Architecture

Heritage Consultants Quit Over Concrete Cladding

By RTH Staff
Published November 06, 2008

E.R.A. Architects, recently the heritage consultant for the City of Hamilton's City Hall Renovation project, have just publicly announced their resignation from the project, citing the Council vote to replace the marble cladding on the City Hall building with preformed concrete.

City Council voted in 2005 to designate City Hall as a municipal heritage property, citing the marble cladding as a primary heritage feature.

Designation requires the property owner to maintain the building's heritage features, but Council voted in October to replace the marble in the four decade old building with preformed concrete cladding. This required Council to grant itself a special permit to violate its own heritage rules.

Council rejected the compromise option of using limestone cladding, which would be cheaper than replacing the marble but slightly more expensive than concrete. Heritage advocates accept that limestone would be an acceptable replacement for marble and far superior to concrete, but Council rejected this choice on the basis of cost.

Local heritage advocates pointed out that the Council vote to skirt its own heritage rules opens the door to private heritage property owners demanding the same leniency.

Councillor Lloyd Ferguson, chair of the City Hall Renovation Committee and a strong advocate of the precast concrete option, agreed. "I would suspect that council would come on side with [the property owners]."

After acknowledging that the renovation "requires a balance of heritage, functional and financial objectives", E.R.A. Architects stated that they believe "the integrity of the design of the building" would be "too devalued for the firm to continue in its consultant role" now that the building's main heritage component is being removed.

Here is the full text of the letter:

E.R.A. decided to resign as heritage consultant for the Hamilton City Hall Renovation project when a large majority of City Council voted in favour of replacing the book-matched marble cladding on the building with precast concrete, against the advice of the A.B.E. consortium team who is carrying out the project.

The retrofit and conservation of the 1960s heritage-designated building necessarily requires a balance of heritage, functional and financial objectives. When the Council vote rejected even a compromise recommendation using limestone, E.R.A. decided that the integrity of the design of the building by Stanley Roscoe, at that time the City Architect, and its heritage value, recognized by the City's own designation, would be too devalued for the firm to continue in its consultant role.

The pride of the citizens of Hamilton in their City Hall has been let down by the Council decision and by just how much will emerge as the precast concrete weathers and soils without the dignity of natural stone.

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By My-Itage (anonymous) | Posted November 06, 2008 at 12:14:19

"I would suspect that council would come on side with [the property owners]."

Is it me or did Ferguson just admit that he's actually trying to sabotage Hamilton's heritage rules?

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By Shakes head (anonymous) | Posted November 06, 2008 at 13:50:43

Wasn't that always obvious. He just doesn't get Hamilton's heritage, doesn't get the old buildings, doesn't get the poor people and wierd spiky haired artists living in them and especially doesn't get anything that might impose public responsibilities on private property landlords. Sad, Mr Economy doesn't even realize that by de-protecting heritage, he's throwing out one of the biggest potential selling features of this city and a key market differentiator. Lots of people with money want to move into hip cities that DO get it about heritage, cool urban architecture, creativity and the arts. They sure won't move into a city that snubs it's nose at them by trashing those very sources of appeal.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 06, 2008 at 16:04:28

Bravo to the architects for taking this stance. I'm glad to see others care about the integrity and history of our fine city even when council doesn't. The more residents, professionals and companies we can get that understand what makes our city, and any city great, the better chance we have of changing the antiquated mindset at city hall.

The only sad part if they do decide to use the marble is that I was all geared up to get my marble ashtray.

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By Melville (anonymous) | Posted November 06, 2008 at 23:34:36

Good for them. The city should not be allowed to break its own laws.

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By Asher (anonymous) | Posted November 07, 2008 at 10:24:39

I'm saddened and embarrased to say that I have given up on my home city's politics. It seems no matter what happens, no matter who we vote for, the same crowd of self-serving, disinterested political clowns are elected.

Ever since the city's secret and hushed decision to tear down Gore Park twenty some odd years ago (I'm not good with dates) I've realized that our city will continue to do whatever the hell they want, whenever they want, and will continuously ignore the will of the people.

In many ways, however, the concrete is far more symbolic of the truth of Hamiltonian politics than the marble ever could be. Strangers who drive through and see a beautiful city hall with well-aged marble may mistake Hamilton for a city with decent politicians. Old, stained, hideously weathered concrete will present a much more realistic representation of the quality and political accumen of the individuals within.

