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This week at The Grange

August 27th, 2010

An update on the ongoing repairs at The Grange.

Portico Assessment

One of our concerns is that the front portico is shifting. The spaces between the treads of the steps has increased and some of them are sloping slightly. Ten years ago, we investigated the front of the portico and found that it was sitting on old brick. We were able to stabilize the steps then, but knew that more work would have to be done. The original portico was made out of wood and was replaced with the present stone version in 1885.

Being a designated heritage site means that we are required to do archeology before we do any excavation. Archeological Services Inc., with a team led by archeologist Eva MacDonald, dug two pits, each 1 meter square and 4 meters deep, at the side and the front sections of the steps. They found that the area had been too disturbed during previous construction of air ducts and service lines to be informative. Other than a few shards of glass and pottery and a 1961 penny, no artifacts were found. This cleared the way for Heritage Restoration to excavate the test holes further so that we can assess the foundations and make a decision on the best way to proceed. What we found was that the portico is sitting on a stone foundation. At one point, the stones were mortared with a lime rich mortar; however, over time, the lime has leached out leaving only sand. Given the condition, it was decided that we would restore the stone foundation rather than remove it and pour a concrete one. This, while being more time consuming, is the appropriate approach as it maintains the heritage integrity of the portico.

Our Heritage Architect—ERA Architects Inc.

ERA Architects Inc., has been in business for over twenty years and is based in Toronto and Prince Edward County. With a staff of 30, the firm specializes in heritage architecture, landscape and planning, and provides services for both the public and private sectors. Recent and ongoing architectural projects in building conservation and adaptive re-use in which ERA has been involved include Toronto’s Distillery District, 51 Police Division, Renaissance ROM, Transformation AGO, the Evergreen Brickworks, the Artscape Wychwood Barns, Union Station and Bridgepoint Health (the Don Jail).

Edwin Rowse, the founder, developed his interest in heritage architecture while studying at the University of Edinburgh. Walking the narrow winding streets of the medieval city, he became fascinated with the idea of how to introduce new uses into old buildings. A passion that has continued.

ERA’s core interest is in connecting heritage to wider considerations of urban design and city building, and to a larger set of cultural values that provide perspective to their work at every scale. Their core values are in generating professional integrity and expertise through research, education and mentoring. To that end ERA frequently works collaboratively with other firms to engage in city building, conserving heritage architecture and improving the built environment. They also generate publications and exhibitions related to Toronto and to Canada’s built environment.

A Heritage Construction Moment

I spoke to Andrew Pruss, our architect on the project, about when someone should hire a heritage architect. He noted that anyone with a listed or designated building should definitely choose a heritage architect. Other than that, it really depends on what the owner is planning. Today’s architects focus on the most up-to-date practices and standards whereas a heritage architect must look to the past for standards. While we no longer build with heavy masonry supports or wooden timbers, houses that have these need to be restored or repaired using the same techniques as in the past. An example with The Grange is replacing the portland cement mortar with lime mortar to protect the softer bricks. Heritage architects have a love of the older building techniques and understand traditional construction methods.

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