Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The McGregor Park Library

Some notes on a deceptively tricky build and a lesson in patience for me.

[Late night browsing]

[The original library from pg. 239 of A History of Scarborough]

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s the Scarborough Public Library – now part of the Toronto Public Library -embarked on a program to build a number of new libraries. The McGregor Park branch was the first, and according to A History of Scarborough, edited by Robert R. Bonis and published by the Scarborough Public Library in 1965,

After three strenuous years of pioneering in the development of a Township library system, mainly mobile, the Board felt the time was ripe to begin the erection of new permanent buildings. In the Spring of 1959 the construction of a modern library of steel, glass and brick, designed by Mr. Fred Barnes of Sproat and Rolf, was begun in the McGregor Park Recreation Area west of Winston Churchill Collegiate on Lawrence Avenue. It was officially opened on February 21st, 1960, and at once eager readers flocked to it from far and near. Within five years the new Library built up an excellent collection of about 33,000 volumes, including many valuable works of reference, and had a circulation of 305,043 in the year 1964. It also became the depository for the motion picture films which the library circulated as a member of the Metropolitan Film Pool, giving community organizations and individuals access to 1,800 - 16mm. films, and quickly developed a large patronage.

When I was a kid, my parents took me to this branch since there wasn’t one close to our house at the time. This rather nice little example of mid 20th century modern architecture is long gone – I believe it was demolished in 2004 - and has been replaced by something more up-to-date to meet today’s needs.

Here’s today’s McGregor Park Library,

[McGregor Park Library on a Saturday in June 2012]

It’s a respectable glass-and-steel replacement, but I think the feature of having a corner section or side that sticks up is as commonplace today as the simple glass box was in an earlier era. The onroute rest stops along highway 401 have a similar feature, although the detailing is simpler.

The onroutes were completed within the last year or two, so they’re more-or-less the same vintage as the new McGregor Park Library. I also recall seeing a motorcycle dealership along the highway that used the rising corner feature, but I was busy driving, so no picture. For anyone contemplating buildings for a layout based in the early 21th century, a building based on a glass-and-steel box with a skyward corner might be something to consider.

[An onroute along highway 401]

My model is definitely a caricature: I’ve shrunk it down so that it will fit on my layout, and improvised most of the elevations based on that old black-and-white photo from A History of Scarborough. I think the model gives a good impression of the original, but it’s far from being a historically accurate replica.

The other thing I liked about this project was that it was simple enough for a first attempt at a glass-and-steel building. I thought I could use it as practice before attempting to construct the upper floors of Stella’s – I’ve been hesitating on that one until I had a good idea of how to proceed without screwing things up. Although, I had lots of problems with this project, I learned how I’d do a lot of things differently on future builds.

So, without further adieu, some notes.

[A first sketch of an idea for the model]

[I'm starting to work out the sizes and proportions in detail - an HO-scale figure was used to try to make things look right. The model worked out to be about 46 feet long.]

[Laying out the brick walls on 0.020 inch styrene.]

[Finished substructure for the brick walls.]

[The window walls are cut from thin sheet plastic. The interior back brick wall is also started with clear plastic - that's why there's 4 blanks cut.]

[The window frames were drawn on with a black Sharpie pen. They're drawn on both the inner and outer sides.]

[Adding the brick paper. I used self-adhesive MicroMark paper.]

[The windows were masked and the bottom portions were painted aluminum. I should have spray painted for a more uniform finish.]

[When dry, the window panels were tilted up to see how things would look.]

[Jumping ahead in time - here's a peek at how the end wall looks now that it's done.]

[The brick walls were tilted up to see how they looked once the window openings were cut out from the brick paper. I should have painted all the styrene window edges black at this point.]

[A little more time travel. The back door is rather oddly sized, but the door into the main library looks ok. The place where I plan to put the building on the layout will more-or-less hide this side, so it shouldn't be too noticeable.]

[All the walls are almost done. A little tilt-up to see how things are looking.]

[The floor where the stacks will go were scribed to look like tile and lightly dusted with black spray paint.]

[Getting started on the sides of the light frame. Styrene I-beam was used.]

[The sides are done and ready to make something out of!]

[Ah! Standing up on its own and square to boot!]

Building the interior light frame went well, but the project hit my classic 2/3 done standstill when it was finished. That’s the point where a build is looking like it’s in the homestretch, then I stop for some reason or another, and it stays 2/3 done for awhile – clearly, the Fortran lesson hadn’t stuck with me!. After about a week I finally decided to get back to it.

[A nice family portrait of all the pieces waiting to become a structure.]

I didn’t record the build time as I did with the Fortran project (on that project I was obsessive about documenting the time it took to complete, on this one my obsession was with photographing the build steps), but I did try to learn its lesson that it’s possible to build something in a short time. On this project, I had all the walls finished by the end of the second day. I started the project on a rainy Saturday and spent more or less all day on the build, just breaking to go out with Debra for a couple hours in the afternoon, but coming to a full stop after dinner since the two glasses of wine I had would have taken the build in a direction I’d regret later :-) On the Sunday I worked on-and-off throughout the day for around 2 hours in total. By dinner, all the walls were finished and could have been stood up and glued into place. But, when I gave them a preliminary tilt-up to see how things would look, I realized I should wait and build the integrated lighting unit and interior structure I had in mind.

[Here are the glass walls after gluing in place. I used Micro Crystal Clear with some dabs of super glue here and there.]

