Special Report: City Hall

Architects Express Support for City Hall

A number of architects have expressed support for efforts to maintain an architecturally significant facade on Hamilton's City Hall.

By RTH Staff
Published November 26, 2008

A number of architects have expressed support for efforts to maintain an architecturally significant facade on Hamilton's City Hall. This designated heritage building is internationally renowned as an outstanding example of the International Style, a modernist architectural movement prominent in the mid-20th century.

Council voted recently to replace the original marble facade with precast concrete to save money, but heritage advocates are hoping that a local campaign can convince Council to upgrade the facade to limestone, which is consistent with the building's heritage designation.

Catherine Nesmith, President of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (ACO), wrote:

Please know that ACO members across Ontario are with you in your efforts to have the restoration of Hamilton City Hall worthy of the City of Hamilton, and worthy of its architect who deserves all the honours that we can heap upon him -- the greatest of which is to have his work cherished and preserved.

Stanley Roscoe's service to the City of Hamilton left a remarkable collection of mid century treasures.

Our Hamilton branch has argued tirelessly for the preservation of Hamilton City Hall, first for designation, and more recently for restoration in its original materials. The marble was chosen to link this crisp modern building with significant buildings of the past. ACO Council supports our local branch and agrees that replacement in concrete would downgrade the public image of the City of Hamilton and be poor heritage conservation practice.


Few Ontario cities have the wealth of architecture that Hamilton enjoys.

Hamilton City Council has committed its citizens to high standards in conservation of the significant collection of heritage buildings in private hands. We hope City Council will lead by example, and work to the same standard in its own portfolio.

The dignity of the image of the City depends on Council reversing its decision to use concrete.

Jack Diamond is an internationally renowned architect, a Officer of the Order of Canada and a recipient of the Order of Ontario, and a principal of Diamond + Schmitt Architects, the firm that is designing McMaster Innovation Park. He wrote:

Hamilton is fortunate in having a fine example of modernist architecture. Its value will only increase with time. However, this means that renovations should respect the cultural heritage that buildings represent. It should be done with respect, honouring with integrity the original artifact, its materials and detailing.

Future generations will bless those who have such sensitivity and an understanding of the real and symbolic importance of buildings which house our public institutions.

Bruce Kuwabara is one of Canada's best-known architects, renowned locally for having renovated the Art Gallery of Hamilton and for having proposed an urban renaissance around Gore Park long before city staff began studying it.

He grew up in North Hamilton, and looked to Stanley Roscoe as an inspiration during his own architectural training:

Stan Roscoe was one of the first architects that I had ever encountered in real time, in real practice. He was positively dapper, always wearing well-tailored suits and ties. His shirts, unlike mine, were crisp. He spoke precisely and quickly, directing the flow of discussion about detailed aspects of his projects. And needless to say, he made a huge impression on me.

I have witnessed the loss of vitality and life in the downtown of my home town. It is a tragedy because the downtown of my youth was full of life, and this one exhilarating modern building designed by Stan Roscoe.

More recently, when I was working on the transformation and renovation of the Art Gallery of Hamilton, designed in the seventies by Trevor Garwood Jones, I stood in the rooftop outdoor sculpture atrium, and was inspired by the sight of the City Hall, and the distant silhouette of the Mountain, and the big sky above, to decided to create the interior space of what is now a Scupture Atrium for the AGH. In other words, I was inspired to ignite a conversation between the art gallery and the city hall, between my work and Stan Roscoe's.

When I learned that the City of Hamilton was going to retain and renovate its existing City Hall, designed by Stan Roscoe, I was both surprised and delighted. Modern buildings are now heritage. It is amazing how quickly time passes.


The way in which the City has retained one of the great works of modern architecture in Canada is something to celebrate. But the way in which the renovation of this treasure is carried out will speak more about the maturity, depth of knowledge and appreciation that this City and this community has about itself than about the building alone.

I will follow with great interest to see whether Hamilton will do the right thing or whether it will have saved a great work of architecture, only to render it in a mediocre way.


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