Why Edmonton might need façadism even though a lot of people hate it / by Tim Querengesser

I'm going on a limb on this one but hear me out. Edmonton needs to consider looking into adopting façadism as a way to preserve its architectural history. And here's why I say this.

Just the other day, as I left the Blush Lane building on Whyte Avenue, I caught a glimpse of the brick A. Minchau Blacksmith shop and its oft-unseen ghost sign on its western wall. My heart beat just a bit faster. History does this to you — it slows you down, makes you think, connects your own place in the right-now with some of those who came before you.

 EY Tower, Toronto. The 40-storey tower is built atop a 1920s Art Deco gem. Many consider it an example of façadism done right. Photo: Oxford Properties. 

EY Tower, Toronto. The 40-storey tower is built atop a 1920s Art Deco gem. Many consider it an example of façadism done right. Photo: Oxford Properties. 

But enough poetry. The A. Minchau Blacksmith shop in Strathcona is likely going to be demolished. History, erased; connection, destoyed. The owner wants to do it. The city doesn't want them to do it. But there are very few bylaws, municipally, that can be brought to bear on the owner to compel them to do otherwise. The real power player in the conversation, the Alberta government, has the ability to prevent a historic building from being torn down. But that's not always a good thing. 

Instead, here's an idea: Façadism is the way forward.

The reason I say the Alberta government saving the building from a wrecking ball isn't such a good thing is the experience of the Canada Permanent Building. It's an Accidental Wes Anderson masterpiece on 100 Street, just north of Jasper Avenue. And it's empty. And it will remain empty for a very, very long time. The Alberta government stepped in to save it back in 1995, but that doesn't make its main problem — a need for a complete and crazily expensive renovation — any different. And so the the building will sit as it does today for a long time — preserved but boarded up and inhabited by, one can only imagine, very classy ghosts. Many have tried to overcome the costs, but all have given up. 

 The Royal Ontario Museum — a relatively unliked example of façadism. Photo: Wikimedia 

The Royal Ontario Museum — a relatively unliked example of façadism. Photo: Wikimedia 

This is not a great outcome.  

We have just watched demolition crews wreck a granite box in our downtown, the BMO building, to make way for an underground parkade and (likely) a condominium atop it. A very similar fate likely awaits the land where the Blacksmith shop sits. 

So why don't we make façadism the way forward?

Now, let's be blunt: Nobody *loves* façadism and everyone sees it as a compromise. When it's done wrong, boy does it ever suck. But when it's done right, historic buildings can be saved to some degree while more appropriate and lucrative uses, like high-density housing, can also be built. 

In Edmonton, we're already about to see an example of façadism with the MacLaren Building on 124 Street.

 Bank of Canada building. The original is from the late '30s and gorgeous; the addition allows for modern uses. Photo: Wikipedia

Bank of Canada building. The original is from the late '30s and gorgeous; the addition allows for modern uses. Photo: Wikipedia

Do I love this? No. Did I suggest the MacLaren be built right beside my condo in Oliver, which is a surface parking lot, rather than on land that already had a beautiful old building? Yes.

Still, if it means the building remains and a new use is added, I see potential. 

Agree or disagree. I'm writing this only to spark a conversation.