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Wednesday, November 30, 2022
Arch-i-text: Parliament Oak questions

This afternoon I parked beside the old Parliament Oak school property and walked the block imagining the development as proposed by the owners, Liberty Sites Ltd., when completed. What would be the impact on the streetscapes of King, Centre, Regent and Gage?

I came away dismayed.

The proposed apartment building (be it rental or condo) would be the largest single structure massing east of King Street in Old Town. Its height, including the mechanical equipment, which would almost certainly be roof-mounted, would exceed that of the Old Court House, while its footprint would be close to an entire block long and half a block deep.

This building would dominate each of the adjacent streetscapes, having a particularly significant impact on King. It would be, in fact, the building a resident or visitor’s memory would recall when thinking about King Street.

That being the case, let’s consider the published artist’s illustration of the proposed design.

First and foremost, allow me to state that incorporating the centre portion of the old school (which is the only part of the existing structure I would deem to have architectural and historical interest) is a positive.

That said, the “conceptual” illustration depicts a facade which is, at best, two and half storeys above grade. Not three and certainly not the four storeys, encompassing roof mounted mechanicals, which will be seen from the rear (and likely based on my approximate line-of-sight estimates from King Street).   

Then, considering this monumental facade, we have what appears to be a very pedestrian and, dare I say, commercial presentation which must draw into question the developer’s stated vision of “fit(ting) into the neighbourhood.” This is attenuated by the fact that the shouldering King Street residences are, respectively, a Victorian Gothic to the right and a classic Regency (featured in Peter Stokes’ book “Old Niagara on the Lake”) to the left.

I wonder if, despite the fact the mid-20th century design of the Parliament Oak school does not necessarily respect its neighbours, should we be complicit in repeating the mistakes of the past?

So, to be clear, I do not oppose the concept of an apartment building on this property. However, the design of this building must be fully integrated into the cultural heritage landscape and not exceed a maximum of three storeys (including roof mounted mechanicals). In my mind this leads me to a New Traditional design based on Georgian, Regency or Gothic Revival parameters.

Further, while I understand and applaud the logic of incorporating semi-detached homes in a traditional design under this proposal, I have to ask why the developer has included a Plantation house a thousand miles north of its historical home?