Comment 53067

By H+H (registered) - website | Posted December 14, 2010 at 11:21:01

Many larger municipalities have erected single-purpose buildings for their Boards of Education over the past 50+ years. Toronto, Hamilton, even North York.

Hamilton, and others, also built Public Health buildings and Utilities/Hydro buildings as well. The Stanley Roscoe-designed Public Health Building was (is) on Hunter across from the current Go Station. It has been modified and is now an office building with a law firm as its prime tenant.

While I have not done any research as to why this practice was adopted, I've read enough to know that it was largely symbolic. Those public departments that were deemed to be significant in terms of value to/impact on the general public were often given stand-alone buildings. As to the Education Centre, this was built during the years when soon-to-be future Premier Bill Davis was the highly visible, popular and well-respected Minister of Education for the province. He was Minister of Education from 1962-1971. He put a lot of provincial money into education. Perhaps this fact contributed to the Hamilton Board of Education commissioning a somewhat grand structure for itself and its citizens?

The Feds have been doing the same thing since we've had the Feds. The old, and now boarded up, Federal Building at Bay and Caroline is an example. So is the old Post Office, now Courthouse. If we adopted the "put them in any space that's available/affordable" approach to housing civil servants, I fear we'd be looking only at generic, cheapest-possible-to-construct buildings rather than the few architectural gems we still have to look at. The new Federal Building on Bay is a perfect example of efficient and stultifyingly bland architecture. It neither makes a statement about the importance of the work going on inside, nor to strength or solidity of the owner/tenant - the Canadian government.

No matter the reason, the fact is the Board of Education building is an iconic building. Some may not appreciate its style, but it's a remarkable piece of modern architecture that tips its hat, albeit a modern one, to the classical and neo-classical movements.

Some people don't like/get Stan Roscoe's City Hall design. Others see it as a high quality example of the International Style of architecture. I admit I'm one of them. Its attention to detail, use of materials, and its assembly of exterior and interior volumes is considered by many current architects to be exceptional. You don't need to agree, any more than we all need to agree on whether the Mona Lisa is a better painting than Monet's Waterlillies, or Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Can. The fact is, they are all examples of art of their time. Which of these three pieces of art would you shred if you were told you had to pick one because it would be more efficient if you did? Why?

In my view, I don't mind paying more for high quality civic architecture. Certainly in Hamilton, the private sector isn't building anything important any more. In Hamilton, when glass curtain walls don't rule, stucco does. It's not only is cheap, it looks cheap. Mediocrity should not be our standard. At least I don't want it to be the standard by which I judge the quality of my civic institutions, whether that be where they are housed or how they provide the services they're mandated to provide. Combining both, in my view, is a goal worth considering.

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