Heritage consultants GBCA conserve Massey Hall’s ceiling

To mark Ontario Heritage Week, we delve inside the conservation of one of Toronto's heritage landmarks.

Since 2012, Toronto-based GBCA Architects has been overseeing the revitalization of the Massey Hall project to ensure the conservation of the original architectural features.

Jag Gundu, Gundu Photography

The firm’s principal, Christopher Borgal, worked from the beginning with the design teams to establish an approach to the overall project including modern interventions. GBCA, including their heritage specialists and architectural historian Sharon Vattay, worked closely with KPMB Architects and a team of expert contractors and consultants as they refined the new design for a state-of-the-art performance venue.

Sharon prepared a heritage impact assessment and developed a conservation plan, with critical input from the firm’s preservation specialists, including Carlos Morell, and these documents became the backbone of the conservation project.

Alongside the KPMB enhancements to the interior space and programmatic needs of the music hall, GBCA focussed on the preservation of the integrated historic features such as the decorative column capitals, brass railings, fire hose holders, metal doors, the ogee arched clerestory window openings, and the plaster ceiling with its Moorish inspired ornamentation known as stalactites.

Jag Gundu, Gundu Photography

Nearly 130 years later, the original name had stuck – but not all of the stalactites. Of the 2300, some 900 were missing and needed to be replaced and 200 required re-attachment. About 1200 of the stalactites required minor in-situ repair.

Unlike most typical new design work, where the architect relies on a contractor to build according to a plan they create, heritage architects work from what’s already there. Conversely, if elements are missing, those must be recreated from documentation on site, or archival photographs or drawings. In the case of the Massey Hall stalactites, original 1893 drawings of the stalactites were available but the replication of hundreds of these elements was achieved by taking moulds of the existing stalactites.

Jag Gundu, Gundu Photography
Jag Gundu, Gundu Photography

While GBCA determined the scope of restoration and coordinated conservators required for the existing ceiling ornamentation, it was the specialist conservator of plaster, Iconoplast Designs, who restored and repaired the existing 1100 stalactites and cast and installed new ones for the missing 900.

“Retaining heritage character-defining features takes many skillsets and many hands, as seen in our work at Massey Hall. It’s gratifying that through our work the people of today experience the past. And it’s through events, such as Ontario Heritage Week, that help remind us all that heritage is a keystone of our culture,” says GBCA partner-in-charge and heritage architect Christopher Borgal.

The GBCA team for Massey Hall revitalization includes:

Christopher Borgal, Heritage Conservation Architect
Sharon Vattay, Principal, Project manager, Heritage Specialist, Architectural Historian
Carlos Morell, Principal (Conservation)
Paul Gagné, Senior Associate, Design and Conservation Specialist

Project Architectural Credits:
Heritage Consultant – GBCA Architects Architecture and Interior Design – KPMB Architects

Photo credits:
Jag Gundu / Jag Photography