Category Archives: Architecture

20 buildings that make Hamilton so great

1) Yeah, I’d say the Lister Block is pretty damn awesome. The white terracotta and brown brick make it look like an edible piece of cake.

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2) The Medical Arts building is a work of art. How awesome are those urns?

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3) Stanley Roscoe’s City Hall. A building too beautiful for bureaucracy.

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4) The brutalist Hamilton Place. A gothic-inspired fortress on the exterior. A visually and acoustically masterful interior.

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5) Treble Hall: A facade that makes you stop and stare. Also, can you say Wine Bar?

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6) The city’s first and best Skyscraper, the Pigott Building. Anybody want to split on a penthouse?

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7) Stelco Tower might be rusty (thanks to stelcoloy), but it is still one badass building.

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8) It might be a copycat. Honestly though, who cares? The Landed Banking and Loan Company Building is one special piece of architecture.

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9) The Right House is more than just alright. It’s allllll right (bad joke).

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10) The Hamilton Public Library Central Branch and The Farmers Market. Books and Food. Concrete and glass. Nuff said.

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11) We have a freaking castle. (Dundurn Castle)

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12) A FREAKING CASTLE.

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13) OH HEY LOOK IT’S ANOTHER CASTLE. (Scottish Rite)

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14) We all have a love/hate for the city’s tallest building, 100 Main.

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15) All white Victoria Hall. A facade that makes you happy.

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16) The Royal Connaught. A lobby suitable for Royalty. We won’t talk about the rest of the development though.

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17) Can we please get this building designated? (The Coppley Building)

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18) The TH&B Go Station: An Art Dec(G)o beauty.

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19) Liuna Station is perfect. Look at the garden. Look at those columns. The curtains inside the halls? Versace.

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20) Let’s just admire this for a second. (Cathedral Basilica of Christ the King)

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A look at the new RBG Rock Garden Visitors Centre

IMG_3357.JPGThe new David Braley and Nancy Gordon Rock Garden Visitors Centre is ready just in time for spring.

The building is a grand gesture, inflecting North towards Aldershot. Its leaf-shaped roof is anything but ordinary, as it swells towards the gardens beyond.

Not only is the building noticeable, so is its entryway. Swooping, welcoming, the entrance is easily navigable. Even with it’s looping drive and expansive grass, which will surely attract Canadian Geese by the flock. Landscape architect Janet Rosenberg curates just a taste of what’s to come.

IMG_3358.JPGWalking towards the entrance of the new Visitors Centre is when the immensity of the building is first felt. Designed by Toronto firm CS&P Architects, there is a touch of Eero Saarinen’s modern influence in its curving imagery.

The front of the building bends in a crescent shape, flanked by small ponds, with feature walls clad in stone. There’s a sense of motion to the building. It’s non-static. The leaf-like hyperbolic paraboloid roof lifts up like the wings of a bird to a maximum height of 26 feet.

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IMG_3334.JPGThe vistas from inside the main event room overlook the newly landscaped gardens below and Princess Point beyond. Illuminated glulam beams of Douglas fir line the ceiling like the veins of a leaf. The steel struts, just outside the windows, like trees in a forest. The allusion to nature blends the centre with its surroundings through subtle gestures of crafted symbolism.

IMG_3315.JPGThe building includes offices, event space, public washrooms, and a café. A patio connected to the café is located just outside of the building, a romantic setting to enjoy a drink and overlook the beauty of this man-made paradise. There is also a courtyard for weddings and events, surrounded by walls of limestone, on the opposite end of the building.

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At the backend, or bug end, of the building steel struts like angled stilts silently hold the roof up as if it’s weightless. The edge of the roof projects beyond the doors, dipping with a chain downspout, which would give the impression of droplets from a leaf during rainfall.

The new gardens are another story. Serene. Quiet. Beautiful. They are a paradise, an oasis, and an escape from the city beyond. It’s like stepping into a foreign land, beautifully landscaped to feed the imagination with nature as poetic inspiration. Words don’t do it justice.

See this new $20 million rejuvenation project for yourself on May 20th, when the doors open to the public. It’s worth the visit.

