Ask yourself where the Ratner Building is? I couldn’t have told you until last Sunday when I walked past it, once again, while going for a stroll downtown. What struck me most was how different I felt passing the Ratner compared to the collection of store fronts to the south.
The Ratner Building should be great: three stories, windows on the ground floor and a shop front on the north end along with interior shops accessible from the south entrance. The experience of walking past, however, wasn’t great on a nobody-in-sight Sunday evening in Downtown Regina.
The block of older stores to the south of the Ratner is much more comfortable to walk by. Why is this? Could it be the variety of entrance ways? The subtle changes in window, trim, and signage providing visual interest? The one story human scale?
Across the street there is the Grenfell Tower, with store fronts of about the same size. In theory, these shop spaces should be as active or effective at providing retail space for small businesses.
As I recall, the Grenfell has not retained businesses as well as the shops across the street. Certainly both spots have seen their share of tenants, but the west side of Hamilton does better than the east.
Perhaps the Grenfell has higher rents? Do the columns in front make some difference, or the mass of the structure above?
In Lakeview, south Regina, the Hill Avenue shopping centre is another successful example of one to two-story individual store fronts. Human size planters (which also create a subtle parking barrier), recessed or covered entrance ways, large sidewalk space and a variety of signage/ store designs all help make this an interesting block.
Unfortunately my Downtown stroll peaked along Hamilton Street. Once I turned onto 12th Avenue, construction fences and continuous sheets of reflective glass provided little visual interest.
I was happy to cross the alley way between Hill Tower 1 and the Novia Cafe, hoping the return to a non 10 story + scale would be pleasant. For a moment it was good until I reached the Western Building.
Once I passed to the Cornwall Street side of the building, I inadvertently kicked a plastic coffee-top sipper laying on the ground and nearly jumped out of my skin. It took a piece of loud rubbish to illustrate how tense and on alert I was in this dead environment.
Part of the problem, as you can see below, is that entrance ways, windows and other visual cues of accessibility are clouded to the same slate grey as the building. It is normally not so bad, but add the tunnel effect of the temporary fences and it becomes a uncomfortable place.
Again, the Western Building’s Cornwall Street entrance does not provide you with options or access but only serves as a dead-end, with the function of a Tyndall stone wall.
Sunday evening in Regina is the perfect testing ground for comfortable/uncomfortable building types. The Bank of Canada Building shows how in the current unusual situation of construction, a little set back and greenery makes a big difference.
Generally, I prefer the Western Building (seen in the background) to the rather strong and inaccessible Bank Building. In the present context, however, there is no question which one is more comfortable to be around.
As I moved West towards Lorne Street, I came to the worst building bordering Victoria Park. With its jet black stone, columns (the other day I saw a young boy, having just released his father’s guiding hand, nonchalantly wander into one of those black columns, resulting in a bump to the head) and windows two stories above grade, this building was no fun to walk by. I would have normally looked away across the street to the Library, but once again construction does not help.
The worst aspect of this building is the blind corner at Lorne Street. The fence narrows (of course) to accentuate the effect.
To contrast, here the Western Building can show us the way with its cut corner and large sidewalk space.
Interestingly, the columns help hide windows which begin on the street level on the western half of the building. Again, the windows reflect back the scene across the street, just as well as the black stone and the columns continue to separate the sidewalk from the building mass. The bike rack is poorly designed, and I, for one, would not be able to look my bike into it. The space between the building and sidewalk is ambiguous, most common users are smokers huddling away from the wind at the west end.