What will happen to John Lingwood’s Courthouse?

I was happy to see in a recent article in the Region of Waterloo Record that the Region of Waterloo is interested in the former provincial courthouse at 200 Frederick St. Kitchener as a potential location for more regional government offices.

I’ve always had a warm spot for the building despite it’s brooding look and concrete boxes stacked in a seemly arbitrary design. However, the cane-shaped covered ramp on its north side delights me everytime I see it. It invites you on an adventure and indeed, as you reach the top of the ramp, it opens on an expansive hidden courtyard. Sadly, one that was not likely use during its days as a courthouse.

There’s an unexpected calmness that overtakes you when you get close to this building. Unlike many courthouses, there’s nothing monumental about it – it’s low-slung, understated.

The red, gold and brown hints in the textured concrete echo the red and yellow clay brick that is a common building material in the neighbourhood and the region. The approach to the entrance plaza rises gently from the street, contrasting the life-altering decisions that were made within its walls.

Photo, John Lingwood's Office
John Lingwood’s former office, 226 Frederick St.

A half block north of the site at 226 Frederick St. sits a “Frankenhouse” – a building transformed by roguish ideas of design. A red Japanese-influenced roof line perched atop a yellow brick, Victorian-era house is enough to drive any heritage buff to distraction. Perhaps not surprisingly, this was the place where the concrete courthouse plot was hatched, here in the former office of modernist architect, John Lingwood.

Both buildings, office and courthouse, reflect Lingwood’s evolution as an architect. Here in this office, Lingwood held “Champagne Fridays” where his staff would get together, post there work on the walls and discuss it over a glass of “champagne” (usually sparkling Ontario wine, not the good stuff). John Lingwood willingly embraced change throughout his career. From his graduation from the University of Manitoba in 1949, to the beginning of his Kitchener practice in 1955, to his last building – the TD bank at the corner of Francis and King St., Kitchener – in the early 1990s, he sought new expressions in design.

The courthouse was one of two prominent Waterloo Region buildings he created in the unfortunately-named brutalist style, the other being the Frank C. Peters Professional Building on the Wilfrid Laurier University campus, near the corner of Albert St. and University Ave.

In his mid-career work from the 1960s and 70s Lingwood seemed to straddle the modernist schools of internationalism and brutalism, applying each in measured quantities to suit the job at hand.

Photo: Carmel New Church 1960
Carmel New Church, 1960

His elegant Carmel New Church and School in south west Kitchener definitely leans toward the international style, while the now-demolished Kitchener-Waterloo Record building reflected the monumental qualities of brutalism with its tall precast concrete columns that suggested an old fashioned typewriter key about to strike the page.

The Courthouse appears on Lingwood’s project list in 1975; its corner stone reads 1977. It closed when the Waterloo Regional Courthouse, at the corner of the Frederick and Duke St., opened in the spring of 2013.  Infrastructure Ontario recently declared the old courthouse redundant and has offered it for sale to other levels of government.

According to an article in the Waterloo Region Record, the Region is considering buying the old courthouse to expand its office space. In the Opinion section for the same date the Record suggested the building would be a bad deal for the Region, citing the age and cost of the renovation. Sadly, this measure of age and cost is at the heart of many bad decisions to demolish or to build over culturally important buildings in the region. The same appetite for new ideas and innovation that fostered the wealth of modernist buildings in the region is the same appetite that could lead to their demise.

“Aporia” by artist is Ed Zelenak

Brutalist buildings such as 200 Frederick don’t endear themselves to the public – they are not pretty. And, 200 Frederick St. happens to be saddled with one of the most controversial pieces of public art in the region – “Aporia” by artist is Ed Zelenak was commissioned by the province in 1978.

Both these are important pieces of our built heritage.  Architect Lingwood has shown, with this building and others, the region’s embrace of experimentation in design and artist Zelenak has given us a sculpture that has confounded generations.

In these early decades of the 21st century, preserving these pieces of our heritage from the mid-20th century is no less important than guarding the 19th century heritage of Victoria Park.

Watch for my up coming film “Finding John Lingwood” to learn more about the man and his contribution to the buildings of Waterloo Region.

