Monday 1 August 2011

The Hacienda-ization of St. Mary's

Those who know me know that I am not a big fan of things that are fake. For example: the big plastic spoilers that douche bags bolt to the trunks of their Chevy Cavaliers, tofurkey, or Stephen Harper smiling. There are however certain exceptions to this rule, such as breasts, and ... uh ... there are others but I can't seem to think of them at the moment.

Anyhow, what I'm here to talk to you about today is faux-Mediterranean architecture. You may have noticed it popping up here and there, but especially if you communte up and down St.Mary's Road here in Winnipeg.

I can't tell you who started the trend, but I'll give credit to Piazza De Nardi for getting the ball rolling. Piazza De Nardi transformed the busy corner of Taylor Ave. and Waverley with a unique shopping experience that mimicked a little Italian market. With the recent expansion, it has become little more than a fancy-looking strip mall, but the success of the original design showed that frozen 'Peggers like to pretend they're strolling on the streets of Tuscany, even when they're wearing Sorels.

It was no surprise therefore that other establishments caught on to the idea. When Banville and Jones relocated to St. Mary's Rd. from Meadowood in 2005, they added a big splash of colour to the street with their Tuscan villa-esque store, one-upping Piazza De Nardi with a second floor terrace.

A couple of years later, and a little further up the street, Miller's Super Valu Meats had an opportunity to expand into the neighbouring building. They did not only that, but merged the two buildings and refaced them in a Mediterranean style with earth-toned stucco, little arches over the windows, and terra cotta roof tiles.

(Miller's, by the way, is a good place to buy more than just meat. They have a decent little grocery section with some specialty items you might not find at large grocery stores, and prices are generally pretty good.)

And just this year, even further up the street, Santa Lucia completed their overhaul of their Norwood location by turning it into a Mediterranean villa-style building with all of the same architectural cues, as well as a large roof top patio.

Three building on the same street in 6 years. It doesn't sound like a lot, but to me this represents a definite trend, and it got me thinking ... is this good? Do I like this faux-Mediterranean style of archtecture?

I have to say "yes", especially on a street that is so lacking in character as St.Mary's. Despite the attempts by the City at street scaping and turning parts of the street into a "villiage", there is no unity or personality that could possibly be harmed by this trend. Instead, these buildings add welcome life and colour to a drab palette of residential units, strip malls, and commercial buildings.

Faux architectural cues are nothing new. Some of our most beloved heritage buildings have fake columns and sconces and other such things. We should welcome any building designs that create a more interesting and more welcoming urban street scape. I therefore give these buildings my stamp of approval.



Christian Cassidy said...

I certainly like the colour that they add to the street.

Anonymous said...

Not as nice but maybe the start of this is the "Mexican" villa style townhouse style condos just south of Santa Lucia on St. Mary's.

They have been there forever, maybe they are the inspiration.

cherenkov said...

Those villas intrigued me when I first moved to Winnipeg, but then somebody told me that they're actually pretty shabby ... which I suppose might make them all the more authentic.

I don't however think they have anything to do with the current trend for a couple of reasons, the main one being that they were built so long ago, and the second being that they are a different style. The new buildings have the colourful earth-toned stucco, clay roof tiles, and stone and wood accents. I give whoever built them credit for breaking the mold, though.

One Man Committee said...

I'm not sold on these buildings myself. I like the older villa that anon referred to because it is a bit more restrained in its approach as compared to the commercial buildings which are a little over the top for my liking.

I think Mediterranean bold stucco may be to this decade as Arizona pastel stucco was to the 90s. (Points to Santa Lucia for their rooftop patio, though - this is a good reminder to finally go and check it out!)

John Dobbin said...

There are several houses along Wellington Crescent in this style and they have been there for decades.

cherenkov said...

@OMC: we'll see if the bold stucco stands the test of time, but I'll still take it over many of the more boring alternatives.

Another building that catches my eye is the new Parisian style condo being built in St. Norbert.

Gustav Nelson said...

@OMC: How bizarre??

Personally I think it's a good thing when people stray from the norm. It offers a different flavour from the typical norm. These types of buildings should be more openly encouraged. It would be nice if building and zoning were laxed to allow more easier development and more accurate flavours of different cultures.

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