Tag Archives: Rebuild Hamilton

Coffee Talk: Agata Mancini of McCallum Sather

Screen shot 2016-11-12 at 3.48.57 PM.png

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.

Screen shot 2016-11-12 at 4.13.45 PM.png

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Coversations over coffee

A SoBi tour with Bill Curran

IMG_4105.JPG

Bill Curran pointing to the landscape beyond as he discusses the surrounding neighbourhood

Architect Bill Curran and I have been planning a bike ride for some time.

We often tour around Hamilton, checking out buildings and houses, discussing architecture, the neighbourhoods, and Hamilton’s deep history. Because of how large Hamilton is geographically, we either pick a neighbourhood to walk or we end up taking a car to cover the most ground possible. This weekend we were finally able to go for a bike ride. The area we picked is one of Bill’s favourites: the industrial north.

IMG_4082.JPG

#419 Lawanda is a personal favourite at the Locke Street hub

I grabbed a SoBi (there’s a rack conveniently close to my apartment) and was on my way to meet Bill out front of his office on James Street North. He had a route in mind, but we basically just winged it, taking alleys, bike lanes, and roads through the city to reach our destinations.

IMG_4085.JPG

Hidden behind it’s green shell is an old car dealership complete with a car ramp to the second floor

IMG_4086

The overlooked Our Lady Of Glastonburty Orthodox Church with little ornament on an expansive street of traffic

IMG_4084

Bill giving me a history lesson about the building that was once Mills Lighthouse

Our first notable stop was the Cannon bike lanes. There we stopped at points to discuss laneway housing, an old car dealership for sale, and a subtle little church easily missed by car.

Laneway housing is something Hamilton needs more of. They add density, character to neighbourhoods, and help increase the city’s building stock in an unobtrusive way (just to name a few of the benefits). Bill’s firm, TCA, did a study on Laneway housing in conjunction with the city and you can read it here.

IMG_4090.JPG

Moving day at a row of apartment buildings just West of Barton and Wenthworth

Next we made our way to Barton. We saw a street on the turn around. Although Barton faces many obstacles, we are seeing pockets of growth and investment sprinkled throughout. Many barriers are still in the way, but there are encouraging signs almost anywhere you look.

IMG_4094

Lawanda in front of a post and beam pavilion at Birge Park

IMG_4095.JPG

Rocketships of wooden wonder

IMG_4097

The new pool at Birge Park

We cut through some more alleys and streets before reaching Birge Park. This small park just received a makeover, which includes a new wading pool and change room building designed by Kathryn Vogel Architects. The building has a contemporary feel to it with its overhanging rooflines and stucco accents, while the pool is nothing short of functional as well as aesthetically pleasing.

IMG_4103.JPG

Karma Candy Factory

IMG_4106.JPG

The Galley Pump Tavern. A local favourite.

Continuing north, we passed Karma Candy factory, the Emerald Street Footbridge, some local watering holes, and numerous other businesses sprinkled throughout the area. The history in the North End is deep. There’s so much to discover that you can’t find it all in one bike ride. It would take many. I was curious about everything and I couldn’t keep track of it all.

Then came Burlington Street. It’s a different world. Trucks zooming by. Potholes like craters on the moon. We had to weave through areas like a downhill slalom just to get to our destinations.

IMG_4109.JPG

A handsomely detailed early modern office building that once housed Stelco offices.

IMG_4107.JPG

IMG_4110

POV from Lawanda’s perspective

IMG_4108.JPG

Bill discussing the port lands

We stopped by a handsome old Stelco office and made our way down closer to some of the ports. I wanted to ask Bill what his opinion is regarding the future of our Waterfront since it’s a hot topic in this city. He had differing opinions on what Pier 7 and 8 should look like and that more port lands should be accessible like they once were. After 9/11 security concerns changed that, he said, and the ports became impossible to access. I forgot what the world before 9/11 looked like.

IMG_4112.JPG

The former, recently charred Hamilton Hells Angels clubhouse (and before that the Gage Tavern) at Gage and Beach.

Before we knew it we were at Gage and we decided to cut south. We passed the recently closed Hells Angels HQ and made our way past more industrial buildings scattered amongst housing on Beach road. One thing I noticed was the many simple, functional, modern buildings sowed about the area. We need to do more to reuse these diamonds in the rough, as many now sit completely or partially vacant.

