA for 3 years and I wanted to gain more experience. Which is a great thing about this profession. Every firm does something different. The style of work they do. The type of projects they do. You can learn from everybody. I’m now at McCallum Sather and have been for 4 years. It’s been really cool because the range of projects and types of projects are really interesting. The people are also fantastic and I think we’re almost more than half women. Our mechanical department is now 3-out-4 women. Which is crazy.

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Speaking of moving to Hamilton, tell us about your #greendoorhouse.

The Green Door House started out as a crazy idea. We bought a place in the North End when we first moved here in 2010, which apparently was the most perfect time ever to buy a house in Hamilton, because I think if it was two years later we would have never been able to afford it. We did all the boring stuff to the house like a new roof, soffits, and insulation. All the boring but necessary stuff that needed to be done. Right before I was going on maternity leave for my second time, this piece of land and this little house in Beasley was listed for $124,000. To find anything downtown for that price is unheard of. I somehow talked a lot people in doing this.

It was an 18-month process to tear it down and rebuild. We sort of wanted to build something that was tailored to our family. The way we function. The way we want to use the spaces. The way we wanted our day-to-day to look. It was really interesting because the experiment worked, which is really nice. So the way I imagined our life would be in the house is the way our life is. It has also opened up the neighbourhood a little bit. I’ve met so many people stopping by to look and just to touch the house. I really liked doing it. It’s really neat to see everything from the beginning to the end. I learned a ton of stuff. I’d do so many things differently, especially mechanically, but it’s been amazing.

Rumour has it you’re running for OAA Council?

I am! I had absolutely no intention of running. On the last day of nominations somebody nominated me. I found out it was a coworker I worked with while at Bill’s who now works in Australia. He thought I would be great for it, because I’m not afraid to speak up or be involved. I joked about it to other people and everyone thought it was a good idea. I got the three nominations that are needed and now I’m running.

I’m interested because the OAA is our governing body. They make a lot of decisions that affect us, they are a part of all the things that happen in the background, and I think it would be a really valuable learning experience. If something comes to me that I didn’t expect I try and say yes, because the unexpected is usually where there can be a lot of reward. I like this opportunity. The chances may be slim, but I think it would be fun.

And lastly, besides your house, what’s your favourite piece of architecture in Hamilton?

Honestly, I think what I like about Hamilton is the collection of architecture. That’s what I love the most. I love the contrasts and the details. I think that’s what makes Hamilton so good. It’s not just one building. I love the Medical Arts Building. I love First Place when the light hits it right. The houses on Bay Street South, the Pigott Building, and the Landed Banking and Loan Building are all amazing. How can you pick one? How can you compare them? It’s too hard. So really, it’s the collection. It’s the moments when you see them just right. You’re always surrounded by beautiful architecture in this city and that’s what makes Hamilton so special.

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Hamilton Rising: A recap of the National Trust Conference

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This year’s National Trust Conference “Heritage Rising” took place in Hamilton, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

This city is no longer sitting in the shadows of its big brother to the east, Toronto. It’s on the map. It’s been discovered. It’s our time to shine. And shine it did. This year’s conference had the highest attendance yet and has been hailed as a huge success.

The conference was full of insightful workshops, tours, and talks. There was never a dull moment. It was quite surprising how inspiring, engaging, and informative the conference was.

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I was lucky enough to be asked to lead a tour on Urban Renewal in the core. It was a sold out tour that had me nervous from the start, but it went swimmingly. Swimmingly being the optimal word, as it was a rainy, windy Thursday morning when my tour took place.

Over 25 attended my tour. It was an eclectic mix of professionals. There were historians, urban planners, architects, and journalists, just to name a few of those who tagged along.

I started the tour at City Hall and discussed the history of the 43 KM conversion of one-way streets and the detrimental impact it has had on our core, the history and architecture of our modern City Hall, and the sad demolition of our Board of Education building.

We then went to Commonwealth Square. There I talked about Murray V. Jones’ Civic Plan, the razing of our city fabric, and what came about from the original plan. Hamilton Place, the AGH, Convention Centre and Ellen Fairclough building all had their honourable mentions.

Next was the rooftop of Jackson Square. I discussed the phases, the buildings, and the failures of our urban mall. We even managed to walk through the mall, the farmers market, and King William.

