2021 RAIC Gold Medal: A Work in Progress

Here are the voices of some of those who have worked with Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe, and who have been touched by their work.

“Good buildings need good friends,” said Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe in their 2006 Martell Lecture, delivered at the University at Buffalo’s School of Architecture and Planning. They were speaking of their ongoing work in the stewardship of Massey College, a 1963 building designed by Ron Thom at the University of Toronto. But the same can be said of all of their work: none of it is done by the architects alone. Rather, Shim and Sutcliffe see architecture as a collaborative endeavour. Making a building is a complex task that involves the contributions and support of clients, builders, fabricators, engineers, staff, and students—as well as the sometimes invisible scaffold of colleagues and mentors. Here are the voices of some of those who have worked with Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe, and who have been touched by their work.

The Integral House under construction. Photo by Ed Burtynsky

The work of Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe has not only contributed to the state of architecture in Canada, but it has had an impact on changing architectural discourse far beyond. Their humane approach and attention to the quality of life distinguishes them, but their willingness to share their knowledge with architects and architectural students is what separates them from others. Serving others was particularly evident when Professor Shim assisted us in the Aga Khan Award for Architecture—in various capacities, over many years—in her pursuit of a better environment for future generations.
—His Highness the Aga Khan CC (Hon), RAIC Gold Medallist, 2013

Brigitte Shim has been a mentor and inspiration to students for over three decades in the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto. Through her excellence in teaching, she has helped to form outstanding practitioners across Canada and around the world. This is just one of the ways in which Shim-Sutcliffe Architects, with its brilliant body of work, has been so influential. On behalf of the entire U of T community, I am delighted to congratulate Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe on receiving the RAIC’s Gold Medal.
—Meric S. Gertler CM, President, University of Toronto

The Integral House under construction. Photo by Ed Burtynsky

The work that Brigitte and Howard produced for us has always exceeded our highest expectations, in terms of design and execution. It also did what excellent architecture should always strive for: to create an environment that transcends the physical space and elevates the human dimension.
—Gerald Sheff and Shanitha Kachan, clients

Brigitte and Howard—Howard and Brigitte—they are like a palindrome, each completing and complementing the other. Their work always starts with a deep understanding of place, and then expands on that to create subtle, yet robust, spaces held together by their brilliant use of materials and highly refined design sensibility. We have followed them from their earliest projects in Toronto, through the design of our own house and beyond. What most impresses us is how grounded they are in the values that guide them: clarity, integrity, patience, and generosity. We celebrate their architecture and salute them on this well-deserved award.
—Glenn and Susan Lowry, clients

25 years ago, we had just moved into our home, and had seen Brigitte and Howard’s work at a friends’ home some time before. The top floor of our new house was a mess and we had some ideas about what it might become. It was astonishing to see these two gifted artists transform this completely unassuming space into a beautiful and joyous celebration of proportion, dimension, and light. It was a privilege to be involved in the decision-making behind such a modest project, and to see Brigitte and Howard take it so seriously. What excites these extraordinary architects is the relationship of human beings to the spaces they choose to live in, and how this complex synergy can be reflected in the profound alchemy of form and materials. We are eternally thankful for their warm friendship, their invaluable contributions to architecture, and for providing a personal space that continues to console, delight, and inspire.
—Atom Egoyan CC, client

The Integral House under construction. Photo by Ed Burtynsky

The poetic quality and independence of their design work, their inventiveness, and their thoughtful, holistic consideration of site, materiality, typologies and the senses have made Shim and Sutcliffe exemplars of architectural practice in Canada and internationally. To me, it is clear that they are abundantly worthy of being awarded the Gold Medal of the RAIC and stand as strong exponents of Canadian values.
—Phyllis Lambert CC, RAIC Gold Medallist, 1991

