Days of Future Passed
The establishment of Canadian Architect in 1955 created a modest institution to broker ideas and criticism on a monthly basis that would reflect the evolution of architecture in Canada. The following pages serve as a modest testimony of some of the many contributors, architects, academics and researchers that have helped shape the culture of architecture in this country. Often, the process of producing a magazine requires a leap of faith. Including ideas and projects that provoke, encourage and celebrate the various accomplishments and innovations of our profession has been a tradition throughout the history of the magazine. Moving beyond platitudes is important if we are to engender a dialogue amongst our colleagues. Inevitably, there will always be a risk associated with publishing controversial ideas or difficult subjects, but such risks are necessary if we are to look to the future and wish to strengthen the culture in which we operate. Our profession is diverse and needs strength if it is to survive society’s limited understanding of the value of the services that we continue to offer.
As we began to prepare for this anniversary issue, I had the privilege of visiting Founding Editor Jim Murray. At 86 years of age, Murray continues to speak enthusiastically about the profession that he has enjoyed since he graduated from the University of Toronto in 1943; he believed early on that “the most important thing one can do is to get involved in activities that bring about change.” Throughout his career, Murray did in fact bring about change. His work is well known to Toronto architectural historians with such projects as the planning of Erin Mills, several innovative housing projects in Don Mills, the Sherway Gardens shopping centre and the Anglo Canada Insurance Building (demolished in 1999). After graduating with a class numbering fewer than 20, Murray immediately began teaching at the University of Toronto. The idea for a magazine was born when Murray completed a house for James A. Daly, President and Managing Director of Maclean-Hunter. Daly wanted to know if there was a critical magazine for architecture in Canada and from that conversation, The Canadian Architect was born with Murray in the editor’s chair. Budget was not an issue. The bi-monthly magazine grew to a monthly after its second issue, and the content possessed a national scope through contributing editors from across the country. Along with the likes of John Kettle and Sara Bowser, James Acland and Anthony Jackson, the magazine developed a dynamic approach to architectural discourse and criticism in Canada that would mirror a sense of unbridled optimism and change occurring in a growing country.
Murray was a successful broker of ideas who disseminated a diverse range of voices throughout the magazine. Travelling across the country, he was quick to recognize the importance of initiatives such as the Banff Sessions which began in 1955, a retreat where architects from around the country could gather and discuss the issues of the day. Canadian Architect first published the proceedings of the Banff Sessions in 1957 and along with this important event, the magazine would round out its editorial with leading architects, sociologists, artists and historians to foment a critical dialogue in which Canadian design professionals could position themselves globally. At the inception of the magazine, it is worth noting that current leaders in our profession were already making their mark. Eb Zeidler saw his early projects published in April 1956. Well-known figures such as Morden Yolles, Arthur Erickson, Ray Moriyama, Ron Thom, Peter Dickinson, Macy DuBois, Abe Rogatnick and Irving Grossman were writing articles within the magazine’s first ten years. Other authors during this period would include Marshall McLuhan, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, Paul Rudolph, Jacqueline Tyrwhitt, Norbert Schoenauer and Robertson Davies who contributed to the magazine with views on the architecture of Peterborough and the early works of Craig, Zeidler and Strong.
Murray was also one of the first Canadian architects to develop a strong relationship with international centres of architecture such as Harvard University. He invited Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius, Richard Neutra, Josep Lluis Sert and Frank Lloyd Wright to Canada, and Sigfried Giedeon came to Toronto and commented on the desire for a new City Hall. Well-known artists like Joyce Wieland and Michael Snow contributed their art to the magazine’s covers. McLuhan’s commentary on architecture and the media were not fully appreciated by the profession at the time but Murray believed that bringing in other disciplines relating to Canadian society was far more important than covering international projects already picked up by the global media.
Opening the floor for commentary
For this issue, we asked practitioners, researchers, academics and contributors to this magazine at all stages in their careers and from various regions of the country to give us their comments on what they believed to be the most significant building, event or innovation that has occurred over the past 50 years. The respondents were asked to be provocative, nostalgic, dogmatic or even speculative. Understandably, it is difficult to achieve complete candour but when viewed collectively, the views expressed provide a reasonable cross section of some of the prevalent thinking that encapsulates the development of architecture in Canada today. Although we have included many voices, we could have easily included many more. It is hoped that in the coming weeks, thoughts and commentary will continue to be received. Please send your comments to [email protected], as we hope to hear from as many readers as possible.