THIS WORK IS SUPPORTED BY:
Region of the Waterloo Arts Fund       gvsa    walterfedy
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Meanwhile, in Waterloo Region lives are changed

As the world continues to swirl about us – political maneuvering, terrorist attacks, climate change – the quiet life in Waterloo Region carries on.  Ignoring the world is not the answer, but it is equally important that we hear and share the stories of how everyday people enrich the life we share here.

I finished producing this short video for House of Friendship last week. It documents the renovation of the agency’s Emergency Food Hamper Program building at 807 Guelph St. I started way back in August 2016, capturing daily time lapse sequences and live video. The real story didn’t emerge until the finally weeks, when we discovered that early in her career, Teresa O’Reilly a project manager for the job, depended on the program to help her make ends meet.

Watch as Teresa tells her story about how the Emergency Food Hamper Program changed her life.

 

Finding John Lingwood: The Search Begins

record-building-evening
 

Kitchener-Waterloo Record building, designed by John Lingwood, opened in 1973 at 225 Fairway Road South, Kitchener. Building photos courtesy of University of Waterloo, Special Collections & Archives, Kitchener-Waterloo Record Photographic Negative Collection

 

The first time I set foot in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record building on Fairway Road in 1979, I knew right away something important was going on there.

It was early in my newspapering career and most of the newspaper offices I had know were makeshift affairs or dishevelled versions of their former selves – places where broom closets sometimes masqueraded as darkrooms and reporters worked cheek-by-jowl with advertising sales staff.

For someone as green as a new shoot, entering a purpose-built building felt a little like stepping into a temple. The Kitchener-Waterloo Record was one of the country’s leading daily newspapers, run be people committed to the ideals of journalism.

I ended up spending over 25 years of my working life there. From photographer to website editor, it became my professional home on the inside and an iconic landmark on the outside. Although it’s now demolished, the building will forever loom large in my life.

And now, I stand at the gateway to a new year, 2017. Once again I’m feeling as green as a new shoot and once again I’m remembering the Record building.

af-logo-square-colourI recently received a grant from the Region of Waterloo Arts Fund to support my latest and most ambitious project, “Finding John Lingwood” – a 60-minute documentary film about the life and work of John Lingwood, one of Waterloo Region’s most prolific and influential architects of the mid-20th century. Other supporter of the film include the Grand Valley Society of Architects and WalterFedy. I’m also fortunate to have a network of support for my whole practice that includes numerous agencies and individuals.

The Record was one of many buildings on Lingwood’s project list that included everything from modest homes to churches to university buildings to civic buildings. Starting when he opened his Kitchener practice in 1955, the list shows more than 640 different jobs completed before his death in 1996.

“Finding John Lingwood” is my quest film – a search for essence of this man whose work influenced my life deeply.

Along with the Record building, I will take an in depth look at two other Lingwood sites and the communities that grew up around them:

  • Among his first design projects was 20 modest family homes  build by Freure Homes on the west end of Manchester Road in Kitchener. This was where John Lingwood lived much of his life with his wife, Betty, and children Linda, Wendy, Cameron and Lisa.
  • The building Lingwood is best known in architectural circles for is the the Carmel New Church, 40 Chapel Hill Drive, Kitchener. Although he designed many churches, this one formed the heart of a faith community. Adherents built their homes close by and the neighbourhood of Caryndale was created. The community continues to evolve as people who grew up in there and moved away are now returning to raise their families.

The search is just beginning. Stay tuned to see how the journey unfolds.

Watch “Road Hockey Stories: Episode Two – Mitch” First Goal

Here’s Episode 2 in a series of teasers for Lost & Found Theatre’s new play “Pocket Rocket” by Waterloo Region playwrights Lea Daniel and Gary Kirkham.
We will be showing all the stories we’ve collected as a pre-show treat at performances of the play April 20 to 30 at the Registry Theatre in Kitchener.
For more information and a peek behind the scenes visit the Lost & Found Theatre’s blog.

Watch “Road Hockey Stories: Episode One – Paul”

I’m having a great time talking to people in Waterloo Region about their memories of playing road hockey
I volunteered  to start this series of short videos to help Lost and Found Theatre promote the world premiere of Pocket Rocket a new play by Lea Daniel and Gary Kirkham.
Checkout the Lost and Found Theatre blog to get a peek behind the scenes of the video series and the play.
Here’s Episode 1.

