Collected Wisdom

TEXT Chris Macdonald

A survey of Peter Cardew’s oeuvre to date portrays work of intense consideration. This is the work of a designer of deliberate measure, meticulous in both its consideration and–perhaps more extraordinary–in its execution.

The work represents the accumulated successes over a professional lifetime and provides vivid testimony to the clarity of purpose and consistency of resolution Cardew has summoned up throughout his career. Collectively, the work might further serve as cipher for his commitment to the full spectrum of ambition he inherits from the modern project in architecture. Inclusive and broad in its suggestion, the varied programs and scales of projects undertaken by Cardew’s practice can be construed as a near-complete vision of a modern community–resolutely framed by the distinctive geographies of his chosen West Coast setting.

Across the spectrum of Cardew’s buildings and projects, such a fundamental underpinning is clear. The industrial realm of Lignum is countered by the cultural presence of the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, while the Plaza of Nations shelter suggests a reticent framing of emerging public occasions. Innumerable detached houses strike a fine balance between a responsible regard for geography and the vicissitudes of individual owners’ expectations–and a similar balance may be observed between the collective identity and private realm in urban housing such as the Waterfront Row Houses on Southwest False Creek, and in the modest but suggestive Odlum live-work project. The sense of a consistent ethos in tectonic and detailed concerns is especially evident in furniture design and interiors–whether commercial or domestic in their programmatic emphasis. Finally, in the recent project for the reconfiguration of the Garden Wall House (see CA, December 2006), a pre-WWII Vancouver residence designed by Robert A.D. Berwick, the work suggests a strategy for a reconciliation of modern impulses with the habits of tradition–a case for design continuity in the midst of change and increasing urbanity.

The projects often carry with them a suggestion of prototype, registered in their somewhat schematic and open-ended planning strategies–notwithstanding the evident commitment to a fine resolution of material artifact. This very gracious evocation of “flexibility” takes note of the very young and rather brittle context of the Vancouver region, and the need to anticipate the unexpected in spatial and urban practice.

Finally, if this corpus of work can be considered as being much more than that of the sum of the parts, it is not insignificant that Cardew has in the midst of his practice’s demands, consistently shared his vision and accumulated wisdom through the agencies of professional mentoring and academic life. This speaks to a personal generosity of spirit that resonates deeply with his modern tradition and provides further testimony to his unflagging and enthusiastic professionalism. CA

Chris Macdonald, FRAIC, is a Professor in the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of British Columbia.