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What is heritage?


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#1 Rob Randall

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Posted 02 February 2012 - 10:58 AM

This is an offshoot of the Northern Junk/Goldrush Warehouses proposal and Ken Johnson's post:

Your thoughtful comments are appreciated.

The membership of the City of Victoria Heritage Advisory Committee draws upon various community stakeholders to advise on matters relating to the conservation of heritage resources. Among these is the Hallmark Society, local architects, community planners, historians and others with an interest in the preservation of historical buildings. I am sure the City would welcome additional applicants to sit upon this and other committees.

Within the area of the City known as 'Old Town", the Committee can also speak of the suitability of the design of new buildings as these must conform to the Design Guidelines; Old Town, Victoria, B.C. These can be viewed at "http://www.victoria.ca/common/pdfs/plnpln_hrtgd_final2.pdf#search="Design Guidelines Old town" .

It is easy to say that the proposed development meets the Guidelines in a general way (City of Victoria Planning Department) but the real question is: do they meet the intent? The Hallmark Heritage Society is of the opinion the design of the current proposal does not meet this minimal standard.

The Hallmark Heritage Society is in agreement with the Developer's proposal to rehabilitate the Gold Rush Warehouses and to provide access to to the foreshore, although there are some concerns regarding the parking lot entry on the south side of the building at 1314 Wharf Street.

On a general note, the Hallmark Heritage Society does not receive any funding from the City of Victoria. We are wholly dependent upon our membership and small, very small and occasional, grants from Gaming. The Society did not take any position regarding the replacement of the Johnson Street bridge as the preservation of municipal infrastructure is a difficult subject: Should we also preserve old roads, sidewalks, sewers? All infrastructure needs to be replaced as the City grows.
The Hallmark Heritage Society is not against high rise buildings or skyscrapers but we do feel that the have no place within Old Town or other areas with historical significance to how the City of Victoria came to exist.


I'll note that in '93 I took in a tour of the historic underground Paris sewers. And it was noted in the NJ thread that sidewalks (Waddington Alley) can be heritage.

The historic nature of the heritage bridge is undisputed and the Hallmark Society's decision to sit on their hands during this crisis is the blackest mark on their history.

#2 G-Man

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Posted 02 February 2012 - 12:17 PM

I think that for something to be heritage, especially when it comes to infrastructure it has to more than old. The JSB is heritage because it is unique. Because of how it works. What it was for (rail and car) and who designed it.

There are plenty of old buildings around that are not heritage and plenty of sidewalks and roads that are because of what occurred there, what they are made of or who made them.

Think of the work that was considered in trying to maintain our purple glass sidewalks. That is heritage!
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#3 SamCB

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Posted 02 February 2012 - 12:24 PM

I'd wager that 'heritage' is essentially (beautiful) + (old), and as such, is in the eye of the beholder. I'm all for preserving individual buildings & pieces of infrastructure that are of historical significance, or tell a story. But I am against the preservation of entire neighbourhoods, districts, or cities. That crosses a dangerous line into the museumification of built environments. Cities are awesome, wondrous places precisely because they are organic and ever changing. Individual pieces of preserved history add an indispensable bit of flavor to a city's character. But that bit of flavor should always be subservient to the demands of now.

#4 G-Man

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Posted 02 February 2012 - 12:28 PM

^ Agree completely! I would never suggest preserving a neghjbourhood as a whole. There was once talk of preserving the entire neighbourhood near my house as heritage. Forget what it is called but bordered by Blanshard, Tolmie, Finlayson and Glasgow.
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#5 Mike K.

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Posted 02 February 2012 - 01:44 PM

What about the heritage of tomorrow? Many boomers feel heritage applies only to what is old today but they fail to champion buildings that will be heralded as heritage decades from now.

I am very concerned that through oppressive guidelines and far too much power by local governments and their committees we are stymieing architectural creativity and we will be stuck with heritage from only one era. We've literally had to fight tooth and nail to have some of Victoria's most modern building stock built. Is that fair?

