Books (November 01, 2006)

COMPILED BY Leslie Jen, Janine Debann and Ian Chodikoff

In Search of a Soul: Designing and Realizing the New Canadian War Museum

By Raymond Moriyama. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2006.

Woven into this detailed account of the design and construction process leading to the Canadian War Museum’s realization is architect Raymond Moriyama’s moving personal history, and the early life events that shaped the career of one of Canada’s finest and respected architects. The decision to become an architect was made as a four-year-old boy scarred by burns, a resolve which was strengthened during his internment in a camp for Japanese Canadians during World War II. Here, Moriyama built his first structure, a tree house, as a place of escape and retreat. In Search of a Soul provides a glimpse of how Moriyama grapples with the difficult nature and meaning of war, in giving form to something so terrible but which must still be honoured. The irony is not lost on him that he was ultimately chosen as the architect for this institution by a country that despite being his home, so clearly betrayed him in his childhood.

Since the 60th anniversary of VE Day on May 8, 2005 when the new War Museum opened, it has become an iconic landmark for not just Ottawa, but for the entire country. Illustrated with full-colour photographs and detailed drawings, In Search of a Soul presents the museum project in a systematic fashion, documenting in order the project, process, design and construction along with methodical descriptions of the building’s interior and exterior. No fewer than 64 separate and distinct schemes for the museum were generated; ultimately, the 65th hybrid scheme became the final design.

The theme of regeneration is an important one, and manifests itself in a number of ways. First of all, the ultimate construction of the museum in LeBreton Flats, a massive brownfield site, was a strategic decision to kickstart the regeneration and future development of this long-neglected district through the building of an important cultural institution (see CA, September 2005). Moriyama emphasizes remembrance and regeneration as an architectural concept: the building emerges from and addresses the landscape in such a way as to reflect survival, regeneration and life after the ravages and destruction of war. The regenerative theme is carried to the building’s sustainability and energy conservation initiatives. But perhaps most importantly, Moriyama strives to engender a regeneration of the museum’s visitors, to move them emotionally, to cause them to think and question the darker aspects of human existence, and to undergo a cathartic process of rebirth.

As Moriyama states in the book’s conclusion, “In the design of the museum, the architectural team and I have tried to balance nature and urbanity, good design and economy, reality and imagination, war and hope, darkness and light, sustainability and functionality, all to bring clarity to the varied voices of Canadians without destroying the ambiguity of plurality.” LJ

Richard Henriquez: Selected Works 1964-2005

Essays by Howard Shubert and Geoffrey Smedley. Interview by Robert Enright. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2006.

Richard Henriquez: Selected Works 1964-2005 is another Douglas & McIntyre publication released this year, and like In Search of a Soul, reveals an architectural process rooted in the deeply personal. Not unlike the early events that shaped the future path of Raymond Moriyama, award-

winning architect Richard Henriquez endured a childhood marked by loss, in this case the death of his father when he was just a young boy. An adapted 1989 interview with Robert Enright for Border Crossings magazine reflects Henriquez’s own preoccupations with family, whom he credits for his continuing inspiration. Essays by curator Howart Shubert and sculptor Geoffrey Smedley further assert Henriquez’s belief in honouring ancestry and history in both art and architecture, and the photos, plans, models, evocative sketches and collages included reveal that Henriquez is indeed as much an artist and a storyteller as he is an architect.

Subsequent to his emigration from Jamaica at age 17 and his architectural education at the University of Manitoba and MIT, Henriquez settled with his young family in Vancouver, a city that now boasts over four decades of his poetic and inspired buildings. Among the 27 projects featured in the book are Firehall No. 22 (1979), the Sylvia Hotel and condominium tower on English Bay (1984), Sinclair Centre (1986), Eugenia Place (1987), Trent University’s Environmental Sciences Building (1991), the BC Cancer Research Centre (2004), and Memory Theatre, an installation exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1996.

Following the work begun with Memory Theatre, the Genome Project which began in 2002 is another installation work in progress, a fascinating investigation into the origin of genetic material in the human body through architecture, and Henriquez’s search for understanding of his own roots and the nature of his cultural inheritance. Here is the culmination of the process central to all his work: a reverence for the past, constructed narratives, and fictional or invented histories. For Henriquez, architecture is a vehicle in which to locate an individual’s life in a historical continuum, a locating of self through family memory and personal history. As Howard Shubert proposes, “The lesson for architecture contained in this work is that to forget your own history is to lose your place in the world.” LJ

Built Upon Love: Architectural Longing after Ethics and Aesthetics

By Alberto Prez-Gmez. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006.

