Blanche Lemco van Ginkel, FRAIC is awarded the 2020 RAIC Gold Medal
The following text is reprinted, with permission from the Beverly Willis Foundation for Architecture, from the website “Pioneering Women of American Architecture.” It was written by Annmarie Adams and Tanya Southcott, and co-edited by Victoria Rosner and Mary McLeod:
Blanche Lemco was born in London, England, in 1923. At age thirteen, she moved with her mother and siblings to Montreal, Canada. Her father had been in the garment industry in England, where he owned a small factory, and both her parents were actively interested in the arts. At first, she favoured stage design as a profession, but owing to limited opportunities for theatre education in Montreal in the early 1940s, she chose to pursue architecture instead—drawn to its potential to change the world.
“Blanche is a living connection to Canadian modernist roots, bringing her experience from working with Le Corbusier to Canada,” said the 2020 Gold Medal Jury. “Throughout her career, she has woven modernist social ideals through the fabric of our society as a great educator, communicator and architect. Blanche epitomizes a deep commitment to intellectual rigour and cross-disciplinary dialogue; and continues to be a role model for the Canadian architectural community.”
After graduating from McGill University, Blanche Lemco worked in municipal planning in Windsor, Quebec (1945), and in Regina, Saskatchewan (1946), in architecture for William Crabtree in London (1947), for Le Corbusier in Paris (1948), and Mayerovitch and Bernstein in Montreal (1950–51).
In 1951, Blanche Lemco moved to Philadelphia, where she practiced architecture and taught at the University of Pennsylvania. There, with her colleagues Siasia Nowicki and Robert Geddes, she initiated the Philadelphia CIAM Group for Architectural Investigation (GAI). Lemco van Ginkel represented the group at CIAM 9 Aix-en- Provence in 1953 and at CIAM 10 Dubrovnik in 1956.
Lemco van Ginkel’s career is closely linked to that of her husband, Sandy (H.P.D.) van Ginkel, whom she met in 1953 at CIAM 9 in Aix-en-Provence, where they were both involved in the early discussions that would lead to the formation of Team 10. They married in 1956, and in 1957, they formed a professional partnership, van Ginkel Associates, opening an office at 4270 Western Avenue (now Boulevard de Maisonneuve) in Montreal. The practice operated in Winnipeg from 1966 to 1968, when it moved back to Montreal, then to Toronto in 1977.
Her architecture and urban planning are marked by a deep social purpose and a desire to produce comfortable modern environments, emphasizing cultural and collective values. As she has stated, “Architecture is a cultural pursuit and those who practice it, or are allowed to practice it, reflect our culture, our mores, our attitudes, in Canada as elsewhere.” Drawn to urban planning by its new ideas, Lemco van Ginkel imagined that it might be more open to women. Her collaborations with Sandy van Ginkel on architecture and urban planning projects manifest an early interest and expertise in designing for urban traffic patterns.
The van Ginkels are credited with saving Old Montreal, which has become one of North America’s most successful heritage districts, by running an urban expressway under the neighbourhood—rather than following the original plan of building it at ground level and demolishing its historic buildings. The success of that project led to the founding of urban planning as a profession in Canada when she co-authored legislation for the first Quebec Provincial Planning Commission in 1963–67.
Film and filmmaking were especially important in Lemco van Ginkel’s career: she frequently used film and exhibitions to communicate research results and design ideas. During World War II, she worked at the National Film Board of Canada; and while living in Philadelphia in the 1950s, she wrote the film, It Can Be Done, commissioned by the U.S. State Department. In 1956, she presented it at the International Federation of Housing and Town Planning Congress in Vienna, where it won the Grand Prix for Film. In 1960, she was a consultant to the National Film Board and appeared in the film, Suburban Living. During the 1960s, she was involved in organizing the Montreal International Film Festival and the Winnipeg Film Society.
Blanche helped disseminate information about the history of Canadian women architects through her published articles and speaking engagements on the topic. She was open about her own experiences—such as—when she attributed the rarity of women students in Canada in the 1940s “to the social climate of Quebec, where my mother could not sign a contract and where women were disenfranchised until 1940.”
In 1986, she co-curated an important exhibition, “For the Record: Ontario Women Graduates in Architecture, 1920–60,” at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Architecture and Landscape Architecture; the records of that exhibition were donated to Virginia Tech’s International Archive of Women in Architecture (established 1985).
- Diarmuid Nash, PP/FRAIC Chair of the Jury
Moriyama & Teshima Architects
- Rami Bebawi, MRAIC
- Pat Hanson, FRAIC
- Jessie Andjelic, MRAIC
- Omar Gandhi, MRAIC
Omar Gandhi Architect
- Shelley Craig, FRAIC
Urban Arts Architecture