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted November 07, 2008 at 13:47:15

Couldn't agree more with the above comments. Council should be downright ashamed.

Oddly enough though, the mayor himself supported a limestone or marble facade throughout the entire process. Combined with his efforts on behalf of LRT, he seems to represent more than just about anybody else at city hall the potential that Hamilton holds for progressive development. Perhaps the solution in future would be to allocate more voting power to the mayor? As things currently stand, it strikes me as something of a lame-duck office.

Having said that, I don't know how other large cities operate in this regard. Is there anybody on this forum who might be able to shed some light on this?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 07, 2008 at 13:59:13

Ontario cities have what's called a "weak mayor" system, in which the Mayor is only one vote on council and has a very limited ability to set the agenda.

Cities in some other jurisdictions - notably the UK and parts of the USA - have a so-called "strong mayor" system, in which the mayor has more sweeping powers, including a veto on council decisions.

Note that "strong mayor" and "weak mayor" don't refer to a given mayor's style, but rather to the political system in which they operate.

The skyscraperpage has an interesting running discussion on the strong mayor / weak mayor dichotomy:

http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showthre...

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted November 07, 2008 at 14:03:58

Good for the architects in not compromising their principles.

As for heritage, I'll agree that heritage designations sometime complicate things to the point that it's difficult for an building owner to move forward, however heritage designations also do the opposite, opening up funding opportunities, and keeping a valuable part of Hamilton's heritage and flavour.

By the way, has anything happened with that new parking lot where HMP used to be? Now that he's running the Sheraton I doubt he'll be permitted to put up a rival hotel so nearby. Methinks he's going to do what he's doing with all his properties, sit on them as parking lots until values rise (probably due to light rail) and then sell them at a profit. Shame on the city for letting him make money off of the city's back!

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By logonfire (registered) | Posted November 07, 2008 at 18:01:06

This is a prime example of the "Do as I say and not as I do" attitude of our local politicians. They are showing no leadership by backing away from the challenge that preserving heritage represents. Those who voted for the use of concrete should be remembered and turfed out at the next election. They are doing us no favours when it comes to shaping our local economy by being parsimonious when it comes to public buildings. Hamilton will soon become known as the "Concrete bunker" town. I want leadership from those elected to lead, not cowardice.

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted November 07, 2008 at 20:25:29

Concrete works for me. You can argue heritage all you want, but it doesn't exclude shoddy workmanship or lack of leadership.

I would seriously question the design and construction of a government building that requires major surgery after just 40 years service. We're talking about nearly two million bucks worth of decay and depreciation per year here. That's sad.

If the fixation over marble is an issue of safety, then core-bore four rather large holes at the corners of each slab and affix large stainless steel bolts with nuts and washers. Then clean, point and polish the slabs to a mirror finish. Done.

It's not that big of a job to preserve the weak "heritage" of this uninspiring structure. The big deal is all the "consultant" costs associated with "ready, aim, aim, aim, aim ..."

I'm not as concerned with how the city hall looks, as I am about how well city staff works. Council should be praised for stiffening their buttocks, gripping their gun stocks and firmly squeezing their triggers.

Let's roll out the next barrel of fish, LRT.

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted November 09, 2008 at 00:46:06

Don't most buildings require some attention after 40 years?

A very interesting article is in the current'Bay Observer' (Friday Nov.7 )It documents the career of Stanley Roscoe, the architech of Hamilton City Hall, Macassa Lodge, Alexander Square,
#1 James St., the IBM Building @ Main & McNab, & Westdale Public Library, just to name a few.

Mr. Roscoe is now 87 & in ill health. His wife Joan documents his frustration in attempting to communicate with City Hall over several decades, about several changes to be made to City Hall.

When Hamilton City Hall was built, it made the pages of Time Magazine. He took on the position of City Architect for Hamilton, & was praised as 'a true progressive thinker' who was creating 'an architectural revolution'.

The "Roscoe family calls (the) concrete decision 'damned disgrace'", according to the headline on pg. 3 of the Bay Observer.

Mr. Ferguson was contacted by The Bay Observer & he confirmed that, "Council or staff have not contacted Stan Roscoe at anytime for his professional input."

Interestingly, Stanley & June Roscoe live in Ancaster & are constituents of Mr. Ferguson.

