Thursday, July 3, 2014

Hit The Streets

The art gallery I work at, Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, recently launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds.


It's hard to compete with other institutions who receive a lot more funding than us. We try to run great programs and we try to allow as much access as we can to our permanent collection, which is pretty dynamite. Help us out if you can. I hate to beg, but we need it.

Lok Bild

As part of my job at KW|AG this summer, I've been researching a ton of stuff about Kitchener architecture and the history behind specific sites and the town itself. This is really right up my alley, as one of my favourite parts about living in Toronto was* living in a city that I had a lot of history. I love walking through old neighborhoods in the central core and seeing old houses, recognizing their distinctive features and thinking about how many things happened in those areas and how many lives were lived. Not just major events that everyone has heard of, but just thinking about much stuff has happened to people in the city over time. There's actually very few things I enjoy more than being able to stroll through the sidestreets of Toronto with music on. I'm lucky because Toronto is pretty rich with history and I try to take advantage and learn the history of my favourite parts of the city as much as I can.

Can you tell my mom was a history teacher?

This is one of the things I love most about my (sentimental) second hometown, Guelph. The downtown of the city is very old and has very distinctive Victorian architecture. They also have a giant, remarkable Neo-Gothic cathedral that towers over the town. The city has legislature in place that doesn't allow for the alteration of the Victorian buildings and also prevents any building being built to stand higher than the cathedral. THAT IS HOW YOU PRESERVE A CITY. It looks amazing and you really feel the history of the city while you walk through it. At least I do.

So because of all that, me liking the history of my area and whathaveyou, researching the history of Kitchener buildings has been a cool learning experience. I'm still feeling out my place in this town, so learning interesting things that nobody seems to acknowledge about it has helped me with that. Before living here, I spent pretty significant amounts of time in Guelph and Toronto and grew really comfortable in Guelph. I've lived in Kitchener-Waterloo for about a year and a half and still haven't gotten comfortable here, but being able to walk by a building on the street and then thinking about all of this history I know about it makes me feel a little more comfortable.

However, one thing I have also learned through this research is that the city of Kitchener treats its buildings like dogshit. The most obvious example of this is the destruction of the second iteration of City Hall. It was a giant Neo-Renaissance building that existed on one of the city's most prominent blocks and is certainly what most people would think of when they think of a "city centre". In 1973 that building was voted to be torn down by city council so that a mall could be built in its place. It wasn't that the city was planning to build a new building in another location or anything, they just seemingly randomly decided to tear down the building. Market Square, the building that replaced City Hall, is currently a glorified food court that has about a half dozen fast food places while the bottom has only several failing businesses and many vacant store spaces. As soon as I read about that decision, I had to scratch my head. I'm sure that there is a lot more to it, but none of that information is available. But why would you tear down this for this? Everybody that I've mentioned this too is equally as confused and pissed about it as I am.

Another example is the Former TD Bank Headquarters, which happens to be across the street from Market Square. It's a picture perfect example of mid-century Modern architectural styles, especially in regards to how banks were designed. The solid looking walls! The scalloped roof! Fuck, is that ever a solid, nice looking building! On top of that, it was designed by Bruce Etherington, who was TD's in-house architect during the middle of the 20th century. After that, he taught architecture at the University of Hawai'i for almost 40 years and was a huge part of them establishing an architecture school. ADDITIONALLY, while on a trip to the Philippines, he saw the awful state of villages destroyed by weather and poverty and then invented the "Lok Bild" system, which is a brick system that is incredibly easy to put together and requires minimal training, is cheap and is also very strong and withstand the intense tropical storms of the region. ON TOP OF THAT, he didn't even patent his system so that everyone in developing countries steal it and not have to pay him. WHAT AN INTERESTING AND GREAT PERSON!

The tricky thing about bank buildings is that the technology and demands inside of them is constantly changing and the buildings have to keep up with that. You know what that TD Bank is now? A fucking bar and grill restaurant chain. That's what.

The way that the "face" of a city changes over time is pretty interesting and a neat evolution, but for some reason Kitchener is hell-bent on just destroying the whole city and starting it over every 50 years^. I think that that is fucking stupid.

*It pains me to say was, but I've been living in Kitchener a year and a half. I will always be a Toronto boy and my parents still live there. No matter where I go, Toronto will always be home.

^They also tore down and tried to re-invent the city in 1916 because of anti-German sentiment during the First World War. Kitchener was originally called Berlin. They are currently in the process of "re-inventing" downtown Kitchener by commissioning tons of huge buildings. While their hearts are in the right place and the downtown is desperately in need of renovations, it seems like it's more of what I've just described.