Where do we go from here?
To look toward the next 25 years, as former editor Bob Gretton did in 1980 is to merely extrapolate from the constant e-mails appearing on our computer screens indicating the many harbingers of future practice. With optimism, we note that press releases are increasingly ambitious and varied in their messages about project visions, indicating a maturing entrepreneurial spirit amongst the smaller firms who are clearly attempting to develop niche markets for themselves. Larger firms are increasingly taking on more roles such as fundraiser or marketer, supporting a particular vision for institutional clients that will allow them to raise more capital resulting in bigger budgets. A new era of entrepreneurial firms will mean that they will likely be able to hire a greater range of employees with complementary skills than what the profession has traditionally seen. And with a more varied roster of skilled staff, we should expect to see a trend evolve where architecture firms will actively increase their efforts to create commissions through various partnerships extending beyond mere joint ventures between design firms and production- oriented firms. Relationships will be formed with not only allied design professionals (e.g.: landscape architects, engineers and planners) but with legal, financial and policy collaborators in order to make smarter decisions affecting the built environment.
In all likelihood, we will continue to see the consolidation of medium- to large-sized firms who will be able to increase their pool of annual billings and competitiveness in the marketplace while curbing the sting of skyrocketing insurance premiums that are becoming prohibitive. Another reason for firm consolidation may be the fact that spending $150,000 on a competition is no longer unusual, and no longer sustainable. Not too many firms can continue to work within the expensive process of winning large institutional projects, and the means of selecting architecture firms will have to change. The recession of the ’90s taught many architects to be resourceful when managing their practices. Diversification of revenue streams through increasingly sophisticated consultancy structures such as product and furniture desig
n, cultural and built heritage, urban design, sustainability, and project management have created a range of growing enterprises encompassing all or part of a “traditional” practice’s revenues. With the architecture schools adopting a graduate-level approach to professional training, it is likely that graduates will no longer fall into the intern process so blindly. Instead, they will be more focused on developing specific areas of professional expertise. If the profession can accept this, we will increase our credibility with the public, who will in turn be able to make informed decisions when seeking a suitable architect. With these shifts in practice, we can look to the future with hope. Looking back at the changes that Canadian Architect has witnessed since 1955, we should be very appreciative of the many minds and forces that have brought us to where we stand today. Over the next generation, we can continue to evolve our architectural ideologies and positions to clarify our identity within the global sphere.
David A. Down
Associate Principal, Busby Perkins + Will, Calgary
In celebration of Canadian Architect’s 50th anniversary, I suggest a joint toast–to CA and to what I believe to be an event of singular architectural importance to Canada, an event which CA has staunchly supported throughout its 50 years. The Banff Session, first proposed in a letter to the AIA in 1955, will also be celebrating its 50th birthday in 2006. Having built a reputation as one of the nation’s premier architectural events, the session has provided an opportunity unique in Canada for students, practitioners, educators and the public to discuss and debate the importance of architects and architecture in society–in a spectacular natural context unencumbered by the everyday pressures of the workplace. Beginning with a single renowned speaker, Richard Neutra, the event grew and developed to include many of the most important architects and theorists, often choosing to focus on the significant architectural issues of the day, and included such themes as “Design and its Proof” (1957), “The Dynamics of Change” (1970), “A New Architecture for the New World” (1986), and “Branding” (2001). The list of speakers and topics reveals the changes that have swept through a half-century of architecture, from the theoretical searchings of the 1950s and 1960s through the social and urban challenges of the 1970s and the postmodern excesses of the 1980s, to the re-evaluations of the last decade. This calibre of discussion cannot help but influence the work of those exposed to it, and Canadian Architect has been instrumental in ensuring that this discussion is carried across the entire nation.