As for the above poster's comment about LRT being, 'the next fish in the barrel', there are times when I wonder if the best course of action would be to entirely fill Hamilton with concrete, add water, & have everyone leave town for the next 150 years.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted November 09, 2008 at 11:37:06

It was an excellent article. The Spec should be covering this in much greater depth. I can't believe no one is asking why the former general manager of a division of St. Lawrence Cement has been allowed to push cement products as a cladding alternative. If Ferguson were pushing limestone, and had been the general manager of a limestone quarry, I'm sure the Spec would be all over it.

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By two sets of rules (anonymous) | Posted November 09, 2008 at 13:58:42

Don't you know, declaring conflicts of interest is for suckers. Environmentalists and activists are "special interests", corporate managers are just good citizens trying to bring some business sense to government.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 09, 2008 at 14:13:12

I had the pleasure of attending the tour of city hall offered by Roscoe a couple of years ago. I've got a bunch of pics that I should put together on here for a photo-tour. He was very proud of the fact that foundations and pilings are in place in a V-shape behind city hall for a new tower to be built for future expansion. He was also very proud of the fact that he had a full-time artist involved with the project, which enhanced the design of the building with great murals, tile mosaics and other artistic features. I'm sure by the time the renovation is done it will look like an office box in the Ancaster business park. Such a shame that the exterior will also be ruined with that same look.

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By andanotherandanother (anonymous) | Posted November 10, 2008 at 10:19:24

In this morning's Spec, Dreschel calls for a white knight to ante up the $2.5 million extra for limestone.

Nice to see he's on the side of the architectural angels, but his plea strikes me as the continuation of a practice that has put local power into the hands of a small group of wealthy and overly-influential "community leaders" for as long as I've lived in this town, which is more than half a century. If I had a nickel for every time I've read a variation of the word "leader" in The Spec, I'd be almost as rich as if I had a nickel for every time I've read about Hamilton's "potential".

Needless to say, I'm not rich. But I would be willing to put up $10 (500,000 citizens @ $5 ea.) for limestone cladding on city hall, were someone to take up a collection. Hell, I'd be willing put in another $10 to cover the share of WRCU2 above, and a locally-based partner she/he may have, real or fancied.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 10, 2008 at 10:42:03

Damn, I'd buy into that.

Anyone willing to set up a non-profit with an account for receiving donations and start a campaign?

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 10, 2008 at 18:01:03

shouldn't city council be coming up with simple ideas like this instead of taking advice to 'go with concrete' from a former manager of St Lawrence Cement???

Portland, Oregon approached it's residents to buy bricks for their Pioneer Courthouse Square project. The end result? A great urban public square with thousands of bricks with the buyers name engraved on them.

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted November 10, 2008 at 21:28:50

Heck, I'm in for a few bucks! If they put a plaque up naming all who contributed, that would also be a nice gesture & a good incentive. (Metro Zoo does that for all it's animal 'foster parents'.)

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted November 10, 2008 at 21:33:19

Quote: "Council should be praised for stiffening their buttocks, gripping their gun stocks and firmly squeezing their triggers."

ROTFLMAO!!!!!!!!!!!!

I think we are all TOO familiar with those excessively tightened buttocks. (In some places it's called 'Wound too tight'.)

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By Hopeful (registered) | Posted November 10, 2008 at 22:18:04

No decision in my time in Hamilton has made me look more closely at the Burlington real estate ads than this one. The message it sends, and the shadow it casts, is terrifying. That said, I love the idea of folks donating small amounts to save us from our Council! Where do I sign up? Do you think we can get a matching grant from City Hall???

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By Frank (registered) | Posted November 11, 2008 at 12:25:00

How does one go about setting up non profit thingy to get it started? Who let's city hall know we're doing it so they don't go ahead with concrete anyway? I'd love to see City Hall match contributions. I'm in, where do i put the money? I think you'll find most people are much more likely to surrender 10 dollars once than see an increase in their taxes for years to come...

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By highwater (registered) | Posted November 11, 2008 at 13:09:45

Keep your fingers crossed and get out your cheque books, kids. Something like this may very well be in the works.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted November 11, 2008 at 13:13:34

Wouldn't hurt to email Fred in the meantime.

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted November 19, 2008 at 23:41:01

I'm sorry, but everytime I read this, I can't stop laughing at this image of Hamilton City Council:

"Quote: "Council should be praised for stiffening their buttocks, gripping their gun stocks and firmly squeezing their triggers."

Oh ............ pleeeze....(chortle, snork) I'm dieing here..... :-D

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