Have Stories Will Travel

Neighbourhood Voices Interactive
Currently showing at Forest Heights Community Centre till the end of February 2016. It moves to Doon Pioneer Park in March.

‘Neighbourhood Voices Interactive’ , a traveling digital exhibition is the culmination of may work as the City of Kitchener’s 2014 Artist in Residence. It’s currently showing at Forest Heights Community Centre, 1700 Queen’s Blvd., Kitchener, Ontario, Canada  and is featured on the Armodilo website. Armodilo is the a Waterloo Region company that designs and manufactures the beautiful tablet stand and graphic band display I used for the traveling show pictured about.

The unit consisting of an iPad mounted on a stand, headphones, an informational banner and an iBook installed on the tablet that gives viewers a chance to watch or read the stories gathers during the project.

Throughout my residency, I connected with Kitchener residents through the city’s community centres.  People told me their everyday stories and I turned them into short, touching portraits of neighbours from across the city.

The mobile unit returns the stories to the community centres where they originated.   ‘Neighbourhood Voices Interactive’ will circulate from centre to centre for month-long exhibits.

 Here are some other dates and locations:

  • March – Doon Pioneer Park Community Centre
  • April – Downtown Community Centre
  • May – Centreville Chicopee Community Centre
  • June – Kingsdale Community Centre
  • July – Mill-Courtland Community Centre

View through a cracked lens

Gary Working at dining room table
Gary Kirkham working at my dining room table during one of our writing sessions.

Over the past year, I have been working on a new play with my friend and colleague Gary Kirkham, a well-known and well-respected playwright.

Gary started out as my mentor when he led Writers Bloc, a playwriting collective run by Kitchener’s Theatre and Company in the early 2000s. Our relationship evolved over the years and since 2012 we have collaborated on a number of projects from short films to theatre productions.

Our lastest collaboration is a new work of verbatim theatre. Based on the real words of real people, “Rage Against Violence” was commissioned by Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region (WCSWR) for its annual awareness and fundraising event November 30, 2015. It’s based on a series of interviews conducted by Gary and me as well as WCSWR staff. These interviews include:

  • Women who have lived with violent partners;
  • Police officers who respond to domestic violence calls;
  • Shelter support workers who answer crisis lines and guide women through escape and recovery;
  • The nurse who records and treats the physical and emotion damage wrought by abusive partners
  • And the journalist who reports on the trials of people who’ve murdered their intimate partner.

My time as a photojournalist taught me to view the world through a lens – literally and figuratively.

It was a technique I often used to distance myself emotionally from things I would rather not deal with, but had to: the mundane, the bureaucratic, but most importantly the horrific. This is not to say you shut down empathy or concern for others, but you look at things pragmatically to get the job done.

I still use this lens when I’m confronted with the tough things in life. It helped me deal with one of our greatest challenges in writing “Rage Against Violence” – hearing the pain in these women’s voices as they relived the violence.

However, there were moments when I felt the lens crack; I’d draw a ragged breath – stifle a errant sob:

Vivian – “There was a crack under the cell door. I laid down on the floor and tried to breath through the crack”

Kelly – “The girls were hiding behind the toilet. And he was running the water in the bathtub with the plug in.”

Susan – “He went to the basement and came back with a … machete.”

The Nurse – “After an emotional day … you would gather your family together … no matter what your kids did that day you would hug them tighter that night.”

The room would go silent. I would look at Gary; he would be struggling with his emotions too.

WCSWR ONE ACT POSTER
Click for a larger view.

Gary and I believe part of our job is to make the lens crack, to draw attention to the things in life we would rather not confront, to have you struggle with the same emotions we faced in our work. And, we do this in the hope you will take the experience back to the community and enrich everyone’s life with your insights and understanding.

While we have poured ourselves into this project, it would not be possible without the funding, trust and artistic freedom granted to us by Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region. It’s the progressive thinking of people like Mary Zilney, executive director of WCSWR, that transforms art into community building.

“Rage Against Violence” will run for one night only in Waterloo Region – November 30, 2015 at the Dunfield Theatre 46 Grand Ave., Cambridge. We hope you will come and see this one-of-a-kind production and support Women’s Crisis Services by buying a ticket and making a donation to its work.