An engaging discussion on King William took place. After seeing Templar Flats, we talked about density, height, and the future of development in a city that’s still plagued with far too many parking lots.

On Friday, I attended a Spark Session called “Historic Districts” moderated by Lloyd Alter. The idea behind the spark session is similar to PechaKucha, except each speaker was only given seven minutes.

The break down of the eight speakers who presented and their topics are as follows:

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  • Maggie Holm, a Heritage Planner for the Halifax Regional Municipality, presented on the Barrington Street Heritage Conservation District. She discussed adaptive reuse projects, preservation projects, and what needs to be done to rejuvenate a historic street.
  • Amber Polywkan, MA, Heritage Conservation, Canada Studies, Carleton University, discussed her consultation work with Heritage Canada when it comes to Historic Districts and the people within them. The two case studies were Nakusp, B.C. and Carlton Place, ON. She talked about consultations with residents of each town and what their priorities were when it comes to reviving their Main Streets.

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  • Suneeta Millington, Chair of Prime Ministers’ Row, Ottawa. Suneeta brought up the dangers of historic neighbourhoods that aren’t heritage protected and what happens when taller buildings take their place. Dead buildings, they say. Buildings that are worth more dead than they are alive. It’s a cautionary tale where we need to create plans for our own neighbourhoods as preemptive measures to combat this growing issue.
  • Helen Cain, Heritage Planner, City of Richmond, BC. Helen’s talk was about a small town outside of Richmond called Burkeville, which is starting to feel the effects of BC’s competitive housing market. It is a small town of just over 300 houses that were all completed in the 1940’s when the city was built for Boeing. Now they need to find ways to save this quaint town and keep the charm before it’s too late. Houses are selling at a fast rate. Some are being demolished, while others are receiving terrible makeovers. It’s a tale we can relate to when it comes to our hot real estate market. Protect what we have.
  • Sarah King Head, Historian, Thorold, ON. Sarah’s topic was about the Beaverdams and the consideration of the Anthropogenic Biome. Mapping history. Considering our environment. Two things Hamilton needs to strive for. Niagara Green Belt surrounds our city, so we need to save our habitat and map our natural histories.

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  • Nicole Nomsa Moyo, Master of Architecture, Carleton University. Nicole discussed the challenges and opportunities in Southern African Townships and Canadian First Nations Reserves. She drew similarities between the two, which are actually strikingly close (besides population). Nicole also presented interesting design schemes for villages so they would meet international standards of living. You can see more at nnmoyo.com
  • Katie Brightwell, Heritage Catographer, ARA Ltd, Kitchener, ON. Katie showed us a new approach to publishing Heritage Information through interactive online mapping. This approach would help preserve what we have and also make information more publically accessible for those trying to seek it.

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  • John Terpstra, Writer and Cabinetmaker, Hamilton, ON. John took us on a journey of Chedoke Creek. He traced the path from the start of the creek to the mountain, passing through highways and tunnels. When he reached the mountain, he saw the creek was buried. He traced the path, only to realize it runs through neighbourhoods that are illegally using the creek for dumping.

The next interesting adventure was a tour or “Field Session” of our City Hall led by Architect Paul Sapounzi. Paul is a Partner of +VG Architects in Brantford and +VG were in charge of the heritage restoration aspects of the renovations at City Hall.

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He gave us a step-by-step break down on all the work they assisted with. Including why they decided to go with concrete cladding instead of the original Cherokee marble, or limestone. He also told us about the meticulous process of replacing the entire Italian tile throughout the building through an intense cataloguing process.

We heard of the new design makeovers the masterful building received, and even the small things they did, like bathroom designs that were meant to match the period of City Hall.

It was amazing how intense the whole process was. No wonder the renovations felt like they took ages. Because they did. And it had to be that way in order for our beautiful City Hall to continue to stand out as one of our best heritage assets.

On the Saturday, I attended one of the last talks of the conference. It was moderated by Chris Wiebe, the Conference Coordinator of The National Trust (who did an incredible job), and was on Heritage as a Creative Force.

The speakers were decidedly different from those featured earlier in the conference. They came from artistic backgrounds, but all had some very interesting things to say. Each topic was about using spaces that can inspire and transform heritage buildings. Hopefully saving them in the process.