Howard Sutcliffe and Brigitte Shim are extraordinary Canadian architects who can be compared to few others. They are special in many ways: special in their sensitivity, their use of materials, their attention to detail. And they are special in how they reflect many of the wonderful characteristics associated to Canadians—namely, a sense of modesty, honesty, a lack of bombastic shouting, always very natural. They show an appreciation of place—the Canadian place, particularly the forests and lakes of Ontario. They might write a Canadian version of the Frank Lloyd Wright monograph In the Nature of Materials, and produce a book on detailing rivalling the late Italian master Carlo Scarpa. They are that good. Regard their master work, the Integral House: it says it all.
—Barton Myers, RAIC Gold Medallist, 1994

The Integral House under construction. Photo by Ed Burtynsky

The true life partnership between Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe is a remarkable collaboration that has created wondrous architecture and landscapes, expressing the love and virtuosity of making things. The fusion of their observations, thinking, experimentation, adaptation and evolution has created some of the most compelling integrations of buildings and contexts I have had the pleasure of experiencing. Bravo!
—Bruce Kuwabara OC, RAIC Gold Medallist, 2006

The architectural practice of Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe is truly remarkable. For more than 30 years they have worked to the highest standards of design and execution of building and landscape. (15 Governor General’s Medals is no small accomplishment!) For me—as I expect for the Canadian architectural community as a whole—their unrelenting commitment to excellence has been both a model and a challenge. Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe have created a truly outstanding body of work which will continue to expand in years to come. This accomplishment is a gift of great value to Canadian culture.
—John Patkau CM, RAIC Gold Medalist, 2009

During the nearly 25 years that Brigitte and Howard have been colleagues and close friends, I have enjoyed watching their body of work evolve and mature. During that time, they have made significant contributions to both architectural education and practice. They have been both thought leaders and craft leaders within our architectural community in Canada and internationally. Brigitte and Howard are architect’s architects. In my view, theirs is one of the few Canadian architectural firms whose work consistently enjoys the respect of the architectural community worldwide.
—Brian MacKay-Lyons, RAIC Gold Medalist, 2015

The Integral House under construction. Photo by Ed Burtynsky

We have known Brigitte and Howard, and followed their work, for many years. This award is so well deserved. Brigitte and Howard are simply without parallel: as individuals, parents, educators, partners in work and life, and practitioners who clearly demonstrate the art of architecture. If, as Goethe famously stated, “architecture is frozen music,” then the work of Shim and Sutcliffe would be Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The rich and considered intricacy of every detail is contained in a structure of extreme clarity.
—Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, National Medal of Arts recipients, 2013

For eight years, I sat next to Brigitte and Howard on their office mezzanine, starting as a young intern who was thrilled to be part of a studio that achieves truly remarkable buildings. Over that time, it was not just their talent and vision that I learned from, but their generosity. As a team, they command the complementary skills needed to produce great work. As you quickly learn, great work is not just an exquisite detail or unique idea, but the ability to create a culture of excellence. Within this culture, each person—builders, engineers, clients, and those of us in the office—understood that we were working towards something bigger than the piece of the project we were responsible for. The ability to create this atmosphere and vision takes tenacity and toughness (and sometimes cajoling and gentleness), but most often, generosity.
When you are working closely with Brigitte and Howard, you are in a world where every piece of it contributes to the culture of the work. Where “come for lunch” is as important as the pattern of fasteners on sheet metal. At that lunch, you might find yourself dining with a metalsmith, a student, or sitting nervously next to a Pritzker Prize winner. Everyone was treated with the same generous spirit of inclusion and respect. Everyone’s voice contributed to the idea that we were all there to create great things. This is what I learned, and this is what I try to pass on in my own work.
—Betsy Williamson, architect

I have had the great honour of working with Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe on several projects, and must acknowledge how they have factored greatly in my growth and expertise as a builder. Brigitte and Howard are the embodiment of contemporary architecture, and I have marvelled at the development of their collective ideas as we collaborated on some of the most inspired works in Canada. They recognize that the complexity of their vision requires patience, an attention to detail, and a dedication to the quality of the work. They therefore have an authentic respect for what I know is the messy part of architecture—the construction of buildings. When I reflect on the projects we have completed together, I am filled with a sense of awe and reverence for their endless creativity and dedication to the final product.
—Vic Furgiuele, builder