Globe and Mail Article, January 19, 2007

(images of the article will follow the text - but not yet)

 

The ultimate interactive website for armchair architourists
A serial archivist has set up an encyclopedic database of Toronto's built heritage

 

Dave LeBlanc

Eight thousand photographs and counting . . . give or take. Thank goodness for digital photography, or Bob Krawczyk would have one heck of a film-processing bill.

Kidding aside, Mr. Krawczyk is a man after the Architourist's heart. Not because of his love of photography, but because of his chosen subject matter: Toronto buildings -- big and small, commercial and residential, beautiful to all or beautiful to only a few.

In 2002, he began snapping pictures of buildings 12 storeys and up and sending the photos to a website devoted to skyscraper aficionados. Eventually, he expanded the scope of his research and started his own site, the impressive www.tobuilt.ca.

"I don't have any particular training in architecture and so I was trying to learn about our architectural heritage by doing this myself," he recalls, joking that his social life has suffered since he started the project.

"There are a lot of things that I get out of this that don't relate to architecture. I love cycling around on a sunny day, I love taking photos, I'm a collector and I don't like to own things, so in a sense I'm collecting the city by going out and taking photos of it and getting information."

Finding and categorizing information also satisfies a need for this trained archivist, especially since his skills started to get rusty when his job was switched from the provincial archives to another department.

Even a cursory look at Mr. Krawczyk's site reveals the mind of a highly organized individual.

For instance, there are multiple ways to search the content. You can simply type the address of a house or building in the appropriate boxes. (Try "Heath Street West" in the street name box and "50" in the street number box to see a rare Prairie style house near CFRB that I've always admired).

Or you can use the interactive, colour-coded neighbourhood map and call up everything he has photographed within, say, Rosedale. Or you can take an armchair tour of his personal favourites, the 100 most recent, award-winners, or what he considers "oddities and whatnots."

Another way to browse, he says with a justifiably proud note to his voice, is to "just search on Yonge Street, and it will naturally sort by the address. . . . You can go from the lake all the way up to Steeles Avenue looking at buildings . . . and they'll all appear in order."

While Mr. Krawczyk uses the city of Toronto's inventory of heritage properties (app.toronto.ca/heritage/main.do) as a master list, his personal interest in mid-century modern architecture means Don Mills and similar neighbourhoods are well represented on his site. Present-day projects are admitted only when they catch his eye, which doesn't happen often. "There haven't been that many new housing projects that have interested me," he says. "There's a few. There's one at 1386-1400 Bloor at Lansdowne, and it's a tough little row house, but it's so perfect for its surroundings."

Serendipity plays a part, too. While negotiating ravines or back streets in search of a known subject, he has stumbled upon houses he never knew existed.

Once, while looking for a good vantage point from which to photograph a new High Park condominium, he found "a Frank Lloyd Wrightish-type house with a beautiful view."

After he'd posted it on tobuilt.ca, architect Charles Gane, a principal at Core Architects and the home's owner, contacted him with the details.

Another time, while looking for a pedestrian bridge, he was stopped dead in his tracks by a home that brought him "close to tears.

"I just stood out in front of it looking at it for the longest time," he says of the house at 48 Heathdale Rd. in the Bathurst Street and St. Clair Avenue area. Here, too, the architect contacted him after seeing the posting to provide some background.

Not everyone has been so helpful. Sometimes, standing in the street with camera in hand, Mr. Krawczyk has been approached by homeowners who think he's up to no good. His chosen tactic for handling such encounters depends on the degree of suspicion. If people are nice, he'll engage them in conversation about the website; if they're hostile, he has a little fun with them. "I actually become guarded and I try and leave them, and make them more suspicious by being vague about what I'm doing," he admits, then adds, "I have to say, most people have been nice."

Along with his camera, this first-class architourist carries a list of 1,100 buildings that need to be added to his site. He hopes to cross them all off by 2008, when he gets a six-month leave from work.Regardless, the creator of the armchair architourist website has benefited greatly from this labour of love. "It's been a surprise to relook at so many buildings and see that they've won awards, that they were once new and fresh, and it's made me appreciate a whole class of buildings that I didn't necessarily before." He hopes the site will "make people look at the city . . . with a fresh eye and appreciate beauty wherever it's found."

Dave LeBlanc hosts The Architourist on CFRB Wednesdays during Toronto at Noon and Sunday mornings. Send inquiries to dave.leblanc@globeandmail.com.