Free idea: do something like this to the Hearn Generating Station
Last week, Gehry Partners and Foster + Partners (architectural firms sure have a lot of partners) released renderings of the proposed designs for phase three of the redevelopment of London’s Battersea Power Station. The structure is a majestic, crumbling mid-century relic best known for being on the cover of that one Pink Floyd album.
The undulating new buildings, to be built just to the south of the power station, are expected to include 1,300 new homes, a hotel and 350,000 square feet of retail space. They’re part of a larger plan that includes even more new residences and shops—some of which will be built inside the shell of the former power station—plus a new subway station and the complete reconstruction of all four of the station’s iconic chimneys.
Toronto has a similar opportunity before it. Waterfront Toronto’s plan to redevelop the city’s industrial Port Lands extends to the Hearn Generating Station, a tremendous, abandoned brick structure, built in 1949, that powered Toronto before being taken out of service in 1983. Different redevelopment proposals have been floated for the site over the years, but none of them have gained traction. These days, when the building is used at all, it’s usually for a movie shoot. Waterfront Toronto has identified the Hearn as a landmark worth preserving, but so far there are no concrete proposals for adapting it to new uses.
The Hearn is generally acknowledged to be a significant part of Toronto’s architectural heritage (though it lacks official heritage designation). Incorporating it tightly into the urban fabric would be a dream outcome for many reasons: the building would be preserved, some people would probably get to spend millions of dollars on really spectacular condos and retail spaces—and, of course, the rest of us would get to hang out in the area and be inspired by the structure’s hugeness.
There are some obstacles to importing the Battersea model, though. For one thing, the Hearn is next door to a gas plant, meaning it’s probably not the best or safest place to be putting high-end (or low-end) residences. Also, the Hearn is under long-term lease to Studios of America, a company that at one point was planning to convert the building into a film-studio complex. And the Port Lands themselves still need a lot of work before anything significant can happen there, development-wise. Waterfront Toronto has estimated that around $2 billion in flood protection and infrastructure investment is going to be required before the district can be built up to its full potential, although the Hearn itself is outside the flood plain and could be renovated early.
Even so, revamping the Port Lands is the work of decades, not years. There’s no telling what might be possible when the money starts to flow.
One thought on “Free idea: do something like this to the Hearn Generating Station”
Back in 2010 there was a really interesting sports/community complex proposal for the RL Hearn, see http://news.nationalpost.com/2010/06/22/sports-complex-plan-unveiled-for-mothballed-hearn-station/ It was an innovative energy saving design (an ironic angle on converting a coal-fired power station for other uses!), the design/engineering team were very experienced in this kind of public project: Behnisch Architekten http://behnisch.com/projects/426 TransSolar Climate Engineering http://www.transsolar.com/ and ERA Architects http://era.on.ca The Goethe Institute sponsored a public presentation of the proposal at the MaRS auditorium https://vimeo.com/12854835 (the Hearn proposal starts at 29:30 on this video).
Among the problems with *any* proposals for the Hearn’s reuse are that it has been privately leased for 30 years to a private corporation that seems not have the financial muscle to organize funding for any commercial project–the place is just so massive–and that this situation of the private lease means that public institutions really have no leverage or influence on what can be done with it, e.g. the City issued a demolition permit for the complex at one point and it has stated that there is no way Hearn can receive a Heritage designation because of the leasing arrangement. Meanwhile, the lessee has been removing all the “non-structural” steel from inside the building (lease costs have to be paid somehow!), renting it for post-apocalyptic film-shoots, and I believe the only maintenance being done is what is necessary to secure the place against the increasing hordes of people wanting to photograph post-capitalist industrial ruin-scapes.
If the Port Lands ever get the kind of mixed residential/commercial neighbourhoods that Waterfront Toronto has been planning for years, then I think the Hearn could be an interesting conversion project for a mixed commercial/sports/community centre serving that whole area; if there was some kind of LRT access to it, Hearn could end up serving a lot of the urban core of Toronto as a sports centre. (E.g. maybe the non-revenue access rail tracks to the new Leslie Street TTC storage/maintenance barns could have gone somewhere near the northern part of the Port Lands to join up to the regular tracks, and those access tracks could have become part of a later regular track network serving the Hearn and Port Lands area).
But in Toronto we lack public-spirited ambition, our “vision” is hobbled by not wanting to pay for things, or paying for things that we don’t really want or need, but that satisfy a particular conjunction of political circumstances.
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