Clyden Wagner (Executive Producer of Luminato Festival) talked about the transformation of the Hearn Generating Station into a temporary arts centre. It became an interactive hub that had the whole city buzzing with all the impressive shows, theatre, and art installations it produced. It’s nice to see we have our own similar idea here in Hamilton with the Hamilton Flea.

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Jennifer and Leonard Farlinger (New Real Films) are founders of a production company in Toronto. In a movie they produced called “Born To Be Blue”, a movie on Chet Baker, they transformed Sudbury into both New York and LA. It was amazing to see how they used vacant spaces in a Northern City to mimic lively spaces in big American cities.

And lastly, Bob Doidge and Amy King gave a passionate talk about their beloved Grant Avenue Studio. A studio near and dear to our city. One that needed saving recently, as it is a 102-year-old Edwardian house and in need of repairs, desperately.

This was a just a few of the highlights of an incredibly informative conference. There was so much to learn. Each room was packed with bright minds from all different backgrounds and walks of life. Many who came and saw Hamilton for their first time.

We can learn a lot form this conference. Hopefully City Hall was listening, because they need to listen. We need to listen and learn. We need to focus on our heritage, our building stock, and our communities. It’s our time to shine, Hamilton. Let’s keep moving forward in an inclusive, thoughtful manner.

Councillors, I hope you’re paying attention.

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High Five to 5 years

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I can’t believe it’s been five years. Where has the time gone?

It seems like only yesterday when Rebuild Hamilton was conceived alongside a few of my fellow journalist students at Mohawk College as a second year project. We came up with the idea to promote the city. At first the blog featured a few videos and reports on LRT and other political topics that were hot at the time (those have since been deleted), but after the class was finished I decided to continue with the blog and to write about the city.

It became my own.

After reading blogs like Raise The Hammer, I Heart Hamilton, and This Must Be The Place, I was inspired. And I had decided writing about architecture was my calling. It felt natural to me. 

Things started slowly. For two years I was essentially writing for myself. Nobody read my blog, nobody really listened to what I had to say, but I wrote anyways. I wanted to prove to myself that my voice really did matter and what I was doing would make a positive impact on this city. 

And finally, one day, it all clicked.

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Since then it’s been a roller coaster ride. Last year I was interviewed on 900 CHML and Global News, CBC Hamilton and The Spec wrote a story about me, I was giving architecture tours to McMaster students and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, and I capped the year off with the Hamilton Independent Media Award for Best Journalist Arts and Culture.

This year I’ve been writing articles for Biz Magazine and Hamilton Magazine, and I’m currently working on a book (hopefully). Pinch me.

I finally feel like I’ve made a difference.

It’s never been about money. I’ve barely made anything doing what I do. I do it because I love Hamilton, I love architecture, and I love writing. This city drives me. My readers drive me. For that, I’m grateful.

Special thanks to my family and friends, Bill Curran, Kristin Archer, Seema Narula, Drew Hauser, Ryan McGreal, Graham McNally, Donna Reid, David Premi, Agata Mancini, Graham Crawford, Matt Green, Brandon Donnelly, Sarah Gelbard, Toon Dreessen, Stephanie Trendocher, Kelly Bennett, Steve Kulakowsky, Jason Thorne, Jeff Feswick, Jason Allen, Mary Louise Pigott, Suzanne Zandbergen, David Capizzano, Keanin Loomis, Ryan Moran, Kurt Muller, Debbie Spence, Ken Coit, and many, many others.

Here’s to 5 more years. I love you, Hamilton. Thank you.

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Architectural Spotlight: Hamilton Commerce Place

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Pellow + Associates
21 King Street West
Completed 1987 (Phase 1)/1990 (Phase 2)

Hamilton Commerce Place might been seen as a mystery to some, but it’s hard to remember downtown Hamilton without it and the two skyscrapers aren’t even 30 years old.

The southwest corner of King and James previously belonged to the Bank of Hamilton central branch, erected back in 1892. The bank was doing well. So well that the building needed to expand, receiving an additional five floors in 1905. This addition was what many believe gave birth to the city’s first skyscraper, but they’re wrong. The addition made the headquarters 8 storeys tall, two storeys short of skyscraper status.

