It was just on March 30th that I published my previous post on the Northern Junk Buildings. In six short weeks a lot has happened with this project. If you want to get caught up on the history of this project, go back and have a quick read of the last post. The key piece of information is that we have been here before… So many times… A new proposal to save these heritage buildings. We get see the hopeful future, with translucent people sitting on a patio enjoying the completed buildings and cyclists riding by waving to their friends. So will it be any different this time? I really hope so.
Maybe it is the recent loss of the Westholme Hotel that has me feeling a little bit more nervous than I was before about the Northern Junk Buildings. If you have walked by them recently you will know that between the extensive graffiti and the ferns growing out of the cracks in the masonry, that they are in an ever increasingly fragile state. It will only take a small earthquake or a badly driven truck and we will lose another treasure. But desperation is not a reason by itself to jump on a development proposal, it has to still be solid vision for the buildings.
So What Is New?
I was able to pop by the open house they had in the Fairfield Building (another treasure) on May 22nd. It is almost easier to say what is not new and that is that the Northern Junk Buildings remain at the centre of the project, but beyond that everything else has changed.
Likely pushed by some of the more radical thinking that has enveloped our city council, Reliance Properties has removed the city owned property from the project. I could go into why I think this a terrible idea, but it really has nothing to do with the project or the developer anymore. So the project is now just the two buildings and the property to the west along the water behind them.
In the past projects, there was a plan to retain the buildings as stand alone entities, but without the rest of the property to use as a source of financing this proposal adds the density above the two buildings.
Finally, the plan has moved from a condo project with underground parking to a rental project with a significant amount of bike parking but no car parking at all. It will be up to the public and the city to decide whether the trade offs are worth it, but I have my opinions about it.
I have included some of the picture-boards from the presentation here for you to make your own decisions about this but if you are okay with the compromises here, I think that this project has a lot of potential.
Like I said there is a compromise here and that is that this project is going to fundamentally change the Northern Junk buildings, but there are only three other options: sell the city land so that there is enough money to fix them up; have someone come along and rehab the buildings at a significant financial loss; or let them fall down. I personally think that this compromise is worth it and even more than that, this project saves the Northern Junk buildings and gives them another 150 years of life and that will be a life where they will be admired both for their heritage, but also their beauty.
So What is Great?
Despite being disappointed that we won’t see the neighbouring city land developed at the same time, I do really like this proposal. You just have to un-see the last ten years of proposals for the site. Taken as a small redevelopment of two waterfront heritage buildings, I think that this project is very elegant.
My favourite parts are how, despite being a single building above the street level, the modern part is differentiated and looks like two buildings. Further on the new portion, I think that the decision to not try to replicate the heritage buildings and instead take a modern look at heritage elements, while also having them stand back to let the original portion shine through is right on.
The south face of the building with the glass lobby facing on to a new edge of Reeson Park is exactly what needs to be done to activate the park and deter negative uses. The new residents may even see this park as their back yard! Further on the public space, the extension to the harbour walkway (Remember not to call it the other name!) is vibrant and really lets you get up close to the original facades in a way that shows them off.
What is Going to be Tricky?
Overall, I don’t have any substantial issues with the proposal for the buildings, but I do know two places where we will hear concerns and the developer will need to be ready to discuss them.
First is the dreaded term “Facadism”. Now I am not certain it completely applies in this case, but we are certain to hear it. If you were to walk into the Northern Junk buildings now, they really are just those outside walls that you see. So yes the new portions of the buildings will be built on an internal skeleton rather than on the walls, but there really is not an interior to preserve. Furthermore, from what I understand, wherever possible the masonry will be visible on the interior as well and this will be for all four walls. For me, facadism is demonstrated more in something like the Era building on Yates Street where it is really just the exterior facade that has been preserved and in some ways looks tacked on the new building.
The second area where I think the there could be some concern is with the decision to glass in the southern building’s facade on its southern and western faces. This was done to increase the foot print of the building so it would align with the floors above. I am sure that some people will be unhappy with this. In my opinion though it actually gives the building a sense of importance to have it behind glass walls and I think that the image at the beginning of the article demonstrates that well.
I am interested to see what the Downtown Residents Association thinks of this project as there main objection to the previous version was about the sale of public land and that is now off the table. I am also really interested to hear what your thoughts are on this proposal. Please let me know in the comments!