“Finding John Lingwood” featured in Canada’s national newspaper

The email from Dave LeBlanc The Architourist columnist for the Globe and Mail (Canada’s national newspaper) arrived just as I was about to sit down at a lecture by well-known Toronto urbanist Ken Greenberg facilitated by the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery at the Walper Hotel in downtown Kitchener.

I fidgeted through the whole talk, turning the message over and over in my mind. Dave was asking me to give him an “architour” of the homes on Manchester Road, Kitchener that were featured in my recently released documentary film “Finding John Lingwood” about one of Waterloo Region’s leading modernist architects.

“I’m a total MCM (mid-century modern) nut”, wrote Dave. So, being an MCM nut too, we arranged to spend a day touring John Lingwood sites and talking about Waterloo Region’s rich stock of modernist buildings.

Here’s Dave’s column:

Carmel New Church - 04 - 1960
The Carmel New Church, opened in 1962, is most notable for its origami-like roof.
SPECIAL COLLECTIONS & ARCHIVES UNIVERSITY OF WATERLOO LIBRARY

The first time I found architect John E. Lingwood, I wasn’t looking for him.

It was a photograph of a striking church in Images of Progress 1946-1996: Modern Architecture in Waterloo Region, a small publication put out in 1996 by the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery. Sadly, I turned the page and moved on.

For filmmaker Dwight Storring, finding the Modernist was a slow burn. Landing a job at The Kitchener-Waterloo Record in 1980, the Bancroft-born photojournalist unwittingly stepped into one of Mr. Lingwood’s major works, the Record’s 1973 building – a commanding brick bunker with stepped piers and thin windows – designed for owner John E. Motz. Thirty-five years later, Mr. Storring would begin research into the life and diverse career of John Edwin Lingwood (1923-96) and, by the end of 2018, release Finding John Lingwood, a 55-minute documentary that takes viewers on a similarly textured and meandering journey.

Record 2 by night
The Kitchener-Waterloo Record’s Lingwood-designed building, opened in 1973, was a commanding brick bunker.
SPECIAL COLLECTIONS & ARCHIVES UNIVERSITY OF WATERLOO LIBRARY

Mr. Storring is clearly a romantic. In the film’s voiceover, he states: “I’d come from small-town newspapers where broom closets doubled as darkrooms and journalists sat shoulder-to-shoulder with advertising sales staff. Over the next 25 years, I would come to know every square foot of that building: the echo of the stair-wells; the clunk of the freight elevator; the communal clatter of keyboards; and the rumble of the presses.”

The Fairway Road building has since been demolished, but Mr. Storring pays tribute via interviews with former president Paul Motz, who explains that the building’s materials, millwork and furniture were all locally sourced. “You had everything in town, there was simply no need to go out…even our boilers were made in Galt,” he says. Former publisher Wayne MacDonald calls the building “iconic.” Slow camera pans of period photographs accompanied by a sweeping, electronic soundtrack by Nick Storring certainly reinforce that status (and the fact that almost 15 minutes have gone by), so that, when the camera lands on the grassy field where the building once stood, the loss is palpable.

I’m sitting in Mr. Storring’s car looking at this same field, but it’s covered under a thick blanket of February snow. “Such a wonderful place to work,” he says, quietly, and then explains that the other building on this site, the Fairway Press building (which came first in 1967), also by Mr. Lingwood, was disassembled and moved to 101 Randall Dr. in Waterloo.

Fairway Press - Personal_71-7916b_005
The Fairway Press building originally stood in the same field the Record occupied, before being moved to 101 Randall Dr., in Waterloo.
SPECIAL COLLECTIONS & ARCHIVES UNIVERSITY OF WATERLOO LIBRARY

But I’m not here to discuss what’s gone; in operation for 36 years, the Lingwood office completed more than 700 projects, most in Waterloo Region, and, like in the film’s remaining 40 minutes, I’ve come to see what’s left.

John Lingwood grew up in Guelph. After attending Second World War flight training in Winnipeg (and just missing out on active duty), he attended the University of Manitoba to study architecture. In 1955, Mr. Lingwood, then 32, moved his family (three children then; one more would come later) from Detroit, where he’d been working as a draughtsman, to Kitchener to start his own practice. With the city baby-booming as much as the rest of Southern Ontario, the handsome architect found work easily, especially in the form of schools, churches and government buildings.

