B.C. Binning

By Abraham J. Rogatnick, Ian M. Thom and Adele Weder. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2006.

This attractive publication features a seminal figure in West Coast mid-century art and design culture, Bertram Charles Binning. Essays by Abraham Rogatnick, Ian Thom and Adele Weder document Binning’s significant contributions to his home province of British Columbia and to Canada as an artist, architectural innovator, educator and passionate advocate of the arts. Of particular significance to this issue of the magazine, B.C. Binning underscores the increasing acknowledgement and importance of the enriching role that fine art has in architectural culture. Unavoidably influenced by the California scene and his professional and personal relationships with notable architectural figures such as Bernard Maybeck and Richard Neutra, Binning nonetheless helped to develop a distinctively Canadian West Coast design style. Born in Medicine Hat and raised in Vancouver, Binning’s background and accomplishments in fine art eventually landed him a faculty position at the University of British Columbia School of Architecture. His legacy is not limited to an extensive portfolio of spare and expressive line drawings, textural abstract paintings and vibrant mosaic murals, but extends to contributions in the architectural landscape that continue to be held in high regard to this day. To wit, the iconic three-storey B.C. Electric Substation on Burrard Street in Vancouver. Designed by Sharp Thompson Berwick and Pratt in 1954, Binning was heavily involved in the project’s interiors and suggested to the architects a glass curtain wall to better showcase his original arresting colour scheme that enhanced the architectural and industrial elements within. A few years later, the B.C. Electric office tower was constructed next to the substation, wherein Binning was once again consulted. Vancouverites can still enjoy his distinctive marine-hued diamond-patterned mosaic tiles cladding the base of the building, which were thankfully retained in the tower’s conversion to condominiums in the 1990s. Built in 1940, the modern home he designed for himself and wife Jessie in West Vancouver is now recognized by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, and encapsulates the spirit of early modern architecture in Canada.