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Barry Sampson: 1948-2020

Barry Sampson at work. From www.bsnarchitects.com

Barry Sampson, my former partner in the firm Baird Sampson Neuert, died on Saturday, December 5. He is survived by his partner Judi Coburn and their two sons, Benjamin and Martin.

Barry was born in 1948 in Oshawa, Ontario, and spent his childhood and youth there, arriving at the University of Toronto in 1967 to commence his education in architecture. He and his classmates started their architectural studies just as a dramatic new curriculum was launched by Peter Prangnell, under the aegis of a newly appointed  Chair of Architecture, John Andrews.

I first met Barry the following year, when I joined U of T as a new faculty member. He was never directly my student, but we knew each other at a distance. Then, upon their graduation in 1972, Barry, together with his classmates Joost Bakker, Bruce Kuwabara and John van Nostrand came to me, and proposed to me that they join my fledgling one-person architectural practice. I was taken aback at this proposal, but we found a way to make it work—at least for a period of time. After a few years, the other three left the practice for various reasons, but Barry stayed, and we worked together for the next 30 years.

In the early years of our professional relationship, Barry served as an invaluable back-up to me, in my role as principal designer at the firm. Key projects of that early period, in which he played an essential role, include the reconstruction of the Dunbarton-Fairport United Church in Pickering, Ontario, and the study we undertook for the Ontario Heritage Foundation of “Ontario’s Main Streets.” Then, in the late 1970s, he took a sabbatical from the firm, and went to work in Paris for a year, on the understanding that upon his return to Toronto, he would become my professional partner.

Upon his return, the second stage of our long professional relationship commenced. On our 1982 entry to the Edmonton City Hall Competition, and the 1983 Trinity Square Park competition, he continued to play the invaluable back-up role to my lead. But with our successful—finally!—entry to the 1990 Bay Adelaide Park competition, our roles shifted. We both participated in the formulation of the ambitious idea for the park, but it was Barry who was primarily responsible for the final design configuration. Our success at Bay Adelaide—now called Cloud Gardens Park—led to our obtaining the commission for the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory, probably the last project on which we jointly participated in equal measures.

In the years that followed, the volume of work of the office expanded to such a degree that we began to divide projects amongst us—first between Barry and myself, and subsequently between Barry and our new partner Jon Neuert, after my academic responsibilities had reduced my ability to fully commit to the practice. Among the prominent projects on which Barry played the lead role in this period are two much-admired university residence buildings at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus. Finally, I retired from the practice altogether, and Barry and Jon took it over entirely. Probably the project from this period of his career of which he was proudest is the McEwen Building for the Schulich School of Business, a project with some of the highest environmental ambitions in Canada in recent years.

Barry’s role in architectural education was also an important aspect of his work. He was one of a cadre of younger designers that I invited to teach at U of T during my brief chairmanship in the mid-1980s. Barry discovered that he was a highly effective teacher, and carried on teaching over the years. He became one of the most admired pedagogues in the entire recent history of architecture at U of T, as well as across Canada.

When he retired from teaching a year or so ago, his admirers founded a scholarship in his name, and it is hoped that colleagues wishing to honour his memory will contribute to it.  They can do so online at https://uoft.me/barrysampson, or by downloading the scholarship fund pledge form.

George Baird is the Founding Principal of Baird Sampson Neuert Architects. Over the span of his 50 year career in architecture, he has participated in numerous architectural, urban design, public space and heritage preservation projects.

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