Old tunnel tech

In the Toronto subway there is the University segment of line 1. The part from Osgoode Station to Museum Station was tunnelled, and as they do remediation work in the station, you can see how it was built… early 1960s style. Both Queen’s Park and St. Patrick stations have unique tube-like appearances that are reminiscence of the London Underground. What is interesting is that they pre-date the use of concrete tunnel linings, and instead use curved sections of cast iron tunnel lining, held together with bolts.


For tunnels that are nearly 60 years old, the sections of cast iron almost look as if they were installed a couple of years ago. Concrete likely trumps cast iron from the viewpoint of speed, versatility, and strength, but there is something intrinsically appealing about the nuts and bolts of cast iron – almost Meccano-like.



The heresy of architectural facadicide

In an age when we are obsessed with the glass and aluminum monstrosities we call architecture, we are slowly eroding our architectural heritage – buildings from a time when buildings were constructed to last generations. Yes, many of these buildings aren’t that eco-friendly, and may lack modern conveniences, but they had aesthetic appeal that many modern buildings lack. The worst form of architectural heresy may be facadicide, where all that is left of the historic building is its facade. The photo below is a prime example – the buildings have been demolished, with the steel scaffolding holding up the old thing left – its facade.

Is there any historic value left in this thin veil of a bygone era? I get that old buildings sit on prime realty, and that a thirty storey building houses a lot of people. But what is left of the city when all its architectural heritage has been eroded? What happens when a city full of high-rise leaves nothing but shadows? Is a building not more than the sum of its four surrounding walls?

There are glimmers of light, people who help rejuvenate historic buildings, like the Tower Automotive Building. Once the tallest building in Toronto, this 100-year old building now houses the  Museum of Contemporary Art in Toronto.


Architectural heritage… another one bites the dust

Sometimes it seems as if Toronto is a city of constant construction. But there is also a darker side to many cities, and that is the destruction that occurs, and often it very much goes under the radar. I’m talking about historical buildings of course. Toronto has a varied history in making historically significant buildings disappear. I think one of the most significant losses was the Toronto Armouries. Built in 1891, it was demolished in 1963 to make way for the provincial courthouses that sit on the site today. Many such buildings have disappeared, often due to a lack of interest in maintaining historic architecture for the future.

The Toronto Armouries after 1900 (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 0220)

Another classic loss is that of Chorley Park, the fourth Government House built in Ontario (and the last). It was built between 1911-1915, and lasted a mere 45 years before it too was demolished in 1960 after the city of Toronto bought the house for $100,000. The 1960s of course marked a time when Toronto demolished much of its architectural legacy. Chorley Park is today parkland.

Chorley Park (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1128)

You have to wonder when there are books dedicated to Toronto’s lost architectural treasures, like Doug Taylor’s “Lost Toronto“. Lost not because of natural disasters, or war, but because of progress. Look, I’m not against progress, as long as that progress is achieved in a way that balances the history of a city, and the need to build non-descrip, monolithic buildings. And let’s face it much of what is built in the modern world lacks character. The demolitions continue however, sometimes an “accident” by a developer, often planned. One of the more recent victims, the buildings of the Davisville Junior Public School, being demolished to make way for a new school. I do whole-heartedly understand the new for new facilities, but it does lend itself to the gradual erosion of both our cultural, and architectural heritage.

Nixing the Davisville Junior Public School buildings.

Davisville Junior Public School was built in 1962, and represents (or did represent) a prime example  of the mid-century modern style that flourished in Toronto after WW2. At the time the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) had its own in-house architects, lead by chief architect Frederick Etherington. Ultimately a lack of funds to maintain the building (leaky roof anyone?), and upgrade it, has lead to its doom (note that two architects, Carol Kleinfeldt and Roman Mychajlowycz offered the TDSB two pro bono expansion plans that would have saved the building). At the end, as you can see it will be all gone by the end of next week. I photographed the school just after Christmas, and decided to post it as a B&W photo, to indicate that the building will soon be just a memory (and I should have spent more effort photographing it).

Other cities like Montreal seem to do a much better job at maintaining and promoting their architectural heritage, even restricting the building of huge monolithic towers. Toronto on the other hand seems to love the concept of facadicide (but we’ll leave that to another post).