Books (November 01, 2010)

Reviewed by Ian Chodikoff and Bindya Lad

Full Spectrum: The Architecture of Jeremy Sturgess Edited by Geoffrey Simmins. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2010.

This limited-edition book from the University of Calgary Press is a collection of essays describing the impact that architect Jeremy Sturgess has made on the city of Calgary and the Prairies, and in contributing to architectural dialogue in Canada over the past 30 years. Encased in a jarringly vivid box emblazoned with fuchsia text on the cover, the book screams colour–something that is seemingly part of Sturgess’s overarching design philosophy. One of the book’s essays, David Down’s “Chromatic Iconoclast,” elaborates on Sturgess’s fascination with colour, equating this preoccupation with a very human approach to building–seen in the design for the Chuzenji Kanaya Hotel in Japan (1989). There, Sturgess fuses the Canadian mountain lodge typology with Japanese architecture, allowing the landscape to behave as a colourful backdrop to the hotel. Full Spectrum contains nine booklets, each one bearing its own distinct colour and containing dozens of inspirational sketches and informative drawings of a wide range of projects. Designed by Melina Cusano, the book is thoughtfully edited by Geoffrey Simmins, who is also the curator of the travelling exhibition bearing the same name. Full Spectrum includes a requisite essay by Trevor Boddy–a Prairie-minded iconoclast in his own right–who has followed Sturgess’s career since he himself was an architecture student. Anne Suche has written an insightful essay that examines Sturgess’s multi- and single-family residences, and an essay by Keith Orlesky discusses the importance of Sturgess’s contribution to the evolution of the Calgary urban design fabric. Other essays include those by George Baird–a former teacher of Sturgess, and Derek Besant–a well-known artist who has worked with Sturgess in Calgary’s arts scene for many years. IC

Building a University: The Architecture of UNB By John Leroux. Fredericton: Goose Lane Editions, 2010.

This year, the University of New Brunswick (UNB) is celebrating its 225th anniversary. UNB is Canada’s oldest English-language university and has grown in size by nearly 25 percent over the past eight years, reaching a student population of 12,000. Written and compiled by John Leroux–an architect, historian and native son of New Brunswick–Building a University: The Architecture of UNB is a richly illustrated compilation that documents this university’s proud history. From its modest beginnings inside a Loyalist schoolhouse in 1785, the university became one of the most important universities in Canada when it moved into its impressive King’s College building in 1829. Leroux’s book captures the evolution of building UNB, a history that followed a markedly different trajectory than the great era of university building in the mid-1960s–which saw the creation of Canadian campuses for Simon Fraser University, the University of Lethbridge, Trent University, and the University of Toronto at Scarborough. Leroux divides the development of UNB into seven distinct building periods, many of which were marked by innovative buildings. However, Modernism was a reluctant arrival to UNB. When the university’s Memorial Student Centre opened in 1955, the building symbolized a definitive break from its past, but the adoption of subsequent Modernist buildings did not immediately occur. Under the influence of architect and urban planner Fred Larson, the architecture of the UNB campus in Fredericton during its expansion phase from the late ’50s to the late 1960s was decidedly Georgian and largely influenced by traditionally planned college campuses across the Northeastern United States. This resulted in buildings constructed of red brick with wooden sash windows and copper-clad gabled roofs. When the University of New Brunswick in Saint John (UNBSJ) campus began construction in the late 1960s, the architecture was unapologetically Modern, inspired by the energy created by John Andrews and his massive site-cast concrete Scarborough College for the University of Toronto. From 2003-2005, the urban design firm of Brook McIlroy developed detailed plans for both UNB campuses, advocating a set of principles that adopt social, environmental and sustainable economic growth as models for development. Looking into the 21st century, and as UNB pursues higher-density planning approaches that are safe and accessible while embracing more collaborative efforts with the community, we can only surmise how subsequent books will examine the future of this often overlooked Canadian university. IC

St. Andrews Architecture 1604-1966
By John Leroux and Thaddeus Holownia. Kentville, Nova Scotia: Gaspereau Press, 2010.