“He was operating in kind of a golden time,” Mr. Storring confirms as he points out the car window to a trim little building at the corner of Weber Street West and Ontario Street North that was built, originally, for a dentist. “He was a glamourous character and his wife was beautiful, and they entertained like crazy.”

Superior Sanitation - Personal_71-7916a_001
Mr. Lingwood’s Superior Sanitation building, opened in 1971.
SPECIAL COLLECTIONS & ARCHIVES UNIVERSITY OF WATERLOO LIBRARY

In fact, his charm worked early: Two years after his arrival, he’d hook up with home builder Harold Freure, who’d been busying himself with tracts of standard postwar bungalows, to do something different on a 20-home patch of land on Manchester Road at River Road East. “They were ahead of their time; they weren’t easy to sell but we did sell them,” Mr. Freure explains in the film. “They were different on the exterior, different windows … they had the long, narrow brick, which John liked, we brought in a lot of that brick from the States … but he was always looking for different materials.

Passing through an unusual Frank-Lloyd-Wright-in-Japan style of gate, my hand reaches to trace the long bricks of the Manchester Road home Mr. Lingwood designed for himself at No. 414. While the Lingwood family no longer owns the place, current owners Jan and Basia Mytnik are rare birds in that they relish the original details, including Mr. Lingwood’s odd light panel sculpture just inside the front door, and the dark brown ceramic tile with “hieroglyphics” in the home’s great room (added 10 years later).IMG_0849

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The current owners of Mr. Lingwood’s former home on Manchester Road cherish its original details. PHOTOS: KAMIL MYTNIK

“She never wanted a new house,” Kamil Mytnik says of his mother. He explains that, before they bought the Lingwood home in 2001, they’d lived in a custom home where she’d been able to choose everything. “But new houses, they don’t have a soul, a character, so when she saw this place…”

As we’re leaving, the Mytniks say they’d like to build a carport someday, but only if it “looks like it has always been there.”

(In the film, the Mytniks are able to show Mr. Lingwood’s youngest daughter, Lisa Overton, her childhood home and tell her how much they cherish it.)

Earlier that day, Mr. Storring and I visited what former University of Waterloo architecture dean Eric Haldenby calls “one of the most extraordinary pieces of Modern architecture … in the country,” Carmel New Church (and school), which opened in 1962. While it’s the same church I saw years ago in that little publication, gazing upon the origami-like roof with my own eyes takes my breath away.

Carmel New Church - 02 - 1960
Former University of Waterloo architecture dean Eric Haldenby calls the Carmel New Church ‘one of the most extraordinary pieces of Modern architecture … in the country.’
SPECIAL COLLECTIONS & ARCHIVES UNIVERSITY OF WATERLOO LIBRARY

As assistant pastor Nathan Cole showed us around, I thought about how, as Mr. Lingwood articulated his own ideas about architecture and nature, he was also fulfilling the Swedenborgian church’s mandate as to the geometries and materials he was allowed to employ. The result, however, was a stunning success that’s been largely preserved; fittingly, Mr. Storring gives the subject almost 10 minutes of screen-time.

Photo: Former Provincial Courthouse
Former Provincial Courthouse, 200 Frederick St., Kitchener

We wrap our tour with a drive-by of a Brutalist, former courthouse at 200 Frederick St., and a “polarizing” Postmodern 1991 bank at 381 King St. W. This variety of architectural styles, Mr. Storring says, made the Lingwood office interesting. To underline this, the film closes on John Lingwood’s final project, a massive, sprawling, columned Texas mansion for his daughter, Wendy Gray.

Cue the credits … and consider John Lingwood found.

Upcoming screenings of Finding John Lingwood: The Original Princess Cinema, 6 Princess St. W., Waterloo, March 17 @ 3:30 p.m. and March 19 @ 7:00 p.m. It will also be part of the Architecture + Design Film Festival Winnipeg this May.

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How to choose a carpet … Lingwood style

Anyone who – in their adolescent years – wanted to paint their bedroom walls black knows that putting your mark on a space makes it your own. 

Former president of the Kitchener-Waterloo Record, Paul Motz, had much more to play with when in 1970 his father assigned him to managing the interior details of the new Record building at 225 Fairway Road South.

One of his jobs was selecting the carpet for the space – not measured square yards, but measured in acres.

Although this clip didn’t make it into “Finding John Lingwood”, Paul’s detailed account of the process always fascinates me. Watch it below.

