Kingston Pump House Steam Museum

+VG unveils a contextually attuned transformation of Kingston’s historic waterworks.

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.

The renovation and addition to the historic Kingston Pump House Steam Museum by The Ventin Group Architects Ltd. (+VG) has revitalized one of North America’s oldest waterworks as a more welcoming and inclusive destination.


The glazed addition provides a comfortable and fully accessible new entrance to accommodate large school groups, while creating improved circulation through the 7,200-square-foot museum. Alongside the enhanced visitor amenities, the addition holds light-filled workshops and offices that replace the dated and dysfunctional spaces introduced in the previous alterations.


The Pump House expansion has opened up the building visually and functionally, providing a light-filled accessible entrance and additional staff offices, workshop, programming spaces and washrooms,” says the City of Kingston’s Manager of Cultural Heritage, Jennifer Campbell.

The new addition’s envelope of light curtainwall and grey cementitious panels lends a contemporary presence that reads as a distinct, albeit complementary, feature to the older brick building.


Interiors boast an open ambiance and maintain the brick walls of the preserved Victorian wing. On sunny afternoons, the sleek, monolithic façade seems to dematerialize as it reflects the lakefront landscape.


“We wanted to emphasize the public nature of the building,” says +VG partner Dan Wojcik, the project’s architect-in-charge. “The reflective curtain wall melds into its surroundings.”

Built as part of the city waterworks in 1848, the building is one of only six similarly 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. The sight and sound of all those reciprocating tie rods chugging away is pleasantly mesmerizing.


Situated on a prominent site on Kingston’s waterfront, the original Pump House dates from 1849, when a modest limestone structure was erected to supply water for Kingston’s 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.

After falling out of use in 1944, however, the facility lay dormant before reopening as a museum in 1973. While the Pump House became a popular Kingston destination, the structure had not been substantially updated since the 1970s, when an addition drastically out of sync with the character of the older areas was completed.


+VG’s first step in the design process was to write a detailed heritage impact statement that delved into the building’s history and archaeology. Thus informed, the firm designed a new wing that replaced the earlier alterations facing Lake Ontario with a more cohesive and contextually deferential aesthetic.

A red acid-etched logo is embedded into the curtainwall at waist height across the door, depicting the gears powering the building’s historic pumps.

The new wing combines an understated and deferential lightness with a subtly declarative presence, thanks to the acid-etched, billboard-like supergraphic atop the façade spelling out “PUMPHOUSE.”


“Depending on your perspective from the water, the building’s name appears to be lit from the interior,” notes Wojcik.

The “PUMPHOUSE” supergraphic within a ceramic frit pattern atop the glass curtain wall, just below the prefinished charcoal metal flashing, is prominently visible from Lake Ontario, particularly when the building is lit at night.

An equally sensitive landscape plan complements the revitalized building. By removing the fences and barriers that previously separated the building from the lakefront promenade, the museum integrates more cohesively into the public realm, making for an inviting presence from the waterfront. Meanwhile, the historic 19th-century elevation facing Ontario Street, the building’s front door, has been maintained.


The renovated museum reopened on budget ($1.4 million) and time (2018) and was promptly embraced by the community. “One of the most valuable and rewarding moments in a project, and this one in particular, is when we see the end user there,” says Wojcik. “I visited and there was a robotics workshop happening with kids who were just so enthused and excited to be there. The architecture may not be important to them, but it supports the programming that makes their visit so enjoyable.”

Photo by David Bell

Photography by David Lasker Photography (unless otherwise noted).


City of Kingston

+VG project team

  • Peter Berton, Partner-in-Charge
  • Dan Wojcik, Architect
  • Jacob Kelly, Technologist.


Fibre Cement Panels: Fibre C

Curtainwall: Alumicor

Glass: PPG

Lighting: Lumenwerx

Plumbing: American Standard

Door hardware: Sargent, KN Crowder

Carpet Tile: Interface Flooring

You might also like