Comment 53144

By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2010 at 09:35:36

It would be interesting to determine the relative scale of the public sector workforce 50 years ago as compared to today. That, to me, seems entirely germane to the matter of whether or not we should be investing in symbolic buildings to house the bureaucratic bodies of various public sector agencies. I would imagine that Singer’s Board of Ed was built at a time when private sector employers were far more thick on the ground than they are today, but I can’t put any stats to that hunch.

I understand that the state will probably always invest in architectural symbolism (that was especially true in the ideologically fraught Cold War era), but the province doesn’t really do that to the same extent and certainly by the time you’re getting down to the local/regional level the showbiz budget should have mostly dried up. I’m not unsympathetic to the argument that Graham is making, and I do see beauty in 71/100 Main West (even Stelco Tower as the sun rises and sets... but my aesthetic charity doesn't extend to JS's plate-peastone bunker), but again I ask: Can anyone forecast a hypothetical scenario whereby private sector forces can be emboldened to the point when they see our architectural history as having value? Because if the answer is no, it seems to me that sooner or later we will have to get used to goodbyes.

Unindustrial: “Once upon a time, we built things to last and to age gracefully. Why did we stop? And how do we get back to that point?”

Off the top of my head, I think it is a matter of two things: A value-driven public sector and a risk-averse private sector. It’s hard to calculate the ROI of architectural grandeur, and if it isn’t inherently important to you, you don’t see the point in investing in it.

On the whole, I would say that the public sector, ever responsive to the temperament of the electorate, is simply mirroring private sector priorities. In the easternmost tip of Gore Park, out front of where Pino Fagnilli used to keep shop in the storefronts of the Connaught, there’s an historical plaque that tribute to the Five Johns – the bold captains of industry who branded Hamilton as “The Electric City” and fuelled its rapid industrial expansion a century ago. They owned and/or ran railways (inter-city, intra-city and incline) and power companies, their corporate interests ran to lumber, textile, agricultural and industrial concerns and a couple of them held provincial offices, including a legislature seat, Attorney General of Ontario, Lieutenant-Governor. This was all in the third act of what were generally distinguished lives:

http://web.archive.org/web/20050818201632/collections.ic.gc.ca/industrial/5johns.htm

It has become fashionable to give fortunes to hospitals and universities, but back in the day the priority was city-building, and the criteria attached to things built in that era were somewhat different than they are in a shell-shocked foreign-owned manufacturing city taking baby steps into a post-industrial age. (Admittedly, some of the earlier economies – a more ethnically and religiously homogeneous society that was ignorant of environmental costs, for example, and to exploit labour, some of it indentured – are not available to us today.) Quarterly earnings reports were not an altar on which they sacrificed first-borns. They saw things differently.

Civilizations build monuments in defiance of time, but we are a society in thrall to the stopwatch.

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