Globe and Mail Article, September 23, 2006

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His interest is building
This super-fan won't stop until he's shot all the city's great structures. He's up to 7,647

CATHERINE DAWSON MARCH

You may recognize Bob Krawczyk.

For the past five years, he has been cycling around the city taking pictures of buildings in just about every neighbourhood for his website, tobuilt.ca: tall buildings, historical buildings, unusual buildings, buildings that have won awards, buildings that are important to the city and buildings that, for some reason or another, simply caught his eye. So far, he's shot 7,647. Your house may even be one of them.

"I'm pretty liberal about what I'll include," says the 43-year-old, whose day job is as a senior solutions analyst for the Ministry of Government Services. "I tend to like municipal infrastructure, so on my list I have all the libraries and pumping stations."

But he's an equal opportunity fan: He has a long-standing fascination with high-rises (18 Yorkville St. is a favourite), but he has also fallen in love with a modern home on Heathdale Road that looks like a pile of wooden blocks ("I actually felt moved by seeing it," he says), and admires the Prairie-style home on Heath Street West. A committed downtowner, he has biked as far east as the Rouge Valley to explore abandoned farmhouses and as far north as Steeles Avenue to scout suburban condos.

Mr. Krawczyk's personal website, which officially went live last month, is something of an archival masterpiece -- an on-line treasure trove that could be the most comprehensive public photo database of Toronto architecture around. (Not even the inventory of heritage properties at Heritage Toronto has accompanying photographs.)

The site is densely packed: Whether it's an Annex semi or Celestica's offices in North York, each listing has an address, number of floors, often the architect's name and a construction date. It's searchable, by address, neighbourhood or even by "oddities and whatnots."

In fact, the real thrill for Mr. Krawczyk is compiling the data. He picks up tips on new developments from on-line communities such as Urban Toronto. He checks the City of Toronto community council agendas to suss out which buildings will be granted heritage status. A few years ago, he spent a week at the National Library in Ottawa reading old copies of The Daily Commercial News and Construction Record to get the scoop on less famous buildings.

Is it a hobby or an obsession? "I like to organize data. I'm professionally trained as an archivist, and for me, organizing a big heap of misaligned data is a pleasure," he laughs.

When he was young, he organized and collected, among other things, 20 years worth of Mad magazine. But his latest collection got its start when Mr. Krawczyk discovered a website called skyscrapers.com a few years ago. The volunteer-run site was trying to list every tall building in the world, and information about Toronto's skyscrapers was woefully lacking. He set out on a one-man mission to change that, snapping everything higher than 12 storeys -- in the end, more than 1,600 images.

Mr. Krawczyk was hooked. He widened his search to include homes, bridges, gates, statues, even lampposts. Any significant structure was fair game, and once found, his facts were compiled into lists and spreadsheets. He can sort his spreadsheets by neighbourhood, for example, or number of storeys, but what he does most often is sort by the direction each building faces.

"I'm trying to get most of the buildings with nice sun conditions and blue sky. So let's say that I finish work one day and it's sunny; what I might do is quickly sort my spreadsheet and say, 'Okay, I'm going to Leslieville and Riverdale.' So I'll sort my list and I'll find all the buildings that are west-facing because those are the buildings that I'm going to shoot."

Photographing all the buildings on his list in optimal sunlight makes for a lot of return trips -- which can make this innocent hobby look suspicious. "I've had a lot of problems in Rosedale," Mr. Krawczyk says. "Private security guards have either followed me or asked me what I was doing on quite a few occasions."

But it's been worth the hassle. "If the site does one thing," he says, "I hope it makes people look at buildings that surround them with a fresh eye."

Ernie Buchner, the executive director of Heritage Toronto, says it's hard to believe that tobuilt.ca is the handiwork of one person in his spare time. "The guy's done a fantastic job," he says.

But Mr. Krawczyk says he isn't finished. He has about 1,000 more heritage properties to find and photograph, mostly in the outskirts of Scarborough, North York and Etobicoke that are hard to reach by bike. Plus, he takes requests.

But he is already looking forward to conquering his next category. "I think I'd like to concentrate on all the modernist buildings from the fifties and sixties. That information is really hard to find."