Tag Archives: pews
UPDATE: As of November 2009, the church on Westmoreland has NOT been converted. Some work has been done, but the project is stalled. I have seen the site for sale on MLS, as-is, so there is little hope of completion any time in the near future.
By Jane Gadd – Globe and Mail
For once, “cathedral ceiling” is not an exaggeration.
At a 100-year-old Anglican church near Bloor Street and Dovercourt Avenue, a sensitive conversion to loft-condominiums by architect Ferdinand Wagner and designers Elaine Cecconi and Anna Simone is preserving the church’s soaring, timbered, Gothic-arched ceiling.
And that’s not the only glorious feature being incorporated into a loft project that sets a new standard in the often unimaginative world of converting redundant churches into buildings for modern uses.
At The Westmoreland, which almost sold out in a single public information session a year before its original March, 2005, occupancy date – mostly to family and friends of its creators – residents will roll their sushi in kitchens lined with stone columns and Gothic brick arches, and watch their plasma-screen TVs in rooms lit by stained-glass windows with scenes of crucifixions and saints.
The three creative minds behind the conversion, which is being built by new development company Lux Group Inc., are positively evangelical about the importance of honouring the cultural and historical integrity of churches that face demolition or transformation beyond recognition as congregations dwindle.
“The great church architecture of some of Toronto’s oldest and grandest edifices can be given new life and spirit by taking the past and sensitively transforming their glorious structures and art into exciting shelters for today’s urban dwellers,” they say in The Westmoreland‘s prospectus.
Ms. Simone, who considers Mr. Wagner a genius, says the architect “has gone way beyond what he had to do to maintain the integrity of this building… It has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as architects and designers to work on a project like this.”
In order to preserve the rich, dark wood that lines the steeply arched ceiling of the church, Mr. Wagner had the roof tiles removed so that insulation could be installed from the outside.
He is lowering the ground floor to provide the height for two levels of two-storey loft units, with those on the lower level incorporating the rows of stone and brick arches that line the nave.
While most architects would have used the columns that support the arches as natural break points between loft units, Mr. Wagner has designed the residences so that two complete columns are incorporated in each loft.
The upper units will have the vaulted ceilings of the church, complete with hammerhead wood trusses.
The hanging iron lanterns that provided soft illumination in the church will also be used, Ms. Simone says.
Another will cover 5,800 square feet over five levels in the bell tower. It will have a glass-walled elevator incorporated into the well of the original staircase.
“It’s going to be spectacular; there’s no other word for it,” Ms. Simone says.
The usual approach taken by developers when converting historical buildings into lofts is to cram in as many units as possible. If the building has heritage value, preservation authorities only require the facade to be kept.
The distinctive approach taken by Mr. Wagner may explain why he got planning permission for the project in record time – just seven months.
“There will be negligible changes to the church,” the architect says. “We held a lot of public meetings and worked hard at accommodating people’s concerns. In the end, the neighbours thanked us for the way we went out of our way.”
The result of this intensive community consultation was the passage of a rezoning bylaw last July, just seven months after the application was made and a scant year after Ms. Cecconi first learned the church was up for sale and galvanized her partner, Ms. Simone, as well as Mr. Wagner and Lux Group into action to buy it.
Such projects can often languish for years in the rezoning process, and this is one reason many developers are reluctant to undertake them.
“A lot of people are scared of church projects,” Mr. Wagner says. “There are a lot of unknowns in the construction costs, and then there’s the zoning worry. If you fail, you’ve blown all that time.”
He says that his 30 years in residential building design have given him “a feel” for the process that helped him with The Westmoreland. “You have to be clear, not indecisive or afraid.”
He also admits luck played a part. “Everyone wants this kind of site and they’re hard to find.”
Kevin Hamilton, the chief executive officer of Lux Group, says the company has gone to great lengths to ensure that emotionally important parts of the church that are no longer needed find an appropriate home.
Several items, such as plaques and windows commemorating members of the Kirkpatrick family installed in the early 1900s, will be returned to the family or, if they cannot be found, to the regiment in which one of the family members commemorated served in the First World War, Mr. Hamilton says.
Not every Westmoreland occupant is comfortable with the religious imagery of stained-glass windows, and those that are not wanted will be donated to other churches.
The pews have already been given away.
And the organ is to be sold on eBay for $1 to anyone who will invest the money to disassemble and restore it.
The units at The Westmoreland are priced at about $300 a square foot, comparable to standard lofts in the city, and the design of each unit is different because of the unusual space involved. Almost all will include areas that are open to above or below to maximize views of the architectural details.
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