Urbanist and Heritage Developer Paul Oberman Killed In Plane Crash

Scrivener Square, Toronto: Adaptive reuse of train station as flagship liquor store

Toronto real estate developer Paul Oberman, who is responsible for some of the best historic renovations and adaptive reuse of buildings in the country, was killed last night in an airplane crash in Maine, while flying from Halifax to Quebec City. According to a spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety,

The pilot had radioed between in mid-afternoon that the plane was experiencing icing as it flew through the snowstorm and he was searching for an airstrip, McCausland told Reuters. The aircraft’s emergency transponder was set off some time later by the crash in the remote northwestern Maine woods, he said.

King James Place: restoration and infill by Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg 

The loss to the urbanist and heritage community is incalculable; his projects were models for the entire industry. Paul wrote recently in Teknion’s Design Does Matter:

Historic buildings in historic districts are often already fully integrated into the fabric of urban life and in any case offer a human scale and warmth that are naturally attractive. It is no accident that, in many cities around the world, the most vibrant and dynamic precincts are historic Old Towns. Even when such districts have fallen out of favor, restoring and renewing their built forms soon attracts new shoppers, diners and theatergoers. While the pedestrian malls under the towers of Toronto’s financial district are soon deserted after 5:00 p.m., pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods with buildings of more modest scale remain lively both during and after work. When these neighborhoods include historically and architecturally significant buildings that have had new life breathed into them, they are livelier still.

The Chambers, Ottawa

He concluded:

Historic buildings integrating old and new are, for me, the lifeblood of a city. If we don’t care about renewing our historic buildings, if we don’t care about preserving them by finding new uses for them, what will we care about? How will we create a vibrant urban environment consisting of exciting and remarkable built forms if we turn our backs on the great achievements — and even the mere survivals — of our past? If we don’t value our heritage, how will we create anything of value in the future? A desirable future, I submit, is tied to our past.

Image Credit Peter Chatterton

This past fall I had the honour of presenting Paul with an award for his battle to save WWII vintage hangars at Toronto’s Downsview Airport for adaptive reuse. (I am President of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario) I wrote the reasons:

For his campaign to save the Downsview Hangars built during World War II. He worked tirelessly to broker an agreement between Downsview Park and the Department of National Defence. With ACO’s moral and vocal support, this passionate pilot and developer used his special skills to develop an imaginative adaptive reuse plan that would have saved the historic buildings-one that just missed being implemented.

Post Office, Montreal

Urbanism design and Heritage Activists have lost a great supporter and practitioner, and I have lost a friend and hero.

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