Why Heritage Preservation Of Newer Buildings Matters

May 4 • Architects, Best of 2015, TORONTO • 1580 Views • No Comments on Why Heritage Preservation Of Newer Buildings Matters

By Phil Roberts

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When we think about preserving our architectural heritage, we often overlook buildings constructed post-1950s. Yes, a Neoclassical bank branch has more of an emotional appeal than an International Style office tower, but the latter still represents a period in history.

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While such newer, older buildings are worth preserving, they can also benefit from being retrofitted to meet the energy efficiency, accessibility and standards of wellbeing that are available with today’s construction materials and techniques. That’s exactly what WZMH Architects achieved in Toronto with 222 Jarvis Street and 111 Richmond Street West.

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Built in 1971, 222 Jarvis Street is a Brutalist, 455,000 ft2 office tower reminiscent of an inverted ziggurat on a podium. “I always found it to be a ponderous building,” describes Carl Blanchaer, a principal at WZMH. “The floor plate sizes are 15,000 ft2. The original designer was a department store designer, so it has escalators going through the interior.”

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The escalators were originally within masonry walls, which were removed and replaced with glass partitions. A skylight was installed above to allow natural light to penetrate down to the lobby. Blanchaer says that they did not want to demolish too much of the interior for LEED sake, which is why they elected to leave the escalators in place. “The escalators are actually a good way to move people,” he explains. At the lobby, a four-storey feature atrium allows natural light to infiltrate horizontally across the building.

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Transforming the cavernous interiors into brighter workspaces was the standard set by Infrastructure Ontario, the client of the project. “They developed new Provincial Workplace Environment Guidelines based on access to daylight and acoustics,” says Blanchaer. The idea is to improve employee productivity, engagement and reduce absenteeism by providing a work environment that elevates the health and wellbeing of the workforce. The building even complies with the Provincial Space Policy of 180 ft2 per person.

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On the exterior, the existing single-glazed tinted windows were poorly performing from a visual and energy perspective, so they were replaced with clear, double-pane windows. “The ratio of solid to vision glass on the façade was 50/50,” explains Blanchaer. “We wanted to make it more energy efficient.”

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Other energy efficient goals are achieved through the use of vernacular and low-emitting materials; upgrades to HVAC and IT systems; and rain water harvesting. Accessibility was improved with power door operators, wider corridors and exterior ramps.

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After this 100$ million retrofit and modernisation that was completed in 2012, 222 Jarvis was certified as LEED® Gold and is a one of North America’s largest green building retrofit projects.

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At 111 Richmond Street West, WZMH used similar sustainable strategies to upgrade the 15-storey office tower. Designed by Peter Dickinson, the building has a special connection to WZMH. “Peter Dickinson’s firm was a predecessor of WZMH. When he passed away in 1961, many of his staff came over here,” Blanchaer explains. As a result, part of WZMH’s preservation work involves preserving Dickinson’s legacy, which includes many of Toronto’s most important buildings. They are working with ERA Architects on this project.

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Built in 1959, 111 Richmond Street was the first freestanding highrise in Toronto. The building was built with an 8-foot ceiling, and over time became difficult to market to tenants. The challenge was to make the interiors inviting enough to counterbalance the low ceilings. The solution was to remove the suspended ceilings. “There’s a wonderful concrete structure, so we left things this way to create a loft office space.” Now the building has attracted new businesses, with Google Canada as the main tenant. The original lobby, with its multi-coloured checkerboard wall, displays the chromatic sensibilities of the late 1950’s.

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Similar to 222 Jarvis, the existing single-glazed windows were replaced with contemporary double-glazing, but retained the pattern and proportion of the original. In both of these LEED® Gold certified projects, increased natural light, improved circulation and energy efficient materials help to rejuvenate dated buildings that often got overlooked as architectural heritage.

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“I think we’re going to see more projects like this in the future,” predicts Blanchaer. “Even though these buildings are not several decades old, they speak to an era in Toronto history.”

 

 

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