by Cheryle Harrison
Today, how we live and work influences the ways many older buildings, public artworks and heritage spaces are reinvented and used in our changing urban surroundings.
Re-visioning heritage places requires dedication to save our connections to history. Yet redevelopment conditions present diverse preservation challenges. At times, saving portions of heritage is the only option, rather than losing it all to demolition or apathy. Here’s one recent conservation success story.
The 1929 Vancouver Stock Exchange building at 475 Howe Street is now The Exchange. This historic building’s redevelopment, completed in 2018, integrated a 31-storey tower addition. Heritage work included preservation of the terracotta façade and thoughtful restoration of its original wood windows. At the building’s core is an elaborate lobby designed by John Girvan.
My first steps into the Stock Exchange building to access the lobby entailed an upward climb into an enclosed space situated high along its ceiling. The room was barely visible in the shadowy light and thick layers of dust.
Forty-eight dirty, darkened paintings spanned the peaked ceiling. Broken ornamental motifs crowned a damaged and grimy frieze of coiled designs. Faux-painted moulding extended above the polished stone walls. The three elevators’ carved lintels were blemished by chips, losses and old repairs. A damaged and crudely repaired postal chute was tucked in a corner.
The east and west gables above the lobby entrances were covered by plywood, thick layers of adhesive and lead-based paint with cohesion problems. Areas had been sledgehammered.
Along with other types of damage, a large plaster architectural element had been removed.
Heritage projects at redevelopment sites need diverse support and collaboration to make them possible, involving a building’s owner, city planning departments, developers, architects, heritage consultants, redevelopment personnel, the conservator and more.
In this case, developer SwissReal Group CEO Franz Gehriger was personally committed to preserving this jewel of a lobby. Conserv-Arte was the on-site project manager and carried out extensive and multidisciplinary hands-on conservation work, with assistance from master plasterer Lloyd Cutting, Donald Luxton & Associates and others.
The Exchange has received recognition and heritage awards, including the City of Vancouver Heritage Award of Honour.