There’s a scene in Seinfeld where Jerry fibs to an old college friend that George is a marine biologist.
"Why couldn’t you make me an architect?" George says to Jerry afterwards. "You know that I always wanted to pretend that I was an architect."
Don’t we all? Don’t we all want to design grand buildings that will live forever? But what do architects really do when they go to work each morning?
Now’s our chance to find out. This weekend, May 4 and 5, is Doors Open. Hamilton held its first 10 years ago and about 7,000 people came out. Last year, attendance hit 30,000.
It was Donna Reid, heritage royalty in this town, who pushed for that first Doors Open. And each year, without pay, she puts long hours into making it happen all over again.
She wants people to be exposed to our built heritage so that they don’t become part of the "disposable society." She’s part of a small team that has assembled a list of 51 sites this year. You can check them out at doorsopenhamilton.ca
This time, there’s something new. This year, there are architects.
After all, these buildings we love began at an architect’s table. For instance, the magnificent Treble Hall on John North (open for the first time ever; expect lines) was the work of James Balfour, who also designed the old City Hall – perhaps Hamilton’s greatest heritage loss.
As Reid points out, "The average person never gets to see the inside of an architect’s office."
So there are four on the list this year. Each operates in a building that used to be something else. Instead of tearing a place down, you find a way to make it work some more.
Perkins + Will, 15 Foundry Street, Dundas / Sat. only, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
This place opened in 1958 as a bowling alley. Later it was an auction house, then a lithographer shop. It became an architects office 22 years ago. And they left those bowling lanes in place.
Mary Jo Hind, principal with the firm: "I had the typical math and art interests. When I went into architecture, I was prepared to switch out of it. But it turned out to be a great profession. There is always more to learn. And you’re building things that are going to last a lot longer than you are."
MSA Architects, 155/157 Catharine St. N/ Sat. & Sun. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
This building began as a clothing factory nearly a hundred years ago. MSA architect Glen Sather converted it to offices in 2000. It has high-performance windows, solar panels and cisterns on the roof to collect rain water.
Christina Karney, intern architect: "Architecture has the potential for transforming human environments... I just moved to Hamilton three months ago. There’s a lot of energy here. In Toronto, you have to fit a mould. Here there’s flexibility. That’s exciting."
TCA Architects Inc., 118 James Street N/ Sat. & Sun. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Dominion Furniture had occupied this sprawling three-storey building since the turn of the last century. A few years ago, new owners ripped away the aluminum siding to expose great expanses of glass. Upstairs, a sleek architectural office. At street level, the Art Gallery of Hamilton Design Annex – and the beautiful tin-ceilinged newsroom of CBC Hamilton.
Bill Curran, TCA principal: "Architecture is the only permanent art and no one can escape it. You can turn your head from a painting or sculpture or pop art, but you can’t escape interacting with architecture... A great building will bend your knee. You can’t walk into Notre Dame or Chartres and not feel that."
Cardus & Invizij Architects, 185 Young Street/ Sat. & Sun. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
They call this The Old Cooperage, built of stone about 1880. For 60 years, it was a carpenters shop for the Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo Railway. And in 1974, noted Hamilton architect Trevor Garwood-Jones converted this space into his offices. The three firms mentioned above can all trace their roots to this building.
Emma Cubitt, newly-minted architect: "Since I was a girl, I loved buildings and spaces... It’s exciting being able to create something our clients might not even have imagined themselves... Adaptive reuse is one of my favourite types of projects. It can be harder, but it’s worth it. It forces us to be more creative and it celebrates history."