50 Years of Canadian Architect

Although you can never judge a book by its cover, the following pages provide an indication of the breadth of buildings and ideas that Canadian Architect has featured over the past 50 years. We have illustrated a nearly complete representation of the magazine’s various incarnations while allowing for many atypical issues to be presented, primarily those from the 1950s when the magazine experimented with a variety of cover styles. Over the years, Canadian Architect has produced some awe-inspiring covers that serve as a useful device to encapsulate our history through a specific theme, project or topic in a given issue. Some of these are difficult to reproduce at a small scale while others remain beautiful graphic or photographic representations on their own. The following pages attempt to provide the flavour that Canadian Architect has given to its readers since 1955 with the goal of illustrating the important moments or buildings of a given year. With the exception of 1959, only one cover per year was selected. This was often a difficult choice to make. For example, in 1976 both the CN Tower and the Montreal Olympics were given extensive coverage in the magazine. Nonetheless, we hope that you enjoy the following survey as it might trigger memories of some of the many buildings and periods of architecture since our magazine’s inception.

Beginning in 1955, when Canadian Architect was The Canadian Architect (our name was officially changed with our redesign in 1995), the magazine has featured various artists and illustrators. From Michael Snow and Joyce Wieland to Gerald Robinson and Pierre Clark, these artists would often have their work explored inside the covers, along with insightful interviews conducted by Sara Bowser, one of the magazine’s associate editors. Arriving in Canada from Budapest in 1957, Laszlo Buday illustrated many of the magazine’s covers during the 1960s, and offered abstracted visions of architectural projects and design while presenting a coherent aesthetic for the magazine well into that decade. As many of the artists were friends and colleagues of the editors throughout the early stages of the magazine, they would often lend their creative insight into the imagination and constraints of the architectural profession through their graphic representations of an emerging architectural culture in Canada. In retrospect, many of their designs expressed not only a spiritedness of the time, but a confidence that reflected a strong visual maturity and awareness of the importance between art, architecture and design.

As the magazine moved past the benchmark moments of Toronto City Hall and Expo 67, the images represented on the covers grew more explicit and literal. Changes to the profession and by extension, Canadian society, were reflected in our discussions relating to emerging forms of housing that began to accommodate the growth of urban populations while addressing our cities’ needs for more sophisticated housing delivery mechanisms. The great expansion of university buildings in the late 1960s is well-documented in our pages. As Modernism seemed to be shifting to the heavier and more Brutalist approach to architecture, practice shifted in scope and structure as well. It can be said that practices may have in fact become more “brutal” with the increased pressures of financial, market and miscellaneous procedural constraints. For example, while our January 1970 issue was not the first time Canadian Architect discussed the structure of an architect’s office, it provided insightful commentary on the inherent difficulties of the profession with a cover clearly illustrating the frightful ascendancy to the top.

The 1970s seemed to belong to the West. Winnipeg had a new art gallery and Vancouver began building noteworthy office buildings while revitalizing its historic Gastown for tourist and commercial markets. Edmonton and Calgary were also enjoying fun in the sun with new office towers and cultural institutions such as the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton. Meanwhile, Eastern Canada maintained its growth patterns and Montreal began to experience its own hangover as it worked through a state of near paralysis resulting from the significant debt incurred by hosting the 1976 Olympics. The Energy Crisis of the ’70s began to influence the architecture being built in Canada through passive and active solar collection, and reflective glass buildings seemed to emerge as a ubiquitous architectural conceit. As the ’70s closed, Toronto’s Eaton Centre opened with Fredric Jameson using the building as an important example of contemporary architecture in his essay entitled “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.”

Nineteen-eighty saw the 25th anniversary of Canadian Architect, along with an emergence of a new crop of architects. Design competitions were an important vehicle for significant civic projects such as Edmonton’s City Hall, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the Museum of Civilization in Hull and Mississauga City Hall. The selection of relatively unknown architect Carlos A. Ott for the new Paris Opera House caused a sensation and briefly placed Canadian architecture into the international arena. Along with Postmodernism, the 1980s began to see the emergence of more sophisticated adaptive reuse projects, the integration of computers in the office, and a new era of site-specific projects that would attempt to define history and place, such at the Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre in the Alberta prairies. Like the stars of the silent era, a few notable architects that began to achieve prominence in the 1980s were able to transition into the ’90s with verve and a sophisticated evolution of their craft: the Patkaus, Brian MacKay-Lyons and out of Barton Myers and Associates’ office–the young firm of Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg.

Most architects remember the ’90s as a period of austerity. Alternative professional paths were chosen by an unprecedented number of graduate architects and for the first time, the discussion of a “lost generation” of architects was born in our profession. New avenues were explored in such diverse career directions as set design, film and video, furniture and industrial design, real estate and computer rendering. Canadian Architect produced some of its thinnest issues during this period, due to difficult economic conditions: fewer advertisers brought fewer editorial pages. Nonetheless, a renewed pride in public space and architecture was buttressed by the emergence of such projects as The Galleria in BCE Place in Toronto and the new Kitchener City Hall in 1994. The modest Craven Road House in Toronto by Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe spoke of sophisticated detailing and a desire to use humble materials in an elegant manner, representing an era in which architects are producing projects of design excellence through innovative means.

The last five years of our new century has demonstrated ambition and great promise. New design collaborations have begun to emerge, such as the Parc Downsview Park project in north Toronto. Sustainable architecture, like computational design a decade ago, has matured to a point where buildings can be environmentally aware and sophisticated without existing as novelty science experiments. The delivery of affordable housing across all regions in Canada is uneven, but evolving. We continue to witness the creation of iconographic architecture delivered by a media-savvy international cadre of elite architects; they represent a new level of performance required by large capital-intensive projects. In 2005, Canada seems to be producing domestic work of great promise, as witnessed in such firms as Saucier + Perrotte architectes. Our profession is also asserting itself internationally through projects like Hariri and Pontarini’s Bah’ Temple for South America in Santiago, Chile. Undoubtedly, architecture in Canada will continue to make great strides.

As for the future? In the coming months Canadian Architect will be launching a new design and a larger magazine format to better
accommodate photographs, drawings, and the interrelated nature of practice, research and criticism. As the breadth of our profession increases, we hope to keep stride with the intelligence and creativity that is demonstrated by you, our readers. And as the profession evolves, we hope that future covers will be able to critically represent the ingenuity and excellence of architecture in this country.