Book Review: William Grierson—Selected Works

By Joan Grierson with Alex Champlin. Table Rock Press, 2016.

University of Toronto teacher and architect William Grierson, one of the partners at Brook Carruthers Grierson Shaw Architects, is the subject of a recent monograph by his wife and business partner, architect Joan Grierson. Over the course of a career spanning some fifty years, Grierson left his mark in a series of institutions, urban houses and experimental cottages that continue to offer lessons for today’s designers.

As David Sisam, FRAIC writes in the introduction, “Grierson’s architecture was particularly interesting because its qualities were the result of both looking forward and looking back. His look forward resulted in early examples of sustainable design and innovative wood construction, while his look backward reflected his deep understanding of historical Ontario architecture and landscape as well as time-tested construction techniques.”

One of his cottages, on Little Bear Lake in the Haliburton district (1965), has the earthy qualities of a hobbit dwelling. Drawing on a technique used by early settlers, it’s built of 9-inch balsam and fir logs, stacked on their sides, with the spaces between filled with mortar made from lime and site-sourced sand. Other cottages, including his own at Table Rock, Georgian Bay, explore the theme of a circular plan, creating efficient structures that connect inhabitants to their rugged surroundings.

The cover of the book showcases one of Grierson’s marquee projects, the Northwood Pulp and Timber Office in Prince George, B.C. Drawing on lessons from his smaller works, it includes a skylit court and warm wood interior, with particular attention given to the control of natural light. Like many of his other works, Northwood was notable for its qualities of fitting in, rather than standing out—developing a close reading of its site and using local materials, and deriving its formal language from its context, not from stylistic preconceptions.

Elsa Lam is editor of Canadian Architect.