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Architectural Spotlight: The Waterdown Library and Flamborough Seniors Recreation Centre

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RDH Architects
163 Dundas St E, Waterdown
Completed: January 2016

Designed by RDH Architects the 23,500 square foot building is more than just a library. It also houses the city’s municipal service centre, a senior centre, Flamborough information and city services, and the Flamborough archives.

The 15,000 square foot library has better accessibility, more computers, outdoor reading areas, and even dedicated quiet spaces, to name a few of the upgrades. A huge step-up from the town’s last library, which occupied the old East Flamborough Town Hall and had limited space to meet the current standards of today’s libraries. It was too small, hidden, and dated for a town with an ever-expanding population.

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Topography played a pivotal roll in the design and programming of the new building. Situated on a sloping site, the building splits levels while managing to stay a single storey, in keeping with the character of the community it surrounds. The grade is used to create identifiable spaces through a sloping corridor, acting as the buildings axis. The spaces are also organized through levels, creating an easier navigation of site and accessibility for all ages.

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Inside the library, the children’s section includes unique furniture, and a playful asymmetrical skylight. Surrounded by glass exterior walls, it provides transparency for parents and an engaging environment for the children.

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Stairs and ramps lead you through the tiers of categorized book stacks. Skylights bounce off the punched ceilings, pouring natural light throughout the interior. And quiet studies encased in glass offer solitude from the surroundings, while still keeping the user connected to the space through visibility.

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At the top tier of the library the glass glazing overlooks Dundas Street, scattering southern light amongst casual seating, a communal table, and computer desks. The use of natural and artificial light is impressionable.

The material palette inside the library is simple: wood (some of it repurposed), polished concrete floors, gypsum board, steel, and glass. Rich but subdued, a recipe for a warm and welcoming interior.

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Outside, the glass curtain walls on the north and south sides of the building interact well with the street and the neighbourhood it surrounds. The use of the sites grade and the division of space is apparent at the south end of the building. You can see the levels split, divided by a grassy knoll and stairs with a glass balustrade. Limestone panels clad the west side of the building, meeting the southern façade with a geometrical cantilever, creating a significant punch to the overall composition.

At first glance the location seems wrong. It’s located on Dundas Street, the town’s busiest arterial road, close to big box stores and highways. But that’s exactly the point. Waterdown is sprawling and relocating it to another downtown side street doesn’t make sense. Parking is scarce and accessibility becomes an issue. The site it resides on engages onlookers with its presence and the northern entrance is also connected to the approximate neighbourhoods through the use sidewalks and bicycle parking racks. It’s a new hub for a town with ever-expanding subdivisions. Modern orthodox planning reigns supreme.

The new Waterdown Public Library and Flamborough Seniors Recreation Centre has already won a Canadian Architect National Award of Excellence and it’s easy to see why. This project is one of the best pieces of architecture the city of Hamilton has seen in years.

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Architectural Spotlight: 7-11 Brock St

Inspired by Quentin Tarantino’s film “The Reservoir Dogs,” this adaptive re-use project in a 100 year-old masonry warehouse will be the latest addition to the North End. Designed by Thier+Curran Architects, each townhouse is designed with its own unique characteristics.

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The ultra-modern exteriors will include brick, custom steel, corrugated metal, glass and glass block, but each design will be different. For example, townhouse number 7 will have a two-storey periscope with skylights for additional natural lighting, number 9 will have an entrance foyer tower punctuating the roofline, and number 11 includes a two-storey loft.

Glass block, used for privacy, is just one accent to the southern facades. Custom doors painted different colours (Mr. Orange, Mr. Pink, and Mr. Brown) will have full length stainless steel pulls and a custom artistic finish by local artist David Hind. Townhouse number 11 also includes a large commercial style glass garage to the entrance porch, screened with a wood slatwall for additional privacy.

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The interiors will be bright and spacious. Reclaimed brick and 14-to-17 foot timber fir ceilings provide the space with a warming, open feel. There will be cork tiling in the kitchen and bathrooms. Bamboo floors will be in the living/dining/sleeping areas and limestone in the foyers. The townhouses also include fireplaces and skylit gallery spaces with wall space for art. Number 11 will have an open ramped gallery to the basement, complete with a skylight.

