Margaret (“Margie”) Zeidler, is president and creator of 401 Richmond Limited, a vibrant urban community of diverse artists and entrepreneurs, located in the old garment district in the Spadina and Richmond area of downtown Toronto. Inspired by Jane Jacobs’ idea that “old ideas can use new buildings, but new ideas need old buildings”, she has transformed this former tin factory into what has been described as a “a village in a box”.
Formally trained as an architect at the University of Toronto and the University of Westminster, Margie turned away from the emphasis in architecture on “product, esthetics and making a statement”. She subsequently worked for a number of years with the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF), raising money and monitoring projects in eastern Africa. Both experiences gave her a strong interest in two ideas which have been central in Jane Jacobs’ thinking: the preservation of historic buildings and importance of community diversity as a generator of creativity.
In 1994, Margie bought the Richmond street property with financial backing from her father, well-known architect, Eb Zeidler. The building, originally constructed in 1899, had been largely derelict since its last major tenant, Continental Can, moved out in 1969.
Having been on the board of Artscape, a non-profit group that develops space for artists, she was aware of the difficulty that artists and non-profits groups faced in access to affordable working space. The redevelopment of 401 Richmond was based on maintaining low rents which would still allow for profitability.
However the creation of a diverse and energetic creative community that has space to meet and interact was also of prime importance. Architectural details such as large windows opening out into corridor space, glass walkways and long wide hallways increased opportunities for people to meet on a daily basis.
401 Richmond is a vibrant workplace which houses a wide range of tenants from art galleries, architects, fashion designers, visual artists, to business consultants, computer companies, and a variety of non-profit organizations. A seasonal roof garden provides organic herbs and vegetables to the Loftus Lloyd Café, located on the ground level and named after the factory manager who spent 51 years working in the building. Studio 123, a day care centre for young children located on the ground floor and sharing the courtyard outdoor area, offers an arts-enriched curriculum with partnerships drawn from the artistically rich community. The building has its own newsletter and website: www.401richmond.net which keeps the community up to date on events and welcomes newcomers to the building. With a long waiting list for tenants, 401 Richmond has become an inspiration for other developments.
In addition to her passion for restoration, Margie is president of World Literacy of Canada, a non-profit organization promoting international development and social justice and supporting a variety of adult and children’s literacy initiatives in Canada. She is also a board member of Foodshare/Field to Table, a Toronto organization which supports education on hunger and access to affordable nutritious food from the field to the table and a patron of the ImagiNative Film Festival, promoting indigenous film, video and multimedia by First Nations peoples.