Found architecture: The hydrostone district

In Architecture, Canada by Lenore NewmanLeave a Comment

Today we took a little break from eating to go visit the Hydrostone District in Halifax, a lovely example of history writing itself spatially upon an urban landscape. History, in this case, was the 1917 Halifax explosion, in which the collision of two ships, one of which was loaded with pretty well everything that could possibly explode, led to one of the largest non-nuclear blasts ever to take place. Much of the city was destroyed, 2000 people were killed, roughly 9000 were injured, and  at least 6000 people were left homeless.

The severity of the event created the opportunity for large scale urban construction. Architect and planner Thomas Adams, inspired by English garden suburb designs, created a neighbourhood of ten short blocks featuring treed boulevards, a commercial market, park space, and back laneways to keep urban clutter to a minimum. In what then was seen as an extravagance, the houses and market were built of hydrostone, which was a variation on the cinderblock. Hydrostone was new at the time, and was seen as a guard against urban fires.  The boulevards and parks were to serve as public spaces, an influence of the garden city movement of Ebenezer Howard (though he did not approve of the garden suburb, which reflected only a third of his vision of balanced residential, commercial and industrial areas).

The hydrostone market

I was amazed at how intact the neighbourhood is; all of the buildings are still standing, and the area is highly desirable, with a decidedly upscale set of shops occupying the beautifully refurbished market buildings. The neighbourhood is green, walkable, and compact yet filled with public space. Of particular interest are two diagonal streets included at the edge of the site; the hydrostone was barged in and was too heavy to be brought up the steep existing streets.

A detatched house in the hydrostone district

A set of row houses: notice the last one has been “improved” with aluminum siding. This is common in the neighbourhood

The broad boulevards and back laneways are not found elsewhere in the city

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