I’ve been wanting to build some glass-and-steel buildings for a while now. I like the idea of being able to easily look into - or look right through for that matter - a building without having to remove the roof, or do something else ‘unnatural’ to see inside. I sometimes think that one of the things that made John Allen’s 1948 engine house model so popular was that it was easy to see inside in a seemingly natural way. It had many large windows, skylights, and no doors on either end to block the view. I think this idea of being able to easily peek inside a model building, and see what’s there in a fairly unobstructed fashion - but maybe with just a little bit of looking around obstacles - is a key aspect to boosting its appeal. I don’t know if Mr. Allen exactly replicated a prototype, or deliberately enhanced the ability to look inside, but I wonder if one of its lessons is that maybe model buildings need to be caricatured a bit by making their windows and other openings a bit bigger than a faithful reproduction would suggest. This might make them more visually appealing because they actively pull at the viewer to see what’s inside. No doubt this isn’t an original idea on my part. One of the attractions of the McGregor Park library project was it was an easy way try some of this out because one can readily see into and through the building to the scene beyond.

[Now things start to get complicated - and weird. Side illuminating optical fibre was glued below the upper rails of the light frame. Here I've got the clamps applied waiting for things to dry.]

[And here's where things feel of the rails. I installed the fibres in the frame backwards - the long upper rail ends were to go the other way round!]

Well, I learned a lesson in patience on this project and the light frame taught it to me. I was completely fixated on how to install the fiber optics into the frame, as well as getting the frame, optics, LED illuminator, and end-wall all integrated into a nice sub-assembly, I completely overlooked that I was assembling it backwards! Talk about tunnel vision. This didn’t click until I stood back and looked at the obviously backwards frame standing in the library. I realized I was trying to rush this project to completion and was overlooking some serious problems with the whole fibre optic lighting scheme, so I decided to cut the fibres free from the end wall, remove them from the light frame, settle down, take a break, and start over.

[This is the orientation the light frame is supposed to have. I had to cut out and discard the fibres to get it out.]

Once I got over the whole embarrassment of installing the light frame backwards, I thought about what I wanted to accomplish: this project was to be about the lighting, and be a practice piece for figuring out how to – or how not to in this case :-) - make a glass-and-steel building. It wasn’t going to be about building every possible detail into the interior, or worrying about how to correct the numerous exterior flaws. So, I re-installed the optical fibres the right way around, added some shelves and E.L. Moore style books to them, built a simple sign-out counter, and thought about figure placement. And I made my own LED illuminators for the fibres instead of trying to squeeze the rather large commercial one I bought into the tiny brick portion of the building.

[Some more time travel.]

[Gluing in some new optical fibres - this time the right way around!]

[That L-shaped structure is the service desk. The wood strips are blanks for making some books E. L. Moore style.]

[Finished books glued into the shelves. Those shelves are just styrene L-angle.]

[Finished light frame with shelves installed and optical fibres back in place.]

[Patrons marvelling at the great views from the expanse of glass.]

[Made some optical fibre illuminators from LEDs and resistors. The tips of the LEDs were super glued to the ends of the optical fibres and then wrapped in black electrical tape for insulation and to keep light from leaking into the brick sub-building.]

[Everything is in place. Just need to glue on the roof.]

I thought I was in the homestretch once everything was put together. All I needed to do was attach the roof, add the sign, and bingo, I’d be done! No such luck. For the roof, I used my usual flat roof technique of gluing a piece of fine grit sandpaper to a plastic sheet. I glued the roof onto the tops of walls and let the whole thing sit overnight with weights to hold all the pieces in place. In the morning everything was fine. There was only a little gap at one spot that I thought I’d close-up with a dab of superglue once I got home from work. However, when I got back at the end of the day, the roof had peeled right off the glass portion. I think what happened was that it was very hot that day, the roof heated up, and since it was a laminate of plastic, glue, sandpaper and paint, that sandwich of different materials – each with its own thermal properties - had a mind of its own and twisted and strained and pulled away from the walls. The glass walls are very thin and the rather small amount of glue on their edges that was holding the roof in place just didn’t have the sticking power to hold it down. I discarded the now curved roof and cut a new one from a leftover piece of textured wall material I had used on the Fortran building. Since it was just a single piece of thin, painted styrene it glued down fine without any problems. It didn’t have the thickness I was looking for in the roof, but at this point I just wanted to finish.

[Here's the original roof while the paint was drying. Those bubbles stretched out once everything was dry. That should have been a sign.]

[I made use of some old spikes to hold everything in place while the glue on the roof dried.]

[After sitting all day in the hot house, this is what it looked like when I got home.]

[Checking to see if my piece of plastic from the scrap box was big enough to make a replacement roof. It was, but just.]

[I didn't need so much weight to hold down the new roof, so I put some works of Mr. Heinlein to use.]

[Here's the original roof looking like its old, undistorted self after spending two days in the basement chilling out.]

I think the lessons from this project are: in the future I need to build out the window and door framing in order to get a stronger, stiffer and more three-dimensional structure instead of just drawing it on clear plastic panels with a pen, and I need to plan the lighting out ahead of time instead of trying to add it as an afterthought. But, with that said, as a background building, the model isn’t bad. And, I think it captures the lightweight and ephemeral nature of these types of buildings.

The real library has a bus stop out front. The model will be near a streetcar stop, so at least that aspect will be an improvement on the original!

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