IMG_4113.JPG

Hamilton Moderne

IMG_4115.JPG

A beautiful Hydro Electric Station turned office building on Sherman with classical features, detailed reliefs, and ornament

IMG_4120.JPG

IMG_4122.JPG

A swiss cheese makeover at Victoria Ave

IMG_4124.JPG

The Repite Centre, refaced by Greg Sather in 2005.

Next was Sherman. We rode past Cotton Factory and discussed its impact, the history, architecture, and the work ecosystem inside it. We also passed some charming early modern buildings on Sherman. I was too busy keeping my eyes on the road to take too many photos, but I certainly want to go back and look at more of what we saw that day.

The tour kept going. It was a long day. 21 kilometers were travelled. Lots of liquids were consumed. I won’t keep you much longer, because pretty soon this article is going to be as tiring as our bike ride. We explored a lot of the city and much of it is hard to retrace.

You know what was one of the best things about the ride? Taking a SoBi bike. If you haven’t yet tried one, you should. They are convenient, easy to use, and offer a better way to travel about the city. Those little blue machines are one of the best investments this city ever made. Don’t believe me? Sign up and let me know what you think. I promise you won’t be let down. And you’ll probably become hooked (like me). I barely even drive my car anymore.

1 Comment

Filed under Economy, History

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.

IMG_2990.JPG

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

IMG_0015

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

Screen shot 2016-05-06 at 3.30.53 PM

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

IMG_0162.JPG

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

IMG_0247

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

IMG_2764

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

IMG_3026.JPG

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

IMG_2783

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

IMG_0568.JPG

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

IMG_3040

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

IMG_9969.JPG

12) A FREAKING CASTLE.

IMG_9971.JPG

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

Screen shot 2016-05-06 at 3.37.34 PM.png

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

Screen shot 2016-05-06 at 3.34.37 PM.png

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

VICT.png

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

Screen shot 2016-05-06 at 3.33.21 PM.png

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

Screen shot 2016-05-06 at 3.35.41 PM.png

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

IMG_0026.JPG

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

IMG_0295.JPG

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

Screen shot 2016-05-06 at 4.43.03 PM.png

5 Comments

Filed under Architecture, Entertainment, Uncategorized

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.

IMG_3309.JPG

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.

IMG_3341.JPG

IMG_3344.JPG

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Architecture, Entertainment, Uncategorized

Coffee Talk: Hamilton Holmes

F1000013

I first met Nicholas Hamilton Holmes for coffee at Mulberry just over a month ago. I was introduced to Nicholas’ work through Bill Curran, after he allowed Nicholas to use his office space for a photo shoot. At only 32, Nicholas is way ahead of his years, both in intelligence and skill.

He’s always carrying around a sketchpad and is full of conversation where brief meetings turn into hour-long discussions. He’s a trained cabinetmaker, furniture maker, and furniture designer. His wife is an incredibly talented interior designer, which makes them the perfect couple. Inspiration is always abound.

I walked into Café Oranje to meet Nicholas for a coffee and was greeted with his bearded smile. Sitting there with his sketchpad open, we started our interview after rambling about every subject we could conjure up. Hamilton has only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Nicholas’ talent, but as you’ll see in the interview below, the sky is the limit.

When did you first get into this trade?
I started in 2008 at a technical college in Montreal. It wasn’t even a design college or anything; it was part of a Quebec program to encourage trades. It took a year and half and because it was a Quebec program they got into a lot of traditional stuff, like carving, veneering, bending wood, and finishing.

What made you get into design?
I loved to make things as a kid. I was always trying to make clothes and other random stuff in my parent’s garage. I was making leather stuff at the time that I found this wood program and I always loved woodworking in high school. I was all about shop class and I did really well in it and then my parents kind of steered me to university. Then the program popped up and I went for it. I was working in a bar at the time and I didn’t have any plans of where my life was going, so I thought this would be good. And it was better than good, it was always what I wanted and I didn’t know it at the time.

backleft EDFRont View ED

And where did you go from there?
I did a work experience program at a high-end custom shop in Montreal and it really deepened my passion because it was so high quality. They did a lot of exchange programs with Parisian furniture makers that came from really nice ateliers, so I was amongst those guys too. Just to watch their work and see their quality of tools and their passion for it, it gave me even more inspiration.

upviewedit

When I look at some of your furniture it has that midcentury modern touch to it. Where did that influence come from?
I think its part of me. I’ve always loved geometry. Whenever I painted or drew or designed, I always started with geometry. It seemed like a logical step to me. Because I always did things by hand, I didn’t start my design process on the computer. I started with a ruler, compass, and paper. And that lends to modern styling. I think the minimalism you’re referring to comes with the need to produce things at a good cost, which doesn’t always work out that way. Basically from an economic point of view, the more simple and streamline your designs are, the easier they are to produce. It’s not always the case, but its kind of a perspective. I can’t say for sure, because I’ll have simple designs that are still expensive to make. That’s my ultimate goal: to make something that’s well balanced with proportions and geometry, but as also minimal as possible.

