Blyth-based architect pens Brussels Library piece for 'The Acorn' - Jan. 3, 2019
BY JOHN RUTLEDGE
The theme of the fall, 2018 issue of the ACORN magazine of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (ACO) www.acontario.ca , was “Bricks and Mortar: The craft of heritage conservation.
This issue includes articles about restoration work on sandstone and terra cotta exteriors, Ancaster Town Hall, Addison’s Temple of Treasures (a Toronto retail store that sells reclaimed building parts), Trinity United Church in Kitchener, painted stained glass windows, Beaverdam Church in Thorold, pressed metal façade on the Petrie building in Guelph, uncovering layers of time in existing buildings, and, last but not least, an article entitled “Carnegie’s Legacy Respected” about the restoration and expansion of the Brussels Carnegie Library written by Blyth-based architect and Brussels native John Rutledge.
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, over 100 libraries were built in Ontario with Carnegie library grants. Two of these were in Seaforth and Brussels. James Bertram, who administered Carnegie’s grants from Pittsburgh, married Janet Tod Ewing, originally from Seaforth. Both are buried in Maitland Bank Cemetery near Seaforth.
The guidelines for the Carnegie grants generated architecturally similar library buildings with almost all of them including an exterior staircase to ascend to knowledge and symmetrical facades with rusticated plinth bases, classical columns, pilasters, entablatures and traditional detailing.
The 2014 expansion of the 1909 Brussels Library had to meet the requirements of the Huron County Library, which operates the facility, and the Municipality of Huron East, which owns it. Huron County wanted a facility with no interior walls. Huron East wanted barrier-free accessibility without the costs of an elevator. The general public wanted the lowered ceilings and boarded up transom windows reinstated for more natural light. Everyone agreed the historic architectural character building was to be respected.
As the library is on a corner lot, the municipal sidewalks varied from five to seven feet below the main floor level. An addition with an interior ramp was proposed, but the increased size and cost eliminated that idea. Several proposals were investigated using an exterior ramp and new entrance off the side street, with none of them meeting anyone’s approval.
After much deliberation, it was decided that the entrance should be off Turnberry Street, Brussels’ main street, adjacent to the town’s commercial core. This favorably generated the final design leading to resolution of the addition’s floor plan, and 60-foot-long exterior entrance ramp. This created a welcoming entrance along the side of the old building into a new rear addition. The classical pediment at the library’s original corner entrance became a new adult reading room.
Most of the library’s original interior was visually open with rooms separated by large panes of glass set into wood-wainscoted and wood-framed panels.
We were able to maintain all of the original glazed paneled walls, opening up three smaller rooms that had solid walls with wide open archways, and one large open archway between the original building and the addition.
During the 1970s, the ceiling was dropped to potentially make the building easier to heat. The original transom windows above the double-hung windows were boarded up to accommodate the lowered ceiling. This previous renovation lowered natural light levels in the building. The public was happy when we raised the ceiling back up to almost its original height, with additional insulation, and reinstated the windows with their “spider” transoms. Maintaining the building’s original interior glazed partitions, woodwork, ceiling height, windows and transoms preserved and respected the original architectural style.
New interior trim for the addition has the same overall size as the original trim, although a different profile section was used. This trim was painted with a solid colour that is similar to the colouration of the dark brown stained original wood trim, contrasting and distinguishing new from old. The similarity between new and old creates a congruent architectural balance.
Growing up in Brussels, I thought I had a solid understanding of the building’s architecture. I thought the original vocabulary of the building was a symmetrical repetition of identical elements. After numerous unsuccessful attempts of various window types, shapes, sizes and arrangements, I realized the original architectural vocabulary was not what I thought. In reality, the original windows are variations of the same double-hung window, each topped with a single or a double “spider” transom window. What seems to be a regular symmetrical repetition of identical elements is actually an irregular composition that only implies regularity.
Designing more variations of the existing original window variations and placing them irregularly around the new addition’s exterior with informal relationship to the addition’s interior rooms, I slowly realized an architecturally sympathetic design for the building’s addition was emerging with its own vocabulary that had grown out of careful analysis of the original architecture. Kolbe brand wood framed windows with pre-finished exterior metal cladding were used for authenticity, low maintenance and increased energy.
We lucked out when it came to brick choice. Instead of using reclaimed brick, we found that a new brick, Lancaster Red Stock #4930 manufactured by Ibstock Brick, was a successful match in size and colour. Bear in mind that historically red brick buildings in Ontario were laid with mortar that was coloured. Therefore, when using red brick for an addition to an old red brick building, the mortar also has to be coloured to match in order to achieve a successful brick match.
New details similar in overall size, shape and proportion were designed and developed using variations of building materials instead of problematic duplication. Additions should be sympathetically congruent and contextually in harmony with their parent buildings. I hope the work done to the Brussels Library has achieved this.