February 2023


In our February issue

Existing buildings are, increasingly, a mainstay of the architecture profession. According to the AIA’s latest Firm Survey, 48 percent of architecture firm billings in the United States are linked to work on existing buildings, whether through renovations, adaptive reuse, additions, or historic preservation.

It’s a trend that seems here to stay: these rates have risen steadily from 15 years ago, when a third of revenue was tied to existing buildings. With a predicted moderation in population and economic growth in coming years, it’s expected that the levels of work on existing buildings will remain high.

This is good news on the sustainability front. When it comes to embodied carbon, the most sustainable buildings are, arguably, the ones that already exist. In the United States, some 40 percent of the national building stock is over 50 years old. Many of these facilities would benefit from upgrades to increase energy efficiency, improve accessibility, and address public health risks emerging from the pandemic.

In the current issue of Canadian Architect, we look at several projects that have taken different approaches to working with existing structures. For the University of Calgary’s MacKimmie Block, DIALOG upgraded a 1950s tower by adding a sculpted double-skin façade. The result is a striking visual presence—and a flagship for the university’s ambitious sustainability goals. Adding to this project’s interest as a technical case study, the retrofit was paired with an adjacent new-build that is similarly equipped with a double-skin façade system.

Cohlmeyer’s work on transforming a mercantile building in the Plateau neighbourhood of Montreal into a furniture showroom for Montauk Sofa embraces both sophistication and modesty. The designers stripped back the building to its steel-and-concrete structure and removed its front section to create a semi-public outdoor garden, leaving the historic façade in place to keep the street wall intact.

Giannone Petricone’s work on The Royal Hotel in Picton, Ontario, similarly made a strategic decision to reduce a historic building’s footprint; in this case, to improve light and views for guest rooms. Here, little remained of the original building, which had suffered from neglect and extensive water damage, but a conscientious owner and architect still aimed to preserve what they could, while also creating a new contemporary identity for the hotel.

On our backpage, Tiffany Shaw considers a renovation and addition planned for Queen’s University’s Agnes Etherington Art Centre. Agnes Director and Curator Emelie Chhangur sees this as an opportunity not just for a visual refresh—but a fundamental pivot that will help Agnes to centre the social impact and social role of an art institution.

Also in our pages this month, architect Valerie Gow shares highlights from the Feria Hábitat Valencia trade show, including products inspired by Mediterranean traditions.

In all work with existing buildings, from the modest to the grand, design works in the tension between the past and the present, asking: what do we value from the past? And how does that interact with our values today? By approaching each existing building with sensitivity, architects bring enormous value to creating new places that are grounded—and enriched—by their past.

-Elsa Lam