So what do you clients look for?
Most of my commissions are pretty open. They have a lot of trust in me. I’ve been lucky. Sometimes they’ll have inspirations, but the general client that wants something, even if they’re really interested in furniture, don’t really know much about it. The design choices are always up to me. If someone wants me to produce something exactly as it is shown, I’d probably say no because it doesn’t leave any room for expression.

Where do you want to be 10 years from now?
I want to design furniture for production. Something like a small batch production, producing maybe 10 pieces at a time. I hope to see myself in a shop with a few assistants, or apprentices, or cabinetmakers, working with me producing limited batches of really high quality stuff that’s produced in a way that isn’t too much. I think it would nice to make something that is still expensive, but not too expensive – something that someone has to save for, but can see him or herself owning.

IMG_6184IMG_6177

How’s the furniture market been in Hamilton?
Hamilton has a lot of wealthy people in it, for sure. There are a lot of wealthy families out there. I’m trying to service my peers as well. I want the price point to be manageable. The frames I’ve made [which are for sale at Earls Court Gallery] have been a success. I’m hoping that will keep going. I want to have people enjoy them in their house.

What drew you back to Hamilton?
All the pieces were in the right spot. A lot of my friends were moving back to Hamilton, doing their trades and building families. To trump all of that it’s where my friends and family are. Everything came together at one time.

And what do you love about Hamilton?
I love the constant development, the unpretentiousness of the people, the beautiful architecture, which we can all agree on. The opportunity. The energy. It’s got everything going, really. It’s kind of perfect for me. And it’s so close to Toronto too. It’s not like I’m sacrificing a big city market living in a far-flung area. I can make inroads in Toronto on a very casual basis and that’s nice.

Going back to influences, who influenced you in furniture design?
I’m not a big names guy. The major names like (Charles and Ray) Eames or (Hans) Wagner, they’re big influences. Any of the big modernists influenced me a lot. Probably the Art Nouveau is my biggest era of influence. The beautiful thing about Art Nouveau is that it’s a mixture of organic inspiration and geometric minimalism. I’m a big nature lover and hiking in the forest rejuvenates me and inspires me. I’m also inspired by a lot of contemporaries who are creating small batch production throughout North America.

What part of the process do you like the most when it comes to designing and making furniture?
The design process, for sure. It takes so damn long to build everything and a lot of cuts on your hands. It’s tough and really, really hard to get through sometimes. When I’m sitting in my studio, drinking a coffee and sketching is where I really get my kicks and the most excited. But I think that’s the same for any maker. Sometimes you don’t want to finish and hate some of the process, but when you finally finish you can’t believe you created that piece of furniture. There’s still a big romance with the whole process. I love the smell of wood and working in a shop.

IMG_6054IMG_6049IMG_5943

What is your favourite piece of furniture that you’ve designed, so far?
My latest piece, the Danish cord bench. It was one of the hardest things to build, technically. There were a lot of challenges to it. I had to troubleshoot a whole host of problems. It took me almost a year to build three of them. I love all my projects though, really. The frames are now a real product, which is nice. I love that. I’m making a toy box right now with gold leafing that I’m really excited about. But I won’t take too much of the surprise away. Stay tuned to see!

I obviously have to ask you this. What’s your favourite building in Hamilton?
There are so many great buildings. I love the Carnegie Gallery in Dundas, there’s a romance there for me because I feel like it’s always been there for me. The beautiful butterfly that is City Hall is also one of my favourites. I love the Tudors in Durand too. If I had to pick one, I probably couldn’t.

See more of Nicholas Holmes work at http://www.hamiltonholmes.com/

Leave a comment

Filed under Coversations over coffee

Architectural Spotlight: The Waterdown Library and Flamborough Seniors Recreation Centre

IMG_2754

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.

IMG_2735

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.

IMG_2671

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.

IMG_2732

IMG_2698

IMG_2704

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.

IMG_2681

IMG_2687

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.

IMG_2762

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Architecture

The Curious Case of The Hamilton City Centre

IMG_2522.JPG

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?

IMG_2511

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.

IMG_2534

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.

IMG_2517

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.

IMG_2513

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.

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under Architecture