Urban Taxidermy: When Authenticity and Artificiality Collide

A new breed of preservation has sprung up in Toronto, where existing structures are partially preserved to give new building's old facades. But is this attempt to preserve the existing streetscape actually succeeding?
July 19, 2016, 5am PDT | jwilliams | @jwillia22
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Jeremy Thompson

Writing in TreeHugger, Lloyd Alter looks at a new trend in Toronto which has seen the city try to preserve the authenticity of it's streetscape through artificial means. The term "urban taxidermy," used by landscape architect, planner, and architect Robert Allsopp in an article for Toronto's NOW magazine, is used to describe current development requirements in Toronto's Yonge Street Heritage Conservation District that sees "the front 30 feet of existing old buildings are preserved (so it is much more than just facadism) and new condos are built behind and above, in an attempt to preserve the streetscape."

Urban taxidermy seems to be the most popular current compromise between complete heritage preservation and massive, wholesale redevelopment. Instead of facades, we are keeping large pieces of a building's fabric, but what remains gives only the illusion of a vital, fully functioning, street-related structure. What once sustained street life is being replaced by inert material.

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Is it worth keeping these buildings? Yes, of course, but do we have to kill, stuff and mount them for them to survive? They are more than historical artifacts, bricks-and-mortar facades with finely detailed sills and cornices. They are part of an economic, social and cultural ecology that cannot be disassembled.

As Alter notes, the preservation of the building frontages does little to activate the streets in the short term. The authenticity of the building's place in the neighborhood eco-system is degraded, creating what Robert Allsopp describes as a streetscape diorama which requires a "suspension of disbelief."

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Published on Friday, July 8, 2016 in Treehugger
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