September 5th 2018, by Dave Sutherland
Stepping inside the historic 1912 Brighton Block, it is hard to imagine what the Edwardian building was like in its heyday. Also known as the Ernest Brown Block - or the "Everything Photographic" building as the parapet still displays - there is not much to marvel at aside from some extremely clever modern engineering that is being used to breathe new life into the historic building, and the subsequent development of the Quarters District.
Built by photographer Ernest Brown between 1911 and 1913, the Brighton Block is in fact two buildings, constructed approximately one year apart. Though it does not look like it from the outside, it is difficult not to notice the brick wall that separates the two interiors - and even more difficult not to notice that the second and third floors do not line up.
Granted access to the structure, a tour of the interior revealed a behind-the-scenes look at the work going on, along with a firsthand view of the historic quirks that make the Brighton Block unique.
None of those quirks matter, according to developers Kenneth and Adam Cantor; very little of the interior of the building can be salvaged after decades of neglect and a broken roof have rotted away virtually everything but the exterior walls. Even the decorative columns from the main level must go, though a mould was made to allow for future reproductions.
The poor state of the interior has not stopped the Cantors and their company, Primavera Development Group, from forging ahead with redeveloping the property they purchased in 2016 into trendy offices overlooking the North Saskatchewan River.
Touring the building interior, Kenneth Cantor points out the unique process which involved shoring up the existing floors with wooden falsework, as well as the existing support columns encased in temporary concrete footings.
This allowed workers at PCL to then cut the structure away from the exterior walls to make way for a new concrete skeleton that will support them, after which point the remaining interior - including the floors, the brick lightwell, and roof - will be removed entirely over the month of September. With the walls supported and interior removed, a raft slab will be poured in the basement to support the new concrete building interior.
The work is delicate and has been fraught with unknowns; Cantor relays a story of workers excavating material from the basement only to have a critical load-bearing wall begin to shift about 4 inches. PCL, he says, handled the situation quickly and safely, and Cantor expressed appreciation for their expertise on this complex project.
Once the work is complete, three new levels of brick and glass office space designed by Hodgson Schilf Evans will rise above and set back from the existing three-storey historic facade.
Primavera and the architects worked closely with city planners and historical groups to ensure the addition - required to make the entire project feasible - would compliment the Jasper Avenue landmark.
The front entrances to the building will also need to change as part of the project to accommodate the new layout, to separate access to the office areas from the approximately 4,600 square-feet of ground-floor retail space. The office floors range from about 5,900 to 7,000 square-feet and are expected to be ready for occupancy in early 2019.
In a city that continues to struggle with preserving its architectural heritage, the Brighton Block project will hopefully set a precedent for the preservation and revitalization of other historical buildings in Edmonton.
SkyriseEdmonton will be sure to return to this project as progress continues. For more information, check out the associated Database file and Forum thread, where you can find more photos of the project tour. As always, feel free to join the conversation in the comments section below.