In 1923 the Bank of Hamilton amalgamated with the Canadian Bank of Commerce (now CIBC) and the headquarters moved from Hamilton to Toronto in 1930. Eventually, the handsome bank building, as well as the Robinson’s building next door, was torn down and a new, more ambitious plan was hatched for the corner of King and James: Hamilton Commerce Place.

Pellow + Associates, an architecture firm out of Toronto, were commissioned for the design of the towers, which would be implemented in two phases.

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Phase one was completed in 1987 and is located directly at King and James. This 16-storey tower is faced with mirrored glass curtain walls. It’s façade camouflages with the sky and the northeast corner is opened like a book, both pages reflecting each other in the sun. The numbing repetition of its skin is un-involving, un-stimulating, and un-inviting from the street.

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A bright red column signifies the entrance to the lobby. It could be seen as a slight touch of postmodernism just to tease us of what might have been, or just a very banal entrance. There’s also a CIBC located inside its two-storey podium. The branch is set within tiered, zigzagging mirrored boxes where passerby’s take selfies and check their appearance in the reflection. The only engagement with pedestrians this building receives.

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The inside of the bank branch has a coffered ceiling, mirror-clad columns, and a mezzanine of office space. Chic banking at it’s most basic.

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Phase two was completed in 1990 and sits directly west of the first tower. Like the glazing it’s composed of, this tower is a 16-storey mimicry of the first, mirroring it’s older sibling at a 90 degree rotation. If they were erected at the same time they’d almost be identical twins. The towers are connected at street level and attached at the hip by a small pedway.

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Viewed from the south both of these buildings give the impression of a symmetrical geometric unity, but when you reach either entrance, the symmetry breaks away with a series of right-angled facades. The result is a disappointing, ubiquitous attempt at a late modern glass skin vernacular pervasive amongst skyscrapers across North America during the era. Commerce Place is all about maximum rental space with little regard for much more.

At 266 feet the Hamilton Commerce Place towers are the eleventh tallest towers in the city. The official opening of Commerce Place occurred on September 22, 1987.

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We need to save Parkside High School

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Yesterday Shannon Kyles wrote a captivating piece on Raise The Hammer. In it, she petitions that Parkside High School should not only be saved from the wrecking ball, but also repurposed.

She’s right.

Tearing down one of the city’s greatest examples of midcentury modernism would be a tragic loss in a city that is steadily seeing it’s historical buildings disappear.

Parkside High School is an award-winning design (by architect Lloyd Kyles) with an incredible, swooping, saddle roofed, Eero Saarinen-esque entrance. It’s a building that means a lot to a town that saw generations of their loved ones walk through those doors.

It’s not only the nostalgia worth saving. It’s really just common sense.

One commenter on the aforementioned RTH article called it “just a box”. Perfect. Boxes are made for stacking and re-using. The simpler it is, the easier it should be to find a viable, cost effective way to convert the building into condos.

Related: Turn Parkside high school into affordable condos, says Dundas group

Rolled out sympathetically on a sloping site, the school would be prime for adaptive reuse. The dead-end street it resides on would still remain quiet (much quieter than when it was a high school) and it could be a perfect opportunity to add impactful residential building stock in the greenest possible sense. It even has an expansive, inclusive park behind it.

Demographics are shifting in the Valley Town. A younger generation is filling the neighbourhoods with new families. Empty nesters thinking of moving out of their 4-bedroom suburban homes are limited when it comes to condo options, both in availability and a financial sense, causing many to take flight to Aldershot and other surrounding areas. The housing market is tight, constricted, and in need of smart growth. The town needs more District Lofts and less Governors Road suburban sprawl.

Let’s preserve what we have. Isn’t that the Dundas way?

Preservation doesn’t just mean old buildings (which Dundas has in abundance). It means importance, value, influence, style, and so much more. It means not allowing the lineage of our architectural past vanish for a cluster of prefabricated townhouses and a cemetery.

A cemetery? How about we build to accommodate old age, not cast it upon an aging population like a profitable, impending doom.

Let’s take action. Sign the petition and save a piece of Dundas:
https://www.change.org/p/arlene-vanderbeek-hamilton-ca-i-want-to-stop-the-demolition-of-parkside-high-school-in-dundas

It’s time to keep history. Lest it be another chapter in Vanished Hamilton’s ever growing list of buildings that were worth saving.

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