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Future of the Hearn Generating Station

CDL.TO

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Hearn, in danger of demolition, is a part of our heritage

Peter Kuitenbrouwer December 14, 2010 – 7:29 am

http://news.nationalpost.com/2010/12/14/peter-kuitenbrouwer-hearn-is-a-part-of-our-heritage/

The Richard L. Hearn Thermal Generating Station, Toronto’s largest and most remarkable heritage building, is in danger of imminent demolition. That must not happen.

Wreckers demolish just about everything in this unsentimental town, but even Toronto saves a building now and then. Take Old City Hall. In 1967, the Eatons wanted to knock down our Richardsonian Romanesque jewel in red sandstone (1899) for an even bigger Eaton Centre, and preservationists went to the barricades. The good guys won. Now it’s time to fight again.

The Hearn, built in 1952 at 440 Unwin Avenue, just east of Cherry Beach, is a late-deco behemoth in red brick with translucent windows; its 70-storey smokestack remains one of the 10 tallest structures in Canada. Since 1993, when Ontario Hydro stopped producing electricity here, it has sat empty.

Studios of America, a company in Vaughan with a lease on the Hearn power plant from Ontario Power Generation, has applied, with its wrecking company, Quantum Murray, to demolish the Hearn.

“The lease deal [which runs until 2024] allows them to demolish the building for development, as long as appropriate laws are met,†says Ted Gruetzner, a spokesman for OPG.

The Toronto Building Office web site notes a “Proposal to demolish existing eight-storey generating facility structure, the ‘Hearn Power Plant’ to the top of the slab. Generating stack to remain. No proposal for replacement building at this point.â€

City spokesman Bruce Hawkins adds, “The permit has not been issued as we are awaiting the Municipal Road Damage Deposit.â€
Councillor Paula Fletcher (Toronto-Danforth), in whose ward the Hearn sits, is ringing the alarm. She will bring a motion before city council on Thursday that the city “reaffirms the city’s interest in the protection and preservation of the Hearn Generating Station,†and that council, “request that OPG, prior to exercising its right to demolish the property, hold a public meeting and consult with the ward councillor, the chief planner,†as well as officials with Heritage, Economic Development and Waterfront Toronto.

Other fans are lining up in the Hearn’s corner. Councillor Adam Vaughan (Trinity-Spadina), voted against a plan to spend $80-million on a new, four-storey stacked ice rink in the port (a rare point of agreement with Rob Ford) because Mr. Vaughan believes we should build our Portland hockey and skating palace in the Hearn.

“The reality is that the industrial engineering would make it perfect for a hockey rink,†Mr. Vaughan said on Monday. “It’s cheaper to reuse it than to demolish. We wouldn’t have to build an $80-million rink. It’s the smartest thing to do. We have $34-million (from Ottawa) that has to be spent on the waterfront on a sports facility, and we have to do it soon.â€

Studios of America agrees. Paul Vaughan, a spokesman for the company, has written to Case Ootes, who headed Mayor Rob Ford’s transition team, and to Ms. Fletcher, begging them to talk to him about using the Hearn for a hockey rink. (Studios of America has drawings by architect Stefan Behnisch in Stuttgart of rinks in the Hearn.) No one has replied. Hence the application to demolish.

“We are spreading our options to every possible alternative,†Mr. Vaughan says. “If Rob Ford wants to save the taxpayers $56-million and build his rink there, then God bless him. If someone else wants to demolish and build big box retail, so be it.â€

On Monday I reached Dan Dubowitz in Tuscany. He is a British photographer who travels the world, exploring wastelands. Mr. Dubowitz took photographs inside the Hearn in the past few weeks; one of those photos appears in his current show at Toronto’s Bau-Xi Gallery. He loves the Hearn.

“Every city wants its Tate Britain, its Sydney Opera House, its Guggenheim Bilbao,†Mr. Dubowitz says. “Cities all over the world would be over the moon to have a building like the Hearn. It’s there. It doesn’t need to be knocked down. It’s got parking all around. Everything is perfect. It just needs will, funding and inspiration.â€

All of which are occasionally available in Toronto — just look at the Brickworks, Distillery and Wychwood Barns. We have the power to make this happen.
 

TOareaFan

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Pardon the pun....but the demolition permit application sounds like a power play...nothing more.....trying to force a decision on the hockey rink idea with a "pick this option or we knock it down"....a move designed to generate media and public support.
 

junctionist

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Pardon the pun....but the demolition permit application sounds like a power play...nothing more.....trying to force a decision on the hockey rink idea with a "pick this option or we knock it down"....a move designed to generate media and public support.
Once they have the permit, they can do anything. We shouldn't lose this great industrial building. You have to see in person to appreciate what mammoth building it is and the monumental scale of power generation. It's quite impressive.
 

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Toronto Star article:

Virtual Reality Tours of R.L. Hearn Generating Station

Eastern section: http://192.206.150.50/newmedia/vr/Hearn_East.html
At mid-level landing:http://192.206.150.50/newmedia/vr/Landing_swf.html
Second level control room: http://192.206.150.50/newmedia/vr/Controlroom_swf.html
Administration office stairwell: http://192.206.150.50/newmedia/vr/HearnStairwell_swf.html


Hume: Powerful Reasons to Keep the Hearn Station

The R.L. Hearn Generating Station on Unwin Ave. in the Toronto portlands is seen in this 2006 photo.
BORIS SPREMO/TORONTO STAR

Video: Hume - Saving the Hearn:http://www.thestar.com/videozone/912795--hume-saving-the-hearn

Christopher Hume
December 27, 2010

The R.L.Hearn Generating Station closed down years ago, but it has lost none of its power to electrify. Sitting on Unwin Ave., in deepest reaches of the old Port Lands, the vast structure — Pharaonic in scale — recalls a time when building the infrastructure was the great task of the age.

