Windsor Truck and Storage Company, 201 Shepherd Avenue East
There is something about brick: solid, sensible, built to endure by subtly yielding to the elements, not absolutely resisting them. Brick bears the marks of its history, like a middle aged face; the sheen of youth exchanged for the wisdom of struggle. It is unpretentious, but responsive to the demand that a building– even an industrial building like this one– be form and not just function.
Brick also has a way of making buildings seems bigger. I know that the size of the building is a function of the underlying structure, but something about the iteration of the individual bricks makes even modest sized structures seem grander. In that way too bricks are like living elements, the cells that in their connection construct the organism.
It was the brick and the scale that drew my attention to this building. Truth be told, it is not that big, but it stands out amidst the small factories and bungalows along what, it must be said, is something of a backstreet. I had not expected to encounter anything of note as I rode along it a year or so ago. The only reason I was on Shepherd was because friends told me that it was the best bike route from their home in the east to mine in the west. So seeing the building was an unexpected pleasure. I felt like I re-discovered some forgotten architectural treasure.
As I neared, details emerged. The structure that first caught my eye was a clock tower, maybe three stories high. It had an Albert Kahn-ish look: handsome, a bit brooding, a little sinister, open about what it is, but not afraid to be noticed as architecture. The two tone brick that runs in vertical columns up its walls emphasize its height, and the softer coloured stonework that crowns it completes it aesthetically. The main body of the building extends along Windsor Avenue to the south. Geometrically, it is just a box that nests others boxes, but there is still pleasing attention to detail: the sign is painted, as they used to be in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, brass or iron designs bolted in rows along the western wall, a stone frieze that runs the entire length of the wall.
The best part is still the clock tower, and especially its impressive iron roman numerals. In memory it soars, but memory can exaggerate. So let’s say it looms, empty, the clockworks have long since been removed. Nevertheless, there remains something sternly Victorian about its message to the neighborhood: see what time it is people, and get back to work!
an unnatural light,
Prepared for never-resting Labour’s eyes
Breaks from a many windowed fabric huge;
And at the appointed hour a bell is heard,
Of harsher import than the curfew-knoll
That spake the Norman Conqueror’s stern behest–
A local summons to unceasing toil!
(Wordsworth, The Excursion)
I like it better empty. The danger of a botched and cheap renovation is avoided, while the eye is free to attend to its best features: the glass and iron clock face, without thinking about what time it is.
The building is clearly of a different era of urban industrial architecture when structures were built under the assumption that work was permanent and grounded in space. If the building is not exactly the Battersea power station on the south bank of the Thames in London, it is no Quansa hut or prefabricated sheet metal shell either. Ours is a more liquid age, used to comings and goings, openings and especially closings, and thus has become indifferent to factory architecture.
In a city with Windsor’s history one would think that there would be hundreds of examples of serious industrial architecture, but there are not. A few small Albert Kahn buildings, the magnificent Ford Power Station on Riverside Drive, and not much else. There may once have been, but their traces have been erased. So it is a fitting metaphor for Windsor, stuck somewhere in the past, one is not quite sure when, (there is no dated cornerstone that I could find), but lagging somewhere behind history, for worse and for better.