At the foot of Bathurst Street, the Canada Malting Silo grain elevator has sat vacant for decades, a reminder of a time when the five-acre site was a hive of industrial activity. A number of bright ideas have cropped up in recent years to put the city-owned heritage site to use—a museum of Toronto history and a music facility among them—but all fizzled.
It may not seem like an urban problem, but cities around the world also grappling with the problem of unused grain elevators. The thick concrete walls and decaying structures often limit remediation, but they’ve been used for revolving restaurants (Frankfurt), luxury condos (Baltimore), and a theatre (Minneapolis).
Just across the lake, Buffalo is home to one of the most striking silo retrofits. When businessman Rick Smith bought 14 waterfront silos six years ago, he planned to turn them into an ethanol-production facility. But they were too decayed. So, the structures have been turned into Silo City, a cluster of large-scale art installations—and a bee colony.
The space has hosted a trombone quartet, theatre performances, and installations by local artists that wouldn’t look out of place at Nuit Blanche. And then there are the bees.
“Elevator B,” was put together for around $13,000 by University of Buffalo architecture students Courtney Creenan, Kyle Mastalinski, Daniel Nead, Scott Selin, and Lisa Stern. An interlocking 22-foot hexagonal silo structure that mimics a honeycomb, it was built to complement the silos and house bees from an existing colony that had occupied the abandoned structures. The colony is thriving.
The site will soon become home to a permanent nonprofit arts centre and building-material manufacturers. “The regeneration of the site is important for getting innovation back to the region,” Smith told innovation and business blog Co.Exist recently. “We don’t want it to be a museum.”