Now that Doyle Block on Spring Garden Road is nearing completion, we can finally do some real-world fact-checking on an earlier public dispute about its impact on the Halifax Central Library. First, here’s the background:
Morden Schmidt, of Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects in Copenhagen, was the lead designer of the Halifax Central Library. In 2014 he explained why its elevated axial view of Citadel Hill was so important in the design:
The historical axis between the Halifax Citadel and the Halifax Harbour, crossing right through the library site, is reflected in the orientation of the top floor of the building containing the Halifax Living Room, hereby providing not only a unique view but also an understanding of the city’s historical heritage.
After the library opened in 2014, the projecting Living Room on the top floor became a popular destination for both citizens and visitors. We appreciated the grand civic quality of the room and the urban experience of being elevated and aligned with Citadel Hill.
In 2015, Westwood Construction submitted a proposal to city hall for an apartment building across from the library. It was as tall as possible within HRM’s height limits for the property. This design was approved by HRM’s Design Review Committee, based on drawings of the building itself: plans, elevations, and a site plan. HRM’s approval process does not require a developer to show how a proposed building relates to its surroundings: no extended street elevations, site model, or urban perspectives.
In January 2016 I wrote an editorial for the Chronicle-Herald, pointing out that the Library’s axial view of Citadel Hill was at risk due to this proposed apartment block. I noted that city hall had not legislated that this new civic vista be protected.
Later, I constructed a perspective to verify that the height and massing of this apartment block would block the Library’s view of Citadel Hill. My perspective was generated from a photograph taken from the Library, dimensioned drawings of Queen’s Court (to the west), dimensioned drawings of the Doyle Block proposal (to the east), and a knowledge of perspective geometry.
In March 2016, the developer, Danny Chedrawe (Westwood Construction), disputed the accuracy of this perspective in a series of interviews at local radio stations and newspapers. Here are some of his comments:
I can tell you that rendering is inaccurate. We are not blocking the view of Citadel Hill … We’re respecting what the library has done for our community, not taking away from it. – The Coast
I can assure the public that after this building is built, there’s still going to be a tremendous view of Citadel Hill … I’m saving the view because I think it’s important.– CBC
A rendering was circulated a few months ago saying we’d be blocking a view from the library. The rendering was inaccurate and it wasn’t properly done … There are tremendous views of the Citadel and Halifax Harbour now, and I can say with confidence that tremendous view will remain after we build.– Chronicle-Herald
After returning from a business trip, I responded to these accusations in an open letter to the same radio stations and newspapers. I described how my perspective was constructed and reiterated that the Library’s view of Citadel Hill would be blocked by Doyle Block. Only one newspaper acknowledged my letter: the Halifax Examiner, which published it online.
After learning of this impending collision, HRM’s Planning and Development department did not negotiate a reduction to the height limit for the west part of Doyle Block to preserve the Library’s axial view of Citadel Hill. HRM Council also did not act.
Two years later, Doyle Block (now called The Doyle) is nearing completion. It has the same height and massing, but different facades. Looking back, we can see that my perspective was accurate and that Mr. Chedrawe’s public statements were false. The Library’s elevated view of Citadel Hill lasted only three years.
At this point, one might expect this article to switch from facts to rhetoric: by commenting on the circumstances that led to this outcome, by citing this as an example of broader development practices in Halifax, or by comparing Halifax’s urban and architectural standards to those in other cities. But no: I won’t add spin to the facts. There has been too much spin and too many alternative facts. I won’t speculate on other people’s intentions, lay blame, ask for an apology, or propose how the public might be compensated for this loss. I also won’t suggest ways to improve HRM’s development approval process. Editorials by the Willow Tree Group (including my own contributions) have said enough about these topics and remain online for those who are interested.
For the record, let’s just summarize the facts:
- The library’s elevated axial view of Citadel Hill was an important part of its urban design.
- Now that The Doyle has been built, this view of Citadel Hill no longer exists.
- HRM’s Planning and Development department and Regional Council did not protect this new urban axis through legislation or negotiation.
- It’s possible to construct an accurate perspective using a photograph, measurements, and geometry. The perspective I constructed in 2016 was accurate.
- Danny Chedrawe’s statements that his building would not block the Library’s view of Citadel Hill were false.
Steve Parcell is a Professor at the School of Architecture, Dalhousie University. This article was first published on the Willow Tree Group website. It is re-published here with the kind permission of the author
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