I got my first Covid 19 vaccination today! It feels like a big weight has been lifted from my shoulders – not all of the weight, but things are getting lighter. I just realized that the word VACATION is in the word VACcinATION.
Maybe that message can help nudge the reluctant toward protection. Freedom awaits! True freedom – not the deceptive kind. Of course no vacations for a while yet until everyone is vaccinated, but I am so very happy that in the foreseeable future, which has been unforeseeable for so long, I will be able to be with people who I love who I haven’t seen in so long. Protecting each other by staying away from each other feels perverse, but then it has been a particularly perverse world over the last year.
On the subject of protection, my sketches this month are inspired by Urban Sketchers Edmonton’s theme of the month: “Historic Buildings”, and boy do they need protection. Unfortunately, there are many at risk of demolition.
Although Edmonton has to be reminded constantly of the importance of heritage to our identity, flawed Alberta provincial legislation encourages development over the preservation of heritage buildings. I don’t know why so many situations are seen as “or” when they can be “and”.
Edmonton has been on the National Trust for Canada’s Most Endangered Historic Places list 15 time in the last 17 years. That’s not good. The University of Alberta’s Ring Houses are the most recent additions
This is my second Ring House sketch – the first is in my post previous to this one. All of the Urban Sketchers Edmonton’s Ring House sketches are in a separate post with more background. These historic buildings were built from 1911 – 1914 as housing for faculty, and they fulfilled many functions of importance to the university over the years. Six of the original ten were demolished in 1970 to make way for a car park. A moratorium on the demolition of the remaining four has been requested by concerned citizens so that time can be allowed for adaptive reuse solutions to be formulated for the Ring Houses. Otherwise, these historic houses will be demolished in May.
I sketched another couple of buildings that are on the demolition list in what is now Oliver Crossing at 111 Street and 104 Avenue in Edmonton.
“Demolishing is a decision of easiness and short term,” said Anne Lacaton. “It is a waste of many things – a waste of energy, a waste of material, and a waste of history. Moreover, it has a very negative social impact. For us, it is an act of violence.” Anne Lacaton and Jean-Phillipe Vassal are the 2021 Pritzker prize winners. The Pritzker Architecture Prize is awarded annually “to honor a living architect or architects whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture”. It is a premier international architecture prize, and is often referred to as the Nobel Prize of architecture.
These solid buildings – brick inside and out – are the last two buildings standing from the from the railyards era that dominated our downtown streetscape for almost a century. Once they are gone, nothing will remain to commemorate this important era in our city’s history.
The University of Alberta Farm is a gem for so many reasons. The heritage barns there have quite a story.
In 1930, five farm buildings including the horse barn and dairy barn were moved to the University Farm site, now South Campus. Other new buildings were added including the livestock pavilion, grain elevator, feed mill and seven houses for farm staff. The horse barn was moved again in 2010. Today it stands near the Green and Gold Community Garden and the Prairie Urban Farm.
When I hear complaints about the expense of preserving historic buildings, I think we can compare this grand 100 year old barn to the “inexpensive” and uninspired temporary barn beside it. These temporary structures are often made of PVC which carries huge environmental and health concerns. Not only would the demolition of a historic structure such as this original barn be a loss to the story and identity of the farm and beyond, but as National Trust states, “these structurally sound and functional buildings represent large quantities of embodied carbon and irreplaceable durable materials, including old-growth timber.” Temporary structures only contribute to alarming environmental and energy impacts through all the stages of their short lives: production, intentional short-term use, and disposal. I don’t know what the plans are for the historic horse barn, but it seems that nothing is safe from so-called “development” any more.
High rise developments are often the reason given for the demolition of heritage buildings. However, including them in a development is a way to honour the past as well as providing for future needs. Again an “and” not “or” situation.
El Tovar Apartment House at 10029 – 114 Street is a human-scale, historic apartment building in the Oliver neighbourhood of Edmonton. Although the proposed development for the lot is unknown, it is likely that another high rise building will take its place.
We should not be replacing heritage with high rises. There is a place for densification, but not at the cost of losing our few remaining heritage buildings. Modest buildings are often overlooked for their heritage value because they are not “grand”. However, they contribute greatly to the story, identity and historic development of our City, just as much as any ornate building.
We need to protect the tangible memory of our cities. It is part of what makes cities vibrant, human and livable. Let’s protect each other too through the rest of this pandemic and beyond. Courage my loves.
Posted by Marlena Wyman