Blacksmith Lofts

Re-purposed brick and beam factory preserves heritage

Dating from the late 1800s, the original industrial building, now the Blacksmith Lofts of 27 modern apartments, served as a manufacturing facility for blacksmith forges and residential furnaces.

By Patrick Simmons

It was later incorporated into the Tiger Brand Knitting Company complex and served as a manufacturing facility for woollen clothing until the company shut down in 2005. Located alongside the Grand River and bordering an arterial road,  it forms  part of the significant industrial heritage of the former town of Galt, now part of the city of Cambridge.
The building is of ‘brick and beam’ construction, comprising a heavy timber post and beam structure with solid wood floors  and a red brick masonry walls of solid, three-leaf construction.

The 27 apartments, ranging in size from 60m2 – 90m2, maintain the original 4.0m - 4.6m ceiling heights and wherever possible expose the wood and masonry structure. Other features of the original building have also been retained, including exposed steel beams and sliding barn doors now incorporated into some suites.

As with any heritage project, the requirement to maintain the architectural integrity of the building posed a number of challenges, with proposed modifications to the exterior  having to be approved by the Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee. Designed as a factory, the original building required few windows, so the masonry facades  had included numerous ‘blind’ windows to balance the composition. It was possible to open up most of these, and to install double-glazed fibreglass windows in the same style as the originals.

The addition of these tall and narrow windows, combined with the high ceilings, provides each unit with abundant natural light that penetrates deep into the occupied spaces. Given the proximity of the site to a major road, acoustic studies were done to ensure the building envelope and specifically the new windows provided the required acoustic performance.

No other significant modifications to the exterior were permitted. This meant that upgrades to the building envelope were restricted to the addition of 150mm of exterior polystyrene insulation on the roof, and the strategic addition of 150mm of mineral fibre insulation, vapour barrier and drywall wherever possible on the interior,  while maintaining much of the original brick finish inside the units. Where drywall finishes were added, low VOC paints were used.

The subdivision of the building into apartments also presented challenges regarding code upgrades for exiting, the provision of elevators, and the integration of mechanical systems. Elevators and new stairwells are located in a central lobby and designed to complement the historic fabric and detailing of the building.

The most cost effective solution for heating and cooling was to install condenser units out of sight on the roof. To maximize usable square footage in the apartments, yet still add new plumbing and ventilation, the architects modelled alternative approaches  to the routing of services. This analysis resulted in main conduit runs, fresh air for common areas and condenser lines being run in the corridors above suspended ceilings

Each unit is equipped with a high-efficiency gas furnace, as well as energy recovery ventilators. Air is ducted from the furnaces to all rooms in each unit. Air conditioning is provided by cooling coils in each furnace, connected to the individual condensers on the rooftop. Each unit has a thermostat for temperature control.

The conversion of this three-storey structure to loft apartments responds to a growing market demand  in Cambridge for smaller living spaces located closer to community amenities. Adaptive reuse preserves the embodied energy in the original building, brings new residents to the area,  and in so doing, acknowledges and enriches the cultural and architectural heritage  of  this historic part of the city.

Project Credits

  • Client Blacksmith Lofts
  • Architect Robertson Simmons Architects Inc.
  • Structural Engineer Truax Engineering Ltd.
  • Mechanical Engineer Collins Engineering Ltd.
  • Electrical Engineer Mighton Engineering Ltd.
  • General Contractor Sax Construction Inc.
  • Civil Engineer Meritech Engineering
  • Landscape Architect Roth and Associates Inc.
  • Photos Exterior photos are by Ryan Moffat of Riverstone Imaging; interior photos are by Wendy Alana Photography

Patrick Simmons is a principal with Robertson Simmons Architects Inc.

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