Townhouse number 7 and number 9 is one bedroom plus den, while number 11 will have two bedrooms. Number 11 also includes surface parking, a basement with safes (one converted into a wine cellar), and an outdoor shower. Each townhouse also has its own private garden.

Each townhouse differs in size:

No. 7: 1,337 sq.ft.
No. 9: 1,416 sq.ft.
No. 11: 1,771 sq.ft with 3,440 sq. ft. private side/rear garden and 1,035 sq.ft unfinished basement

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This 100 year-old warehouse was once a machine shop, holding US patents from 1888 until 1905. During the prohibition it was a liquor warehouse (Number 11 has a barrel ramp to the basement and two brick walk-in safes). And in the 1970s, the building was a boiler room.

The project is slated to be complete by spring 2016.

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The Curious Case of The Hamilton City Centre

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The City Centre, formally the Eaton Centre, is an eye sore. There is no subtle way to put it. It’s ugly, it’s imposing and for such a young building, it’s aged terribly. However, there’s more to this postmodern monstrosity than what meets the eye. It’s become a part of the James Street North fabric and is worth examining more critically.

Completed in 1990 by Baltimore firm RTKL Architects, it was designed during a time when postmodernism was avant-garde in Canada. Mississauga’s City Hall was completed a mere three years earlier by architects Jones and Kirkland and for the most part, was a resounding success in a booming city. But one of the issues with postmodern architecture is it becomes dated. Quickly.

Though what’s interesting about architecture is how style is cyclical. What was once in style becomes out of style, only to be back in style again. Postmodernism has a charming braveness to it. It’s daring, confusing, whimsical, unique, and sometimes terribly executed (sorry, Michael Graves). Most buildings designed during this era of architecture look like they’ve had an identity crisis. Is it modern? Is it contemporary? Is it classical? The City Centre is no different. What is it?

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Reticles of steel tracery surround the James St N entrance, an unintentional metaphor for how it missed the mark.

The exterior is more like a barracks than a mall and could be mistaken for the James Street North Armories. It’s a fortress, with almost no windows, unwelcoming entrances, and kitsch accents. The brickwork, tacky but fun; the steel framing, odd; the pastel colours, dated; and the clock tower is one of its only applaudable statements. Overall, the exterior could do with some re-imagining.

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New glazing added to the York Boulevard facade

In 2008 Lintack Architects did some exterior and interior work, adding windows and offices along the York Boulevard streetwall. A continuation should be made to James Street North. More windows, entrances that reach further to the street, and a greater connectivity to storefronts at street level could help revitalize its appearance. There is no interplay between the City Centre and any of its neighbours. Finding ways to mirror the success of pedestrian friendly buildings is a step in the right direction.

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The inside of the City Centre is a different story. It’s a lovely example of postmodern design done right. With nods to an architectural past (the interior was inspired by the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II), the space is light, airy, and is a welcomed change compared to the abysmal, low-ceilinged bunker that is its neighbour, Jackson Square.

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Skylights pour natural light into the space through rows of arches. Detailed columns line the balustrades on multiple levels, framing the space in a gentle manner. While the food court is below grade in an atrium setting, topped with a glass dome surrounded by a frieze titled “Lineage” by artists Susan Schelle and Mark Gomes. The interior brings back nostalgic feelings to many Hamiltonians and it ought to be preserved accordingly.

This is where the fear of change lies. The interior doesn’t need much. What it needs is refurbishing. The incandescent bulbs are burnt out like an old amusement ride, paint is peeling and fading into unrecognizable colours, and the space is sorely missing tenants.

Drawing tenants should be the main concern, which will come. After all, this playful space once housed Eaton’s. World Gym is soon to move in, which should bring a great amount of foot traffic and hopefully snowball into something more.

The food court needs food, the spaces require tenants, and the tiled floors need treads walking all over them. As Jackson Square slowly claws its way back to a viable shopping destination, so too will City Centre. All it needs is some love and attention.

Let’s just hope Cash 4 Money leaves the premises, because the City Centre is better than that. Nothing deters people like a shark in the water.

