An Inside Job: Kingston Pump House Steam Museum

An expansion and interior renovation of the Kingston Pump House Steam Museum distinguishes between old and new while respecting the original structure’s Victorian industrial vernacular style.

The Kingston Pump House Museum displays the original waterworks that served Kingston in the 19th century. One of only six preserved water-pumping stations in North America, the structure claims the world record for most steam-powered engines under one roof: over two dozen, according to Travel Holiday magazine.

Situated on a prominent waterfront site, the original Pump House dates from 1849, when a modest limestone structure was erected to supply water for firefighters. In 1887, the building was enlarged to house new steam-powered water pumps, lending the Pump House its handsomely arched Romanesque frontage.

+VG restored the Pump House’s historic north elevation, facing Ontario Street, of brick and sandstone, shown here. The heritage frontage is split into three prominent bays, divided by brick pilasters and defined by red brick arches. Minor landscaping in the front yard improved accessibility to the front entrance of the museum.

After falling out of use in 1944, the facility lay dormant until 1970 when the Frontenac Society of Model Engineers began efforts to restore the pump house and convert the facility into a museum. In 1973 the Pump House Steam Museum was presented to the city as a gift for the city’s Tercentenary celebrations. In 1984 it was designated a heritage property under the Ontario Heritage Act. Since then, only interior renovations have been undertaken in the museum.

Given its rich history, the Pump House Steam Museum has significant cultural value. The museum is an integral component in the urban fabric and architectural heritage of Kingston’s waterfront and demonstrates a high degree of craftsmanship.

The location of the addition faces Lake Ontario to create a new address for the building from the water and heighten the museum’s profile. New landscaping improved the legibility of the museum from the water and connections to the lake-shore walkway, which reflects on the façade. The materials palette of grey cementitious panels and curtainwall glazing contrasts with the heritage pump house’s brick and limestone. Photo by David Bell

The City of Kingston charged +VG Architects with renovating the existing building and creating a glazed addition housing workspace to replace the dated and dysfunctional spaces introduced in previous alterations. The 1,200-sq.-ft. glazed addition includes a new accessible arrival and orientation space for school groups and improves circulation through the 7,200-sq.-ft. museum. The addition is located around the rear of the building to avoid impacting the heritage character of the streetscape.

The structure is an agglomeration of several building campaigns, including additions built in 1917, c. 1950 and 1974. “We’re dealing with work from so many different generations here,” says +VG partner and project manager Dan Wojcik, who worked on the Pump House along with Peter Berton, partner-in-charge. “In the new washrooms, for instance, we left exposed brick wherever we could so that even in these ancillary spaces you glimpse what was built so long ago.”

Steel cross bracing prevents the lightly framed vestibule from racking toward the original heritage building when heavy wind loads on the face of the addition exert horizontal pressure on its structural components.

The addition avoids adversely impacting the heritage value of the property; changes to the 1849 and 1890 structures are inconspicuous and reversible. The incongruous shed-roofed 1950s addition, in brown brick that clashed with the red brick found on the rest of the building, was demolished. The opening thus created connects the new addition to the existing structure. This strategy reduced the potential impact on the existing building while removing a component that was deteriorating.

The glass envelope of the new structure gives a direct view of the masonry wall from the 1917 portion of the museum. By retaining this important feature, visitors who arrive at the museum from the rear pass through a threshold upon entering that clearly distinguishes the old and new.

In the office on the upper level, butt-joined lites in the glazing overlooking the vestibule maximize transparency and views toward Lake Ontario. Twin safety vision strips alert users to the glass expanse without significantly detracting from the view. Awning windows were located at floor level to minimize visual disruption of the façade. Floor monuments with power and data access provide flexibility to reconfigure the space as a boardroom.

The materials palette of the new addition complements the existing structure and reads as a contemporary piece of architecture without overwhelming the existing Pump House, with new glass and grey cementitious panels contrasting with the existing building’s red brick. The difference of materials ensures the legibility of the addition as a separate volume.

The renovated museum reopened on time and on budget ($1.4 million). “This project improves the cultural heritage value of the site and enhances this important piece of Kingston’s waterfront,” Wojcik says. “The upgrades to the museum will increase visitorship and heighten its profile, in turn improving its long-term viability.”

PHOTO CREDIT: David Lasker Photography