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The University of Toronto's Robart's Library in Toronto. (Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail/Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail)
The University of Toronto's Robart's Library in Toronto. (Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail/Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail)

The architecture lover's manifesto Add to ...

You love architecture. You're proud of your home. Maybe you own a few commercial properties and are proud of them, too, even beyond the money they make for you.

But be honest: In our increasingly nomadic culture, another decade - maybe two - would be a pretty good run before you downsize, wouldn't it? And you probably won't own your commercial building your entire life, either.

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So have some respect for your personal architecture because it benefits all of us. Below are a dozen things to consider. Clip and save, and pass these along if they resonate with you:

1. In this age of soaring energy prices, I will ask myself if I really need 4,000 square feet and more bathrooms than people in my home. No matter how green I buy or build, 2,000 square feet will always be more efficient than 4,000. If I falter, I will repeat this quietly to myself: "I didn't have an entire basement playroom when I was a kid or my very own bathroom, and I turned out fine."

2. I will consider buying an older home over a new one. Older homes are usually in established neighbourhoods; this means I can walk to do some errands, just like my grandparents did. Even if I must replace a furnace, a roof or windows, or even take down a wall, I am still celebrating the fact that the greenest building is the one that already exists.

3. Before I demolish, I will Google "embodied energy."

4. Fine-art and antique collectors appreciate things with a rich patina and story. They know, going in, that they are not the end user - that sculpture, painting or handcrafted table will belong to someone else one day. In a word, they know they are stewards. I will try to think of myself as a steward of my home or building rather than master of its fate.

5. What will the next generation think of the renovations I've done? Am I jumping on a bandwagon or am I considering the true needs of my family or business?

6. Our city is too often criticized as one that neglects its built heritage; jokes about demolition being a competitive sport are becoming commonplace. Architecture is a snapshot of what we value - think of the R.C. Harris "Palace of Purification" or Mies van der Rohe's one-storey Toronto-Dominion banking hall. While I may not own something of that calibre, what am I saying about my own values if I demolish something that's still usable?

7. Related to No. 6: If my heritage commercial building no longer serves a purpose, I will rethink selling to condo developers. Perhaps I will make it a condition of the sale that the entire building rather than just the façade be retained, since great design is a result of smart architects who enjoy a challenge.

8. Related to No. 7: At a dinner party, would I rather be the person who says, "Yeah, that was my building, but I knocked it down to make some quick cash," or, "Yeah, it cost a bit more money, but we saved that big ol' beast and reworked the plan; now I'm getting higher leases in the heritage building."

9. Do I want my home or building to be featured in the eventual sequel to William Dendy's Lost Toronto?

10. Even if it's only once a year, I will go on an architectural walking tour or visit Doors Open because the enthusiasm of the guides is contagious. These events are also good reminders that we have a colourful gallery of rogues, heroes, triumphs and tragedies to rival any North American city, from the amazing story of rebirth behind the Carlu to the sad story of the British-born architect Peter Dickinson, who died just shy of his 36th birthday in 1961 (imagine if he'd have lived another 40 years?).

11. While I may think the University of Toronto's Robarts Library is ugly, I will endeavour to understand why other people like it. I will remind myself that there was a time when E.J. Lennox's Old City Hall was considered ugly and expendable too.

12. Any friends who say they are too busy to think about architecture will be brought to my architectural "happy place" - whether that's the grand hall at Union Station or a friend's arts-and-crafts living room - and then asked if they don't feel inspired.

If you still think none of these apply to you, consider this: In a March, 2011, "open letter" to the federal political parties, the Council for Canadian Urbanism (CanU) - an advocacy group that includes urban planners and architects from across the country - pointed out that Canada is now a solidly urban country, as more than "80 per cent of Canadians live and work in urban settings." They argued that future federal funding must concentrate on "urban resiliency and 'smart growth' (i.e. complete and compact communities, expanded transit and rail, renewing aging urban infrastructure, enhancing cultural and civic amenities etc.), rather than on 'shovel-ready projects.' "

Just one person can hold a shovel, so I would argue that our future lies with you.

 

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