Why this Lingwood building was not demolished

Fairway Press - Personal_71-7916b_005
Photo from the Personal Studio Collection at the University of the Waterloo Library, Special Collections and Archives

In the late 1960s, the City of Kitchener made a deal with the Kitchener-Waterloo Record – an exchange … some property in downtown Kitchener for a chunk of land on Fairway Rd. across from Fairview shopping mall.

Former president of the Kitchener-Waterloo Record, Paul Motz called it “the middle of nowhere.”

The deal was made under the condition that the Record build on the site right way.

Architect, John Lingwood was commissioned by the Motz Family to design and build a new production/office facility for its chain of community weekly newspaper and the Fairway Press building was created.

(You can find out the details at the premiere of “Finding John Lingwood” my documentary about the modernist architect. Details to be announced soon.)

In the late 1990’s after many changes in weekly newspapers ownership or the closing of some, the site was sold to make way for the Best Buy store that now sits on the property.

But, the story of the building doesn’t end there … with demolition.

The building was constructed of prefabricated panels bolted to a steel frame; so, it was sold the Marsland Centre Ltd. of Waterloo, disassembled and moved to 101 Randall Drive, Waterloo where it stands today.

property_101-randall-drive-panoramic

Once a darling, always a darling

I’ve gathered at least 20 hours worth of interviews, additional hours of location video and 100s of photographs for my film “Finding John Lingwood.” The finished film … 55 minutes.

A mountain of information to work with and a lot left on the cutting room floor. It’s not quote as bad as you might think – logging all those clips, assessing their relevance and selecting the ones you think might be part of your story.

Not every word or thought an interview subject utters is compelling or fundamental to your narrative, not every photograph adds to the complexity of a scene. 

But … 

  • The person whose backstory tugs at your heart strings;
  • The interview filled with clever turns of phrase;
  • The beautifully lit locations
  • Moments when you laugh or cry or scratch your head

The “darlings” I call them – these stand out in your mind as you begin to stitch together your story. The more you are play the clip the more it calls out to be included. Intimacy clouds your judgement.

So, it is no surprise there comes a time in the editing process when you must cut your darlings to honour the story.

But, once a darling always … well you know how that goes. 

I thought you might like to meet some of my darlings. 

As you wait patiently for the premiere of “Finding John Lingwood” later this year, I will – from time to time – be posting some the compelling moments that ended up on the digital trash heap.

First up, this clip from my interview with Eric Haldenby, professor and former director of the Waterloo School of Architecture. Here he talks about Lingwood’s command of the principals modernist design and his work on the home he created for Dr. Roy Howarth and his family in 1957.

Why I open my heart and head to critiques

I’ve finished the first cut of “Finding John Lingwood” and it’s time to find out if the John Lingwood I’ve come to know resonates with audiences. Over the next month I’ll be screening this version with test audiences to hear what they have to say.

It’s stressful, having your work critiqued, but it’s essential to getting the film ready for a premiere in fall 2018. 

I have had the help of some talented crew members from time-to-time during production, but the micro-budget for this project kept me working in virtual solitude – interviewing, shooting and editing.

Although this suits my nature just fine, this is where problems can start.

No matter how hard you to try to rein in your biases and experiences, their influence creeps into your process, particularly in editing.

You easily become convinced you’ve got it right:

  • The sweet little scene with a subject you’ve really connected with; 
  • The funny moment that makes you laugh each time you see it; 
  • The beautiful drone shot.

They all fight to find their way into your film. As editor you must guard and guide the story, making sure every moment, every cut, every visual advances the narrative. 

The ruthlessness required is simply beyond me.

This is when I depend on members of the test audience. They poke your soft spots, call you back when you wander from the storyline and question every awkward moment. 

Sometimes you just want to bury your head in the sand – pour a glass of wine and ignore the advice. But that is hardly useful. So when I do a screening, I strive to open my heart and head; I take notes; I consider every comment.

For the filmmaker, the challenge is not only to listen, but also to try to understand. Feedback can’t always be taken literally; improvements are often found by changing something other than the specific quibble. 

Here’s the thing: I have never found my work to get worse after a test screening. It has always …  always gotten better.

Not everyone can be part of the test audience so, as a thank you for reading this post, I’ve included a little taste of the first cut of “Finding John Lingwood” – a clip of my work so far on the opening credits.  

I’m hoping to achieve three things:

  • Evoke the period, 1955-1996,
  • Set a tone of the film,
  • Reflect the character of John Lingwood. 

It’ll be hard to judge these criteria without see the entire film, but I would love to hear your thoughts just the same. Please comment below.