No Better Time for Architects Conference in Hamilton

Here's why over a thousand architects have descended on Hamilton this week.

By Toon Dreessen
Published May 07, 2015

This week, over a thousand of the province's architects have arrived in Hamilton from across the province for the 2015 Ontario Association of Architects (OAA) conference.

As Hamilton's revitalization continues to surge forward and several significant new architectural projects are unveiled this week, there could not have been a better time for the conference to arrive in this city.

Throughout the week, the OAA is conducting tours for our members, studying Hamilton as a model for how architecture can impact urban renewal.

Urban Renewal

Once upon a time, the term brought to mind associations of bulldozing old buildings in favour of something new. In the past, demolition for the sake of progress has resulted in bland communities that lack the character and spirit of a vibrant, eclectic and culturally diverse community.

Today, architects have a keen eye on urban renewal that involves finding new uses for what already exists, complemented by well-designed new buildings and revitalized public spaces.

Reanimating, repurposing and adapting our buildings and communities allows them to grow, expand and adapt with time. Recognizing that existing buildings are worth saving is key.

When done right, urban renewal is something to celebrate. And that's what brings us here.

Reusing and Reimagining

Hamilton has seen a major trend towards adaptive reuse. Industrial buildings that scatter the core have become creative hubs with massive impact to the local economy, from open lofts and co-working spaces, to trendy cafés and downtown shops.

Still, numerous vacant buildings exist, inviting this kind of attention. For architects, that makes Hamilton an even more compelling case study: a historic and established city at a turning point, opportunity abounds.

Among other developments, the planned revival of the Residences of Royal Connaught into condos will help bring a critical mass of residents back downtown, animating the area with people who want to be part of the scene. Projects like this can become the tipping point for revitalization. The time is now.

It's not just old factories that have come back to life. The Lister Block, renovated in 2011, sparked a revitalization of the community. The renewed Art Gallery of Hamilton was originally built in 1977, designed by Trevor Garwood-Jones, and in 2005, KPMB reimagined the building as it stands today.

A balance of heritage buildings and urban space has allowed for the creation of open parklands. With the unveiling of Veteran's Park at Gore Park this week, we'll get a taste of what's to come in the core.

Growing the City

The OAA is interested in more than what's being done to preserve what was: we're interested in how architecture is being used to grow the city.

We'll be touring the new Tim Horton's Field to understand the ways in which a major sport venue can act as a catalyst.

We'll be on the waterfront, looking at what has been done and what is yet to come to provide Hamilton with new public spaces.

We'll get to peek at the newly constructed McMaster University Downtown Health Campus that the city has been eagerly anticipating.

Ongoing Challenges

For Ontario's architects this week, equally important to learning about recent successes will be learning about ongoing challenges. Wide one-way streets favour cars over pedestrians, and suburban sprawl has resulted in a displacement of wealth and population outside of the core.

While well-intended at the time, we are struggling the enormous ramifications of this kind of action today: heavier burdens for public transit, extended costs for infrastructure services, longer commutes and traffic that increase climate change and reduces our quality of life.

Fortunately, the recent development boom promises to bring new residents downtown with significant impact to the local economy.

Keep Momentum Going

The key to keeping this momentum going is to make sure that other treasures are protected, not neglected, finding ways to support land owners, and encouraging development needs to be supported.

A push for development that is concurrent with preservation and adaptive reuse will tie in to ongoing debates about public transit, maintaining a positive tax base, providing local food, shopping, restaurants and a vibrant urban culture that attracts tourists, residents and businesses.

Keeping a balance with a mixture of affordable housing so that there is a diversity of people, cultures and backgrounds will ensure that Hamilton's revitalization is authentic and that it lasts.

Ultimately, I think the province's architects will discover a lot of unexpected highlights during this week's tours: Hamilton is a bit of a gritty, urban space that has a real authenticity to it.

It's starting to shine with great examples of how urban renewal can be done in a positive way. Both its successes and struggles will become a source of inspiration and these lessons will influence the future of city building for the province's visionary architects.

Toon Dreessen Architect, OAA, MRAIC, AIA, LEED AP is the president of the Ontario Association of Architects. He is committed to cultivating an engaging dialogue with the public about the value of architecture to society. President of the Ottawa-based firm Farrow Dreessen Architects Inc, based in Ottawa, Mr. Dreessen has spearheaded the execution of a wide variety projects in commercial, retail, office, industrial and institutional settings throughout his career.


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By jason (registered) | Posted May 09, 2015 at 22:15:58

I'm sure all the architects had a marvellous time hanging out and people-watching on Main, York, Bay etc.... It will be great to hear stories of them going home to tell all their friends, families and business associates about our competitive advantage over Toronto.

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By Malex (anonymous) | Posted May 14, 2015 at 16:04:43

What were these "significant new architectural projects" that were unveiled? (as referenced in the article's opening paragraph?)

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