 

 

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Heritage Spotlight: Victoria Hall

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Victoria Hall
William Stewart/Tran Dieu Associates
66 King St E
Completed: 1888/2008

It’s enamel white; it’s delightfully detailed; it’s in Gore Park, and it’s a National Historic Site. It’s the Victoria Hall building designed by Hamilton architect William Stewart.

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Completed in 1888 for Hamilton Lawyer Alexander Bruce, this three-and-a-half storey building sits wedged between the large Dominion Bank Building and the six-storey terracotta A.B. MacKay building.

The façade is composed of galvanized sheet metal, giving the appearance of a rich painted stone texture, but without the expense. The sheet metal is sculpted by hand in Italianate detail.

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Above the storefront, three-bay windows are surrounded by elongated columns spiraling towards the sky with decorative corbels clinging at the pointed tops as if they were the wings of a butterfly. Flanked by marshmallow-like rusticated pilasters, the high relief details draw the eyes up in a true tripartite fashion.

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The top half-story has short arched windows complimented with ball shaped voussoirs and large keystones. Capping the building is a large overhanging cornice shaped with bulbous corbel brackets and a simple frieze.

Victoria hall was designated as a National Historic Site in 1995 for a number of reasons. It’s a rare High Victorian commercial building amongst the rest of Gore Park’s building stock and Victoria Hall is also one of the earliest remaining sheet metal facades still intact to grace the skies of Canada.

The building was purchased in 2005 and the Toronto engineering firm of Tran Dieu & Associates converted the upper stories into two large residential units. Both units were occupied after the renovations, which were completed in late 2008.

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Design Spotlight: The North End Free Library

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The North End Free Library
Thier + Curran Architects Inc.
56 Macaulay St W
Completed: July 2015

Sometimes all you need is a bench and a book. Mixed with the right setting and it can be a fairytale of imagination, inspiration, and conversation. In this case, Thier + Curran Architects wrote the perfect story.

With a bench on a steel frame and a box full of books, the recently completed North End Free Library is a little community oasis on a quiet street.

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The raw steel frame is exposed with all the marks and traces of its construction. Perched atop the L-shaped boxlike frame is an ipe slat bench for the passerby to stop and read, or converse with neighbours.

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A cedar library box hangs down against the frame like a light. With a decorative resin window and self-closing hinges, the little library comfortably holds an adequate amount of books in a sealed space. It’s like finding a cupboard of educational treasures.

Designed and financed by Thier + Curran Architects, the library presides on the Scime/Curran Residence, an adaptive re-use project by TCA.

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Each book even comes with a custom stamp designed by the firm. Take a book, or leave a book.

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A Special Event: Hamilton Flea at Treble Hall

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On July 11th a very special event is happening at one of Hamilton’s most cherished heritage buildings.

Hamilton Flea, hosted by Girl On The Wing and The Academy Of All Things Awesome, is a one-day event featuring vendors from far and wide inside Treble Hall.

Located at 8 John Street North, Treble Hall is a Renaissance Revival Style building designed by renowned Hamilton architect James Balfour. Other historic buildings designed by Balfour include old City Hall, Tuckett Mansion, and The Balfour House.

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Completed in 1879, the four-storey building is delightfully detailed. The storefronts feature pilasters and columns with Corinthian capitals. A number of the storefront windows even feature leaded transoms. Above, the 18 windows are adorned with window surrounds, accented with pediments on the second floor.

Two stars are located on the second floor, between a central window, to indicate “The Secret Door” to the floors above.

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Dormer windows punctuate the roofline overlooking John Street and the cornice below is lined with corbels and dentils. The centre of the roof features an ornate relief that reads “Treble Hall” and the year the building was completed.

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Jeff Feswick, owner of Historia Building Restoration Inc, bought the building in 2010 and has uncovered layers of history hidden in the floors and walls. The interior has been gutted, exposing the framing and joists, save for a few walls with patches of peeling wallpaper. The space has sat unused for decades, until now.

Feswick wants to see Treble Hall come to life, like it used to be, as a public space. And that’s exactly what’s happening on July 11th.