Director, School of Architecture, Universit de Montral, Montreal
Celebrating 50 years of Canadian Architect offers the opportunity to look back at recent history and to rely on our own memories to recall what we believe were significant events for the culture of architecture. The current exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture would, without any doubt, inspire us to retain the fabulous sixties in Montreal. Expo 67 and the astonishing Habitat 67 by the then very young Moshe Safdie are the subjects most discussed and admired by the students. Architecture and heroism are still at the heart of the ambition to make the world more sublime than picturesque. When I think of 1955, like most people of my generation, I think of Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp, the apartment block at Rez, Mies’ Crown Hall at IIT in Chicago, the final drawings of the Guggenheim and a few years later, Toronto City Hall. These are some of the great postwar architectural events that brought hope for a better society in our western world. When I look at the situation today, I must admit that I am totally dedicated to education, and considering the good work done by my colleagues and by students across Canada, I strongly believe that we should be proud of our schools of architecture; we have established a respected place for architecture as a discipline. On a more personal note, my mind and body cannot forget the magic of the spaces designed by Arthur Erickson, a true Canadian master. The enlightenment of the past 50 years has been an inspiration for the future.
Founder, The DuBois Plumb Partnership, Toronto
The Toronto City Hall International Competition of 1958, and Viljo Revell’s winning design and the resulting building, altered the direction of Canadian architecture and enabled it to be free to participate in the sweep of design of the 20th, and now the 21st century. Having participated in one of the finalist submissions, I came to Toronto to see the exhibit of the finalists’ models and drawings. I was then struck by the enormous coverage given to this event by all the media: newspapers, magazines and TV. I later discovered that it had created a dramatic transformation of the public’s acceptance of a new standard of design for Canadian public buildings. The impact of the Toronto City Hall competition was further confirmed for me several years later when I presented our firm’s unusual design for Expo 67’s Ontario Pavilion to the provincial government. The first and only question asked was, “Has anything like this building been done anywhere else in the world?” When we answered that it hadn’t been, the approval was assured. Public confidence in the architectural imagination has persisted to this day. Public desire for and acceptance of innovative design has continued to this day, to great effect in many Canadian institutional buildings, and more recently in large residential buildings. For many architects, it is a wonderful time to practice.
Principal, Baird Sampson Neuert Architects, Toronto
The many features and project profiles on campus planning and university buildings contained in issues of Canadian Architect from the early sixties to the early seventies testify to the significance of postsecondary education expansion in developing modernism in this country. Contemporary issues can be expected to record a similar phenomenon, as the accessible system of universities and colleges that the postwar generation created for its baby boom is stewarded through a new decade of concentrated growth by those same boomers to meet the needs of the baby-boom echo and to accommodate increased participation rates generated by a knowledge-based economy. In the sixties, academics asking fundamental questions about the nature of the contemporary university collaborated with architects committed to innovation to produce landmarks of social and architectural modernity. Providing a new generation of relatively young architects with major commissions, projects from the sixties still resonate with significance here and abroad; John Andrews’ Scarborough College, Arthur Erickson’s Simon Fraser University and Ron Thom’s Massey College and Trent University. After decades of limited funding and administrative retrenchment driven by conservative economics, academic administrators are being challenged to change gears and become visionaries for new multimillion-dollar facilities. Noteworthy projects are emerging across the country, some by talented Canadian architects, some by international stars. Witnessing the publicity success of Saucier + Perrotte’s Perimeter Institute, overhearing animated discussions about Morphosis/Teeple Architects’ Graduate Residence at the University of Toronto, or observing pedestrians stagger past Will Alsop’s new “tabletop” addition to the Ontario College of Art, one becomes aware that the current wave of new building is changing the urban and cultural landscape of Canada yet again. Beyond the high capitalist sensibility of “branding,” the implication for a new social project and for Canadian “modernism” remains to be seen.
Larry Wayne Richards
Professor, School of Architecture, University of Toronto
Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture was
published in 1966. Nearly 40 years later, looking back at this landmark book and Venturi’s call for architecture to deal with the messy complexities of the city, we still have much to learn from his rebellion against simplistic approaches to the built environment. How can popular taste be accommodated and enjoyed? How can the purism of mainstream modernism continue to mutate, generating a more flexible, accommodating, and humane architecture? Venturi’s 1972 book, Learning from Las Vegas (with Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour) took his theories further to address urban sprawl and the suburbs–subjects that remain inadequately explored by today’s architects and urbanists. When Robert Venturi was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1991, the jury commented in their citation that “he has expanded and redefined the limits of the art of architecture in this century, as perhaps no other has through his theories and built works.” Indeed, I would maintain that if we look realistically at vast, spreading agglomerations such as Metro Toronto, Venturi’s theory continues to be extremely relevant. We should return to the core lessons of Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture and Learning from Las Vegas in order to launch bold new ideas and meaningful conceptