Looking at old spaces through new eyes

Fourth-year King’s University College Social Work student Sylvia Nagy was recently recognized with an Architectural Conservancy Ontario London Heritage Scholarship for a 2016 article series she wrote for LondonFuse about a handful of London’s heritage buildings.

Special to Western NewsFourth-year King’s University College Social Work student Sylvia Nagy was recently recognized with an Architectural Conservancy Ontario London Heritage Scholarship for a 2016 article series she wrote for LondonFuse about a handful of London’s heritage buildings.

Sylvia Nagy doesn’t like to use the term ‘preserve’ when speaking about heritage buildings.

“It sounds like you’re putting something under glass, or pickling it and not retaining any of the flavour,” said the fourth-year King’s University College Bachelor of Social Work student. “With our heritage buildings, it’s not just about preserving them, but looking for innovative new uses for them – that’s really important. Not preserving the past, but looking to it to create exciting opportunities for the future.”

It’s this concept Nagy explored in a two-part article featured online on LondonFuse last year, looking at half a dozen of London’s historical buildings. The articles recently earned her recognition from Architectural Conservancy Ontario (ACO) – London Region and Heritage London Foundation in the form of an ACO London Heritage Scholarship.

“It was such an honour to be awarded this scholarship. It provided a lot of validation for my written work. I take so much pleasure in writing and exploring the world through asking questions, listening, transcribing interviews, looking for themes, fleshing them out and having a personal response to it. I want to continue exploring the world around me and sharing the work that I do.”

For the series, Nagy interviewed Benjamin Vazquez, president of London East Historical Society, who took her on a tour of local historical buildings of personal importance. One that particularly struck Nagy is The Crown Livery on Marshall Street, which was built in the 1880s for the purpose of stabling rental horses. Think modern day car rental dealership, except for horses.

“I walk by The Crown Livery almost every day on my way to my social work field placement,” said Nagy, who is currently interning at the London InterCommunity Health Centre. “It’s such an interesting building – you can just look at it and think about how much life used to be there. This was a hub for people to come to arrange transportation, rent horses and travel – what a different time that would have been.”

Other spaces Nagy was drawn to were London’s factories, which include Kellogg’s, McCormick Canada and Hunt Brothers Flour Mill. “These buildings aren’t necessarily as old as some of the others, but, just in writing these articles, I reconsidered how versatile these factory spaces are – how wide, open and airy and how much potential there is to be using them in different ways, such as artistic and collaborative working spaces. I’m really excited to see how these buildings will change in the next 15 years.”

With a focus of study on community development, Nagy feels her interest in London’s “built history” is a natural inclination and she plans to use her scholarship to continue exploring and writing about the city’s historical sites.

“It’s really changed how I look at London because I see potential and opportunities for people to interact in new and exciting ways. If I hadn’t written these articles, I wouldn’t have seen that potential,” she said. “Exploring these buildings invites people to look at things differently.

“It’s almost an exercise in mindfulness, to recognize your environment, recognize what came before and, instead of just walking down the street and not seeing anything, you notice details you hadn’t noticed before, and situate yourself in the present and as part of a continuing narrative of people in London.”

Nagy credits King’s and Western for encouraging and fostering her interests outside of her degree. “A social work education is very broad and it teaches you skills such as advocacy and interviewing, and also how to approach complex issues from multiple perspectives. I take a lot of pleasure in writing and exploring the world through asking questions and listening. Those are skills and an outlook that King’s and Western has really brought forward in myself.”