The flea market features the following vendors:

Girl on the Wing
The Eye of Faith
Roly Poly Records and Retro
White Elephant
Jelly Brothers
Perk Naturals
Moulin Rouge
Academy of All Things Awesome
Donut Monster
Sweet Ice Snow Cones
Stay Home Club
No Fun Press
Yo Sick
… and many more

Young Lions Music Club will be spinning tunes throughout the day and the flea runs from 11am-6pm. Find “The Secret Door” to enter.

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Architectural Spotlight: Stelco Tower

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Stelco Tower
Arthur C.F. Lau
100 King Street W
Completed: 1973

Look up, way up. 338 feet up to be exact. That’s the height of Stelco Tower, currently the second tallest building in Hamilton. A modern tower of 26-storeys designed by Quebec architect Arthur C.F. Lau.

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The building was erected to not only house Stelco’s head office, but also showcase the company’s newest steel, “Stelcoloy,” a special steel alloy that was meant to rust slower and protect the steel from future damage. Now a rusty brown through years of oxidation, the steel was a blue-grey when the building was completed in 1973. Not as striking as the patina of copper, but the material still has charm.

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The design is minimalist, almost Miesian, an International Style tower with local flair. However, it doesn’t have the prominent vertical flanged mullions of a Mies van der Rohe skyscraper. Instead the tower emphasizes height through a repetitive grid of horizontal bands of glass and Stelcoloy. The volume of the building draws your eyes up.

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At 100 King Street, the three-storey entrance is austere. Inside the lobby it’s strictly business, with an elevator core clad in stainless steel, red granite floors, and a lonesome security desk. Jackson Square Mall is connected to the tower on the north side and it can also be accessed via the malls plaza roof. Occupancy is low since Stelco moved out completely in 2004, leaving many stories vacant.

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Currently the 21st floor is an empty space available for events, offering breathtaking views of the city.

The tower was part of Hamilton’s first urban revitalization project that plagued the city with modern, auto-centric planning as early as 1958 and included the construction of Jackson Square starting in 1968.

Don’t be fooled by the rusty façade, better days are yet to come for Stelco Tower.

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Architectural Spotlight: The Federal Life Assurance Company Building

IMG_0146 Federal Life Assurance Company Building
Finley and Spence 40
James Street South
Completed: 1906

The Federal Life Assurance Company building sits amongst some of the Hamilton’s most cherished buildings, yet it’s history has been overlooked. Completed in 1906 and designed by Montreal-based architects Samuel A. Finley and David J. Spence of Finley and Spence, this Beaux-Arts building is composed of neo-classical elements and designed in the Commercial Style. A style made popular by Louis Sullivan and the Chicago School of Architecture.

At 9-storeys the Federal Assurance Company building is just shy of being Hamilton’s first steel framed skyscraper (one storey short of the 10-storey minimum). It was constructed with steel and reinforced concrete, supporting the glazed terracotta façade. The commercial style was breakthrough for the time. Its massing and height were an evolution from its heavier wood and stone predecessors. A popular theory about the commercial style is the building symbolizes a classical column, divided in three sections. IMG_0155 The first section, the base of the building, is less decorative. Composed of reinforced concrete, with tall windows, spandrels, and detailed window reveals, but little else. Middle White glazed terracotta and double-hung windows make up the middle of the building, or the shaft of the column. The vertical gaps between every second window emphasize the buildings height and draw the eyes up. Before the top section of the metaphorical column there are ornamental crests surrounded by wreaths and windows with a continuous band of decorative lintels. IMG_0157 The top two-stories, or the capital, are separated by a horizontal band of foliage and dentils. More ornamental foliage is added to attract the eye, while the top floor is complimented with porthole windows surrounded by intricate wreaths. On the southern façade the portholes are just reliefs with no glass or ornament, but still add to the decorative effect and keep with the buildings characteristics.

Photo Courtesy: Toronto Public Library

Photo Courtesy: Toronto Public Library

The roof was originally capped with a large projecting cornice, but it has since been removed, leaving the top of the building naked. IMG_0142 Other changes have been made to the building, as well. Some windows have been added and removed from the west side of the building. There is also a two-story post-modern parking garage added to the back of the building from the early 1990s. The addition features simple brickwork, columns, green corrugated steel, tinted glass windows, and more porthole reliefs. Originally built for the Federal Life Assurance Company, the building houses both commercial and residential tenants.

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