demolition granted





O xford Propeties Group of Toronto has chosen to erect a 42-storey structure on the Concourse site. A new building envelope which resembles the Concourse will be pasted on to act as a skin of the South and part of the East elevation of the new tower. Some original ornamentation will be grafted onto this skin. This is not preservation as it is technically understood. International and National standards in the field clearly quantify the preservation terminology which Oxford misuses. Briefly: of the degrees and types of Preservation as defined by ICOMOS --Preservation, Period Restoration, Rehabilitation, Period Reconstruction and Redevelopment-- none matches Oxford's plan. Technically Oxford is planning a Demolition. In what manner they choose to reconstitute constituent parts afterwards is out of the purview of Preservation and into the realm, good or bad, of imitation, pastiche, PoMo, Disney-fication and so on. Oxford's plan for the Concourse is not technically considered to be Preservation of any kind. Canada is signatory to the ICOMOS charters. This is a good starting point for reading and reference: Also the National Parks Service in the USA has done an exemplary job defining and enforcing technical standards on what is often loosely called "preservation". In 1995 the Secretary of the Interior of the United States published Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. These are exacting standards under four headings: Preservation, Rehabilitation, Restoration and Reconstruction. Every definition within gives lie with clinical ferocity to Oxford's claim of "preserving" the Concourse. There is a game that developers play to great effect at the municipal level in cities everywhere: the game that says if I demolish 95% of something I can take credit for preserving 5%. The ICOMOS and Appleton Charters and the US Interior Standards flatly refuse the legitimacy of that game. In fact I almost felt sorry for Oxford's lawyer Stephen Diamond of McCarthy-Tetrault, who at the Council debate on the Concourse demolition found himself thoroughly and understandably confused on the point of demolition, first denying that Oxford espoused demolition, then promising that the art would be saved after the demolition.
       What a waste of a good building. With its small floor plate the Concourse is ideal for a tenant who values access to light and air. The ceilings, according to Oxford's August 2000 leasing information, are 9 feet high: the same height as Oxford's other Richmond-Adelaide towers and Royal Bank towers. There are no technical liabilities associated with this building. Since the demolition was approved there have been 3 large residential towers planned within 2 blocks of this site, and one really good residential retrofit (the Graphic Arts Building) about 100 feet away. This building cries out for such attention.
         The essence of the Oxford argument, that this is an uneconomical building, is easily refuted. Similar buildings are being transformed by owners who regard the simple accumulation of age as a kind of asset unto itself, a potential value that cannot be replaced nor faked. Numerous examples dot the downtown core. The Sterling Tower at 372 Bay Street is a Deco tower of the same size and vintage as the Concourse, which has been restored and leased. The Flatiron building commands prestige rents. Many of the buildings on the Bay Street canyon have recently been refurbished. 320 Bay had 333 000 square feet redone in 1993 and others followed. These projects are economical to develop and un-invasive in already dense areas. Worth noting is the great legacy already preserved over the decades by more enlightened developers. Virtually all of Toronto's 'super block' developments include significant heritage buildings: Commerce Court North, the Bank of Nova Scotia HQ at 44 King West, the Design Exchange at TD Centre, the Hockey Hall of Fame at BCE Place.
           The overwhelming majority of new office space hitting the market between 1994 and 2001 has in fact been reinvented old office space. Even modern towers from the 1950s and 1960s are getting the full retrofit. In the summer of 2000, 434 500 square feet were being readied at 36 Adelaide East, another 120 000 or so at 40 Adelaide East.  At 11 King West 165 500 square feet have been handsomely retrofitted. In early 2000 120 Bloor East brought 233 000 square feet to market. Like any other environment the urban area is richer if its resources are re-used, not simply plundered. But the Oxford corporate culture has its origins in Calgary in the 1970s and it seems they've yet to grow out of either one.

next: The toxic trade between Oxford and City Hall

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