The Hallmark Society is disregarding the architecture of today for the sake of architecture from centuries past and their arguments for doing so have little substance other than to insist that we're losing heritage to make way for new buildings (which is of course untrue).

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#6 gumgum

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Posted 02 February 2012 - 02:37 PM

I've been saying this for years.

We should be respecting the fashion and technology of architecture of today. Not just of what was built yesterday.

As Mike says, good modern architecture will someday be heritage and respected just as much as what was built 100 years ago.

Disregarding modern is shortsighted. As is disallowing it in proximity to heritage.

#7 Ken Johnson

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Posted 02 February 2012 - 03:34 PM

I agree with GumGum.

The Victoria City Hall is a designated heritage building.
The Saanich City Hall is a designated heritage building.

The Hallmark heritage Society has an active sub-committee working to identify what modern buildings will be considered the heritage buildings of tomorrow.

#8 AllseeingEye

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Posted 02 February 2012 - 03:47 PM

I would certainly hope however Mr. Johnson that the HHS isn't seriously suggesting that 5 storeys is in any manner or fashion even close to being a "high rise or skyscraper".

Everyone here knows Victoria has an institutionally ingrained and almoost irrational fear of anything height-related, but even here no one can seriously say "5 stories" and "high rise" with a straight face. Can they?

#9 Ken Johnson

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Posted 02 February 2012 - 04:45 PM

On this thread I do not wish to speak on behalf of the Hallmark Heritage Society but to only express my own opinions.

For the benefit of the AllseeingEye, I am currently involved in the construction of a 16 storey building in downtown Victoria. I have no problem with higher buildings but the question is always on of context and appropriate design. If you build something big and ugly, it will always be "big and ugly". Putting up new buildings does not solve community problems.

However, as to what is heritage. In North America what is heritage has usually been about community values - what the community considers to be significant and worthy of commemoration. The City of Victoria has about 925 sites on it's Heritage Register. 99% are on that register as the result of neighbourhood consensus or the direct action by an owner. Saanich has about 300 sites.

Most owners of heritage properties are happy to have that cachet attached to their property. They often have a sense of the history of their home and the people who built it and who have lived within it. Research has shown that , within the City of Victoria, heritage houses are better maintained and increase in value at a higher rate than their neighbours as a result of that greater care.

Some of the values of a community can be found the the statement of significance for a heritage property. If one visits the Canadian Register of Historic Places, http://www.historicp...eu.aspx?id=1822 you would find the Hamilton House, now known as the Victoria Canoe and Kayak Club and, within its description, why it was considered by the community to be important and what character-defining elements should be preserved.

Other communities have preserved bridges and hockey rinks. Search the register and one can see a wide range of community values. There is even an outhouse in Newfoundland Labrador.

There are no prescriptive elements as to what is heritage. We cannot say the building must be of a certain age, of a certain type, or designed by a celebrity architect. These details may be important determinants but they are not the only only ones. The community decides.

#10 Bingo

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Posted 02 February 2012 - 05:09 PM

I think that for something to be heritage, especially when it comes to infrastructure it has to more than old. The JSB is heritage because it is unique. Because of how it works. What it was for (rail and car) and who designed it.


Exactly.

What other significant structure besides the Johnson Street Bridge do we have that is not a building, that is of heritage value. The E&N Roundhouse has a National Historic Site designation, but the bridge did not even get a local historic designation. Something mechanical and interesting like the JSB was unique, but it is going to the scrap-yard.

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#11 aastra

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Posted 02 February 2012 - 06:39 PM

What other significant structure besides the Johnson Street Bridge do we have that is not a building, that is of heritage value.

- the causeway
- the old cemeteries
- The Gate of Harmonious Interest (even though it's not old)
- Beacon Hill Park

I could also mention the breakwater and even the oldest remaining sewers.

What about Fisherman's Wharf?

