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

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.