Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mo' From TO: Architecture Corner

Whenever Karen and I go back east, we always notice one thing: bricks. Northern California had its fair share of brick buildings until April 18, 1906, when they all fell down. Architects didn't need to learn that lesson twice, so structures made of brick (and stone) are quite rare here, and the few you find are often 19th Century survivors of the Great Quake. Oh, you'll see fake bricks used in facades, but they don't look like the real thing or fool anybody. When we travel, spotting our first brick building is the cue that we're not in the Bay Area anymore.

So we were in Toronto gaping at bricks and stones like rubes when we noticed something we hadn't really seen anywhere else: great old buildings with modern steel-and-glass additions butted right up against them. Totally integrated, no gap between them at all, with no attempt made to match their architectural styles. Some of the new work envelopes the old like a gnarled tree trunk grown up around a boulder.

I suppose it has something to do with the weather--avoiding the elements while walking from one building to another--but it's an aesthetic decision as well, and an interesting one. Do people protest that the additions clash with or ruin the character of the classics? Or does nobody mind as long as the historic building remains intact? I can imagine locales, including mine, where this approach wouldn't fly at all.

Once we noticed it we couldn't stop noticing it, and I started taking pictures because I found it fascinating. I kind of like it. There's an integrity in not trying to trick anybody into thinking the new structure belongs with the old one. Reminds me of how restorers of "The Last Supper" fresco fill in missing paint with watercolor that nobody looking closely would mistake for Leonardo's original work.

Herewith, a gallery of "Old and New Buildings Crammed Together in Toronto." If you lived with me, this is what you'd have to put up with. Karen is a saint.


Sherwood Harrington said...

These are... well, I was going to say "fun," and they are, but they're more than that. I am especially taken by the third one (with the modern extension of the old building's silhouette) and the last one (with the old church embraced by a mountain of modernity.) Really, really good stuff.

And of course you like this sort of thing -- the marriage of the dust cover and the hard cover of WHTTWOT? is exactly this sort of thing, isn't it?

(By the way, we got the same kind of jarring by different centuries' architectural styles a few years ago in Ireland -- but it wasn't 19th vs 20th, it was 11th vs 12th.

Brian Fies said...

Sherwood, I love that example from Ireland. I guess it's not as innovative or unusual as I thought!

I appreciate your comparison to my book cover. That hadn't occurred to me. It also reminds me of something: one of my guiding life principles is something I understood to be a fisherman's motto--you always find the best catch where one environment abruptly changes to another. Deep to shallow, clear to muddy, hot to cold--that's where the interesting stuff happens. I don't know if it's actually true for fish but I think it applies to life in general and mine in particular. Smoosh together two different things and see what happens. Sometimes it works. Maybe applies to buildings as well.

patricia said...

Hmmm....well, I do know that interesting stuff sure does happen in downtown Toronto!