Atlantic Modern: The Architecture of the Atlantic Provinces, 1950-2000

Edited by Steven Mannell. Halifax: Tuns Press and Faculty of Architecture and Planning, Dalhousie University, 2004. 112 pages, $27.95.

Review by Susan D. Bronson.

Atlantic Modern is much more than a catalogue of a successful exhibition organized by the Faculty of Architecture and Planning of Dalhousie University on the occasion of the 2001 RAIC conference in Halifax. It is also a valuable documentary record of 26 carefully selected architectural achievements constructed in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland during the second half of the 20th century. Furthermore, it is an affirmation that several architects practicing in these provinces were fully engaged in modernism during this period, and that their collective work is not only impressive but worthy of recognition as an integral part of Canada’s modern heritage. Finally, it is a lesson in disguise about the necessity for architects to ensure the preservation of their archives.

Edited by Steven Mannell, Director of Dalhousie’s Faculty of Architecture and Planning, this little book summarizes the work of the many individuals who participated in the early phases of the ongoing Atlantic Modern Project: architecture students, professors, historians, archivists, building owners, heritage experts, and, of course, the several architectural firms whose work is featured. The introduction explains how the project began with the selection, by each of the four provincial architectural associations, of 30 projects representing six building types (one per decade per type per province). This was followed by archival research, fieldwork, documentation, and interviews that generated a rich and diverse series of drawings, photographs, models, texts, and oral accounts, as well as a timeline and a series of architects’ stories. The results of this process were presented in an exhibition that provided an illuminating overview of the best architecture erected in Atlantic Canada between 1950 and 2000.

Atlantic Modern, published in 2004, provides a succinct but permanent record of these 26 projects in a format that can be easily disseminated and a design that is enjoyable to read and look at. Preceded by an introduction that outlines the process and provides an overview of the project results to date, the body of the book is organized by province. Each project is described by concise, well-researched and well-written text and is illustrated by a variety of images ranging from historic and present-day photographs to design and construction drawings.

Alas, neither the architect nor architecture is eternal. In the final weeks of his life, architect Angus Campbell (1924-2001) learned that a building he designed and built in the late 1950s, the Beth-El Synagogue in Saint John’s, was to be razed. He found some comfort in the fact that he had preserved his records of this symbolic place of worship, inspired by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, and that the synagogue had been further documented and recognized as an icon of Modern Atlantic by the Dalhousie team.

For further information on the Atlantic Modern project, please visit AtlanticArchitecture.