The history of Western architecture is not dry. It’s a love story. For us today, erotic space seems incongruous to architecture, but Built Upon Love: Architectural Longing after Ethics and Aesthetics, the latest book by Alberto Prez-Gmez, takes on the task of demonstrating love’s important role in architecture. In line with the author’s mission of calling contemporary architecture toward a more fulfilling and meaningful practice, the book revisits many of the themes discussed in the author’s pivotal Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science which decried an emptying of meaning in architecture since the Enlightenment due to the predominance of instrumental thinking.

Prez-Gmez charts a tradition of resistance to today’s dispensable architecture of “titillation” through a study of selected events in the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and early modern periods. But he first takes us back to an earlier era, when eros and philia were more obviously architectural issues: the time of Hesiod’s primordial eros, of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.

The relationship between theory and practice is a central theme; the author believes we need to preserve a space between them. Erotic space, “a mean between the mortal and the immortal,” is the oft forgotten third term of a triangle that relates the ideal to the real. Plato called it chora, and the Greek theatre (a “resonant building” organized around a “gap” between audience and spectators) best illustrates this highly charged space.

Providing abundant historical details while incorporating aphorisms and quotes from philosophy and poetry at chapter beginnings, Built Upon Love is a lively text. Dense in places, the book requires a slow reading. It is as if the author has created a gathering of characters from history (Ficino, Vico, Piranesi and others who advocated a poetic vision of architecture) outside of time. The book’s riveting moments stem from the author’s intimate rapport with them.

Built Upon Love’s most admirable achievement is to make evident a connection between erotic space, the poetic image, language and architecture. The book proposes love, and love’s only true home, the “poetic image,” as the most promising starting point for an ethical practice of architecture. The author’s central claim th
at a relevant practice must be “poetic” leads to interesting insights on such everyday topics like program and the tools of architectural representation. Because “our best bet as creators is to recognize and embrace the inherent phenomenological continuity between thinking and making,” the author invites us to tap into our imagination and creativity, but also to know history, and be its sensitive translators. JD

LF Valentine: Career Works 1963-2005

Edited by Katherine Ylitalo. Calgary: Riley’s, 2006.

Produced for a retrospective exhibition at Calgary’s Triangle Gallery, The Architecture of Frederick Valentine: Career Works 1963-2005 is an honest discussion of the career of architect Fred Valentine that dates back to his early days spent with Canada’s venerable firm of John B. Parkin Associates. When Valentine returned to Calgary in 1978, the city was booming. Over the years, he was able to contribute to some of Calgary’s more important commissions which include the Nova Corporate Head Office Building, TransAlta Utilities Corporate Head Office and Canada Olympic Park–the facilities used to host the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. What makes this book an interesting study is the way in which Valentine situates his career within a region of Canada that was relatively late in incorporating its local history and geography into its architecture. Valentine was inspired by the region’s horizontal wood siding, farm buildings and particular considerations of light and climate which were all translated into his own modernist ethos. His architecture extends some of the modernist legacies espoused by the likes of Walter Gropius, I.M. Pei, Gordon Bunshaft, and the Parkins, while encompassing a sense of identity for Calgary, a place that he would always call home.

In an essay contributed by Michael McMordie, Valentine’s architecture is not so much concerned with regional identity but, borrowing from Kenneth Frampton’s own analysis of critical regionalism, possesses an ability to “reflect and serve the limited constituencies in which they are grounded.” McMordie also remarks that Valentine’s approach to his work was fuelled by a desire to design buildings to reflect a prosperous Alberta while pursuing an “anti-centrist consensus” that would help Calgary distance itself from other architects in Canada–notably Toronto and Vancouver.

While he did not pursue an architecture that attempts to emulate the heritage and character of Alberta, Valentine’s buildings do make use of primary geometrical forms, distinctive colours, materials and texture found within the language of Albertan architecture. Unfortunately, such processes also happened to coincide with some of the methods inherent in postmodernist architecture produced during the 1980s–something which Valentine was not entirely able to escape.

Nonetheless, Valentine possesses an emphatic ethos that is strongly associated with the growth and evolution of an Albertan architectural identity that must be both admired and understood, especially as we are currently experiencing yet another significant period of building in Calgary.