Obviously the total elimination or outright replacement of most of these things would be a big deal.

But how do we measure the impact of modifications and additions?

#12 phx

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Posted 02 February 2012 - 09:29 PM

While we're thinking outside the box, should Gordon Head be designated a "heritage suburb" and maintained as-is?

#13 Sparky

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Posted 02 February 2012 - 09:36 PM

What other significant structure besides the Johnson Street Bridge do we have that is not a building


Victoria street lights and our totem poles come to mind.

#14 Bingo

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Posted 02 February 2012 - 10:45 PM

Victoria Fire Departments steam pumper.

Photo: Frank DeGruchy, VFDHS

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#15 Rob Randall

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Posted 02 February 2012 - 11:01 PM

While we're thinking outside the box, should Gordon Head be designated a "heritage suburb" and maintained as-is?


I live in Gordon Head and certainly, parts of it are perfectly preserved and have been for decades. The City's heritage group has quite recently advocated preserving entire streets. Modernism is now accepted heritage so yes, phx, by their standards Gordon Head should be permanently preserved as is.

I witnessed one recent meeting where the heritage board tried to advocate heritage status for a house that was neither unique nor architecturally distinctive. The report on the building was so full of inaccuracies it would make a first-year art history student blush. Thankfully, there were two members of the Heritage Advisory Board that saw through this charade. One argued rather tongue in cheek that there would have to be two kinds of heritage plaques. The regular bronze ones ("A" plaques) and "B" plaques made of wood or plastic for quasi-heritage like this house.

#16 Rob Randall

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Posted 02 February 2012 - 11:32 PM

Adapted from the NJ thread:

Ken Johnson wants Merrick's Northern Junk development to "copy" nearby heritage form (his word). This is a fatal architectural error. The present development interprets heritage forms without mimicking them. Copying actually does a disservice to heritage--it mocks it and diminishes its value. How? By confusing the viewer. If a new building can pass for an old building then it becomes impossible to determine what is heritage and what is contemporary. Actual heritage is diminished in our eye because you now can't tell real from fake.

Here's a simplified example:

When the Hudson proponents said they would restore the historic purple glass blocks in the sidewalk, we were all excited. They really add colour and ambiance to the street. However, I strongly suggested to the developer that the new sections have blue blocks rather than purple (antique blocks start clear but turn purple over the decades from impurities in the glass). My argument was that people could then easily tell which sidewalk section has authentic antique blocks and which sections are new construction. Both would be equally beautiful, especially when lit from below. Future generations would be able to tell which blocks are from the early 20th and which are from the early 21st century--both will be heritage.

However, the developer (who had great difficulty sourcing new blocks) specified they be purple. Now it's hard for us to tell old from new. Their value is diminished.

#17 Mike K.

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Posted 03 February 2012 - 07:06 AM

Townline reneged on its initial plans to lay these blocks around the perimeter of the building and installed them only outside of entrance doors. In other words, there are only a few sidewalk squares mimicking the heritage squares, but I do like the idea of making new squares blue and not purple.

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#18 ZGsta

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Posted 03 February 2012 - 10:42 AM

I agree completely that you want elements to invoke, or be inspired by the heritage themes nearby in an attractive manner that makes sense with the more modern sensibilities. This complements the heritage buildings/elements rather than taking away from them.
Copying never turns out well, look at the monstrously ugly disaster that is the Bay Center for an example of that.

#19 Rob Randall

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Posted 03 February 2012 - 11:06 AM

^That's what's important about the guidelines aastra posted earlier. It's not a list of things your new building should include--it's a list of what the existing buildings have that you should consider, or riff off. Their example of Mermaid Wharf is excellent. It doesn't copy heritage yet it fits in perfectly into the waterfront area. It would look out of place further up near Douglas in the Old Commercial District.

#20 phx

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Posted 03 February 2012 - 08:15 PM

I'd rather buildings be unique.

It's unfortunate when a new building design is compromised to "fit in" with it's neighbours.

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