Now it sits empty, and although not entirely abandoned, threatened with destruction, the frequent fate for landmarks in this city.

When construction of the Hearn began in the late 1940s, the idea was to provide power to a fast-growing region. Its location close to the shipping channel was chosen for ease of unloading the huge quantities of coal that powered the giant turbines. It opened in 1951, was expanded and changed to natural gas. During its heyday in the early ’60s, no fewer than 600 people worked at the station. But even before it was finished, the Hearn faced difficulties; nuclear power offered a cleaner alternative.

By the time it shut down, in 1983, the Hearn was more a symbol of our dirty past than the clean future. The question of what to do with the building has loomed ever since, still unresolved. In 2002, the Mike Harris government signed a 20-year lease with Studios of America, which planned to turn it into an enormous film studio. The advent of the nearby Film Port facility ended that, and except for occasional movie shoots — most recently, Red — it has served no purpose.

Various schemes have been proposed, including a multi-rink hockey/skating complex. So far, nothing has materialized, which is why the tenants have applied for a permit to tear the place down. No replacement plan exists. Who knows, it could well end up a big-box desert.

There are better options; Toronto has Evergreen at the Brickworks, the Power Plant gallery, the Wychwood Barns, the Distillery District, old industrial sites transformed beautifully into civic assets, fully reintegrated into the city.

In the UK, the decommissioned Bankside power station was famously remade as the Tate Modern, now the most visited art gallery in London. Much of the old equipment can still be seen. But Hearn is three times the size, 23 million cubic feet.

Today, the station feels more geological than architectural; it has open spaces, outlooks, frozen ponds and even its own indoor cliffs. The most obvious feature is its size; the main hall, which once housed eight large turbines. It stretches 300 metres. The equipment long gone, the interior is a Piranesian maze of columns and beams. Most amazing of all, the building rests on top of an immense concrete slab four metres thick. It sits on hundreds of columns that descend 50 metres in the landfill before they hit bedrock.

Then there's the smokestack; 215 metres in height, it was the tallest structure in Toronto until the CN Tower opened in 1976.

To tear down such an extraordinary, even heroic, structure makes no sense. Demolition would be short-sighted to the point of self-destructiveness. Granted, the process won't be easy; its size alone will make rehabilitation a daunting task.

But the possibilities are endless. And keeping in mind that the Port Lands will one day become a waterfront precinct with parks, promenades and housing for 40,000, the need to rethink the Hearn is vital. It could be the element around which a future neighbourhood takes shape. Or it could be destroyed, and replaced by something utterly banal. Already the new Port Lands Energy Centre next door has blighted the area.

The debate has only just started, but heading into the New Year, it will heat up if doesn't melt down.

Christopher Hume can be reached at chume@thestar.ca

http://www.thestar.com/news/article/912696--hume-powerful-reasons-to-keep-the-hearn-station?bn=1
 
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wyliepoon

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Thanks for the VR views.

A lot of people want to make the Hearn into the next Tate Modern, but the VR views show a forest of steel structure inside. I'd imagine that any transformation would require removing a lot of the interior structure, essentially carrying out "facadism".
 

junctionist

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Thanks for the VR views.

A lot of people want to make the Hearn into the next Tate Modern, but the VR views show a forest of steel structure inside. I'd imagine that any transformation would require removing a lot of the interior structure, essentially carrying out "facadism".
Facadism involves adding a facade to a new building, but converting Hearn would simply require replacing a lot of the steel floors which were very utilitarian in the first place. To see this issue from an aesthetic design standpoint using terms like facadism is inadequate. It's all about the scale and industrial exterior, including the stack. To have the generators intact as they were until they were removed a couple of years ago would have been better, but the control rooms are still there and provide an interesting and relevant dimension to the interior.
 

adma

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A lot of people want to make the Hearn into the next Tate Modern, but the VR views show a forest of steel structure inside. I'd imagine that any transformation would require removing a lot of the interior structure, essentially carrying out "facadism".
By that measure, the conversion of certain Distillery District facilities into usable/leasable space might as well also be termed "facadism". So, let's not split *too* many hairs over that loathed term...
 

CanadianNational

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Thanks for posting the VR Views!

What a colossus. I love this place. It's got real presence, mystery and - sometimes, in certain weather - even a touch of the sublime to it.

I really hope it's kept intact. You could fit a great number of sports facilities in there. Alongside truly interesting possibilities for museums, galleries, retail, live-work housing, education, markets....

A friend of mine is crazy about the idea of an indoor waterpark and mall in it. Another would like to see a kind of industrial-scale demonstration-ready science-space center.

The possibilities for this building are awesome. The location is unique and...well, just think what could be done with it! I'd love to see the same kind of social innovation go into this project that characterized Toronto in the 1970's - age of the CN Tower, The Science Centre, Ontario Place, The Metro Zoo. Instead of furthering industrial inaccessability on the waterfront, it could be a powerful living magnet and anchor for the city.

Here are some pics I took while walking around in about 2002













 
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junctionist

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That massive vertically-oriented window spans at least five storeys. It looks into the turbine hall. What I never noticed is that it appears to be framed with stone cladding, rather than concrete. I always saw it as a 1950s conservative Modernist structure, but it has a lot of subtle late Art Deco details.
 

dt_toronto_geek

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nfitz

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Great spot to build the future 90.000 seat dome, it sure would bring in much needed investment to this sad dull area.:)
Why - we can't fill the current dome we have.

And surely key to such a project is good transit. Even the long term plan only projects streetcars down Leslie and Unwin.
 
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