In 1967, Canadian Architect’s founding editor James Murray was joined by architects Macy DuBois and Eberhard Zeidler to deliberate for two days on the best of Canadian design. The three men pored over a field of 232 submissions, and in choosing a handful of projects deemed to “reflect the most advanced thinking” in the profession, launched the inaugural Canadian Architect Yearbook Awards.
Among that first year’s winners were Moshe Safdie, John B. Parkin and Raymond Moriyama, whose works in no small way still shape what and how we think about architecture in Canada. Also lauded was Clifford & Lawrie’s proposed scheme for the Spadina Expressway at the Eglinton Interchange in Toronto, a project that aspired to accommodate the freeway by “harmoniously” integrating an underground pedestrian passageway below it, and proving to the jury that “we no longer have to fear the car.” (Jane Jacobs et al felt otherwise, though, and the partially constructed Expressway was cancelled in 1971.) The offering in 1973 of an Award of Excellence for Sankey Associates’s urban-design scheme for Montreal’s Quartier Notre-Dame affirmed the still-dominant belief in separating urban areas into discrete sections for living, working, visiting, driving, walking, tourism, government and industry—all bordered off from each other with an artisanally hand-drawn turquoise line.
In the years to come, the annual Awards became a staple for the magazine and the profession, for the first 25 years always with James Murray as jury chair and two high-calibre architects rounding things out. Emerging as a new Canadian identity coalesced in the afterglow of the Centennial, the Awards came into being amidst a Canadian architectural awakening.
The Awards increasingly came to reflect the growing diversity, pluralism and overall standards of the profession and its work. Beginning in the 1970s, the juries gradually evolved from a Toronto-centric all-male group to represent more varied demographics. The name changed from the Yearbook Awards to the Awards of Excellence, signaling a new rigour and higher standard of accomplishment and innovation. Consequently, fewer Awards were bestowed—and in 1980, none whatsoever. In 1997, the evaluations became more nuanced by offering awards in two tiers: Excellence and Merit. Recognition of the next generation was added in 1987 with the establishment of the first Student Awards. In 1991, Ruth Cawker become the first female juror.
Since 1968, the juries celebrated several hundred projects, with the full list of Awards of Excellence winners now published in the following pages. From the winners, a handful of design have been highlighted. These projects aren’t necessarily the objective “best” of the hundreds of entries, but they are works that encapsulate the architectural and social values of their decade. The other hundreds of projects tabled in these columns tell those stories too, and taken together, chart the profession’s remarkable evolution to the present.
What became of them all? Some projects, such as Craig, Zeidler & Strong’s massively ambitious Toronto Harbour City, were never built. Others, like Norman Hotson’s Granville Island redevelopment, have become national landmarks. Many more helped to push architectural thinking in quieter ways. Some winning projects have already been demolished, recognized as missteps or later recognized as tragically lost masterpieces. Others are facing the quieter erasure of being slowly forgotten, surfacing intermittently to graze the fringes of public consciousness through architectural Twitter or—ahem—a wistful magazine retrospective. All of them—whether built or not—express something about the profession, and about us. By virtue of being chosen, they are a record of our collective values.
If the Canadian Architect Awards endure another half century, as we hope and expect, the upcoming decade’s list of winners will serve a similar purpose, emerging from the palimpsest of history as a record of our time. In all likelihood, not all of our choices will retroactively flatter us. And would be shameful if they did: if the profession evolves as it has done over the past 50 years, the continued shifting of our architectural values will be a sign of progress—of risks taken and of mistakes recognized. We can hardly produce a better future if we don’t find fault with the past.
We would like to thank a number of individuals for their help in putting together this lookback feature. We received a treasure trove of vintage Canadian Architect unbound issues to mine from Justin Laberge and from Cornelia and the late Peter Oberlander. And for the compilation of Award winners, selection of projects-of-the-decade, and capsule summaries of their social and architectural merit, we received substantial assistance from Jeremy Schipper, Sébastien Roy and Jérémie Dussault-Lefebvre, who are masters students at the University of British Columbia School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture and producers of the annual design publication Room. Finally, we would like to thank all of the architects — from the first awards to this present edition — who have taken the time, care, resources and attention to make submissions of their work, thereby enriching the conversation and ensuring its success.
The form of the Research Lab in Igloolik, Nunavut, by PGL Architectes is the result of two distinct forces: the unique logistical challenges of building in the harsh Canadian Arctic, and the fascination with space exploration and technologies of the era in which it was built. The outcome is an otherwordly piece of prefabricated architecture which responds to an incredibly singular natural setting. Consequently, the lab looks more like something you would find on the surface of an exoplanet rather then somewhere in Northern Canada. This project propelled Arctic architecture out of the standard one-room plywood structures that were woefully inadequate for the harsh winters of the region. Though the original research program has ended, the building is still standing and is now occupied by Inuit-led research programs.
The Conceptual Master plan of the South Saskatchewan River was developed by Raymond Moriyama to address the tension between human activity and the ecological context of the site. The forward-thinking project addressed what is increasingly one of the most pressing topics for architects and builders: humankind’s relationship with and impact on the larger biosystem. The Valley required planning to ensure the preservation of its unique ecosystems for future generations. The original plan from 1978 still stands today as the guiding document for the contemporary development of the Meewasin Valley.
The question of how to build for Indigenous communities is becoming increasingly important for contemporary designers, and John and Patricia Patkau’s Seabird Island School remains exemplary in its considered and thoughtful proposition to this challenge. The typology is a particularly important one for this and other Canadian Indigenous communities; schools provide a space to pass along cultural traditions, languages, and histories that were lost to a generation; as well, they often serve as the communities’ largest gathering spaces. With classrooms that open directly into a shared public space and forms that are evocative of both the culture and the landscape, Seabird Island School still stands today as a graceful example of architecture that empowers communities.
The Luminous Veil project was not without controversy. When Dereck Revington won the competition to design a suicide prevention barrier for Toronto’s Prince Edward Viaduct — then North America’s second-most popular suicide destination — his proposal faced significant criticism for requirements for its installation and upkeep. After years of protests, consultations, design tweaks and code scripting, the project was completed in 2015, when 35,000 LEDs finally illuminated the 450 metre-long bridge. The final project encompasses the realms of architecture, landscape architecture, public art, urban planning, and public safety — all with considerable success.
Balancing heritage preservation with architectural innovation is an important part of contemporary practice. While much of our built history is vanishing, the potential to imbue older structures with new life is dramatically exemplified in Chevalier Morales’ Maisson de la Littérature. The transformation of the original 1848 Gothic Revival church created exhibition spaces, a library, bistro, and a centre for literary creation in the new annex. A sensitive dialogue between patrimonial artifact and contemporary expansion, the project recently received the 2017 Grand Prix d’excellence form the Orde des Architects du Québec.