With the blessing of King Henry IV, a 79-man expedition from France sailed to Acadia in 1604 in search of fur, fish and other riches for export to Europe. This early expedition landed a few kilometres up the mouth of the St. Croix River to establish the first year-round settlement, but it wasn’t until 1783 when some of the 14,000 American refugees loyal to Great Britain foundede what eventually became present-day St. Andrews. The Loyalists immediately laid out a typical British grid pattern over the land to establish the streets of St. Andrews. (In 1998, the town grid was designated a National Historic District by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.) St. Andrews prospered as the secondary economic hub in the province up until the 1840s when global trading patterns changed. The advent of the steam ship along with a lack of sufficient rail lines to St. Andrews strangled the community economically. As Leroux notes, “had it not been for the peculiar activity of growing turnips…there would have been little or no optimism.” But along came tourism, an integral component to the economic prosperity of St. Andrews that continues to this day. Thousands of people vacation in the region every year, often staying at the Algonquin Hotel (1889), or living in one of the many Cape Cod cottages, Georgian manors and Shingle Style summer homes originally constructed for wealthy American families or captains of industry from Montreal. In 1905, the Canadian Pacific Railway acquired the Algonquin Hotel, thereby promoting St. Andrews as a healthy seaside community with a championship golf course and a host of outdoor activities. Along Water Street, there is Georgian architecture that dates back to the late 1700s and early 1800s, in addition to fine examples of mercantilist Loyalist and Victorian architecture. Queen and Edward Streets contain a host of Greek, Classical Revival, Neoclassical, Cape Cod and Georgian-styled single-family residences. One of the highlights of the architectural history of St. Andrews is the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement in addition to the Shingle Style on its many grand manors. This can be seen in the iconic Pansy Patch, an Arts and Crafts building designed by Montreal architect Charles Saxe. Many spectacular homes designed by Montreal-based architects Edward and William Maxwell are still standing, such as Rosemount (1908), Hillcrest (1909) and Cliffside (1912). On Minister’s Island, the Maxwells also designed one of the largest barns ever built in the province (1899). Even Modernism entered the realm of St. Andrews with the elegant W.C. O’Neill Arena (1962, 1965) by the Associated Designers and Inspectors of Fredericton, followed by John Disher of Saint John. Another favourite is the Sir James Dunn Academy (1966), also designed by Disher. The book is beautifully printed and contains over 150 richly hued black and white photographs taken by Thaddeus Holownia, who, along with John Leroux, has certainly succeeded in conveying the unique social history of St. Andrews throug
h its architecture. IC

Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto By Shawn Micallef. Toronto: Coach House Books, 2009.

More of a personal journal rather than a guidebook, Shawn Micallef’s latest publication entitled Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto, shares his memoirs as he explores the vastness of Toronto’s built form on foot. The book expands upon Micallef’s EYE WEEKLY column “Stroll”–now called “Psychogeography.” His walking tours provide a series of colourful narratives documenting the effects of geographical factors on a wide range of human emotions and behaviour in the city. Micallef’s stories provide intimate details of Toronto’s neighbourhoods, streets, buildings and their architects, along with the people affected by them. Commenting on the social, economic, political, and aesthetic forces involved in creating and maintaining these spaces, Micallef makes considerable effort in discussing the neglected, ignored, and often overlooked–all of which become more evident when walking. Walks are conveniently grouped according to area, allowing one to complete them in succession. Although the majority of walking tours are focused on the downtown, some of the itineraries stretch out to Scarborough, North York, Etobicoke, and Mississauga to capture places such as Pearson International Airport. Each walk is introduced by a legend indicating appropriate attire, suitable age groups, trip duration, recommended equipment, and connecting strolls. The text is supplemented with maps, illustrations and historic photographs which add a scrapbook appeal to the overall project. Stroll is a recommended read for those who enjoy Micallef’s interpretations of the city, for urban enthusiasts who now call Toronto home, and for people who simply possess a modicum of curiosity and a good pair of comfortable walking shoes. BL