Architecture e+c: Work of Elin + Carmen Corneil, 1958 to 2008

By Elin and Carmen Corneil. Halifax: TUNS Press, 2009.

Based on a travelling exhibition focused on the Canadian practice of Elin and Carmen Corneil that originated at Carleton University, this exhibition catalogue provides an account of the firm’s history and working methodology while crediting the help received along the way. The book contains an eloquent foreword by Terrance Galvin and an informative introduction by Michael Milojevic. The student of architecture will find guidance in the Corneils’ work, and seasoned practitioners, if not called back to a simpler practice, will be inspired.

At first glance it seems ephemeral, or appearing to be a mere pamphlet, but Architecture e+c: Work of Elin+Carmen Corneil, 1958 to 2008 powerfully documents the work of two of Canada’s most significant Modern-era architects alive today. Leafing through the economically edited pages that illustrate and discuss a travelling retrospective exhibition of the firm’s career, today’s architect is likely to wonder when architecture got so complicated. A series of projects–unfortunately, not the entire exhibition–is beautifully depicted with text, reproductions of working drawings (drafted by hand, of course), thumbnail sketches, and photographs showing the progress of the design. The layouts, composed by the Corneils and organized by nine themes that focus on their work over the last 50 years, balance indeterminacy and bold graphic devices. For the Corneils, beauty is found in the rough-hewn rather than the glossy, and seeing this expressed in the exhibition recalls an era that is characterized by the quest for the authentic experience. Elemental themes ranging from “the rustic” to “beacons,” passing through “kinetics” and “town floor,” are displayed alongside an inventory of exhibition entries and excerpts on each theme. Of special note are the explorations that document the McMullen Summer House, under the “palette” theme. That 1988 kit-of-parts project on Lake Kashagawigamog near Haliburton, Ontario exemplifies the architects’ commitment to constructive intelligence and poetic metaphor. It is a work of supreme material and contextual sensitivity that makes obvious the unity of the Corneils’ practice that spans the two countries to which the architects are tied: Norway and Canada. Reviewed by Janine Debann