Lemay believes that buildings should give more than they take. We’re committed to honouring the original character of heritage buildings and, in that same vein, reimagining existing buildings in a sustainable manner (our Montreal office is a former warehouse).
Our Western Canada team is now making a name for itself, with triple awards for Calgary’s Centennial Planetarium and the rehabilitation of Calgary’s Historic City Hall. This complex, six-year project involved extensive testing and analysis, coordination and meticulous attention to detail.
You just completed a marathon restoration of Calgary City Hall. Why was this such a passion project for the team?
GCS: It’s a humbling project in many ways. In the context of architecture in Canada, Western Canada, it’s an architectural gem. We were custodians of it, and we were able to add these small, subtle things that amplify it, whether it’s this beautiful lighting program, or thinking about access and accessibility, and thoroughly cataloguing it so that in 100 years they will know how to move forward with the next restoration project.
Why is the building so beloved by the city?
GCS: There’s a lot of civic pride in the building, and even the project itself. When you look at a fresh place like Calgary, the beautiful buildings that have matured, been carved by the weather, and designed on a human scale, they’re cherished and very relatable. City Hall was built in a very traditional, older style, but it uses materials from the place where it was created, the material of the land.
(The project team had to conduct an international quarry search to reproduce the warm, yellow sandstone once abundant in the region.)
How are heritage projects different in their approach?
GCS: You first need to understand this cultural memory and meaning. You’re restoring it, you’re being generous to what it was before and you’re keeping the energy. There’s that research component which is really interesting, how you get to know this building, which elements are to be updated, and how to update them. When you try to marry old and new technology, or take down a feature without knowing where it comes from, you can erase the history of a place or do untold damage. A heritage context demands research in a way that you can’t skip as you might be able to in a contemporary concept.
It’s also very demanding in terms of documentation. You have to capture very precise details and document how it was before, then redocument once the intervention has been done.
You also worked on restoring Calgary’s Centennial Planetarium. What did you find challenging about that project?
GCS: The Planetarium was a downtown observatory, but after that it was the children’s science museum. Every Calgarian of a certain age has a beloved memory of that use, so when you look at the features to be preserved, you need to accommodate that. It’s not always about the oldest part of the building. It can be about what people who have used that building for generations hold dear.
Why is conservation architecture so important to Lemay?
GCS: Anything that’s old, if you treat it well, the building itself will continue to give back and to live. It goes along with ethics in architecture and responsibility, our role in preserving the collective memory through these irreplaceable buildings. It also aligns with our very green approach about how we’re recycling and avoiding carbon emissions by rehabilitating, rather than rebuilding.
We understand the value of adaptive reuse and why we need to keep taking care of these buildings. And as a mature practice, we’re called on because of our capability to interface from the conservation standpoint. We’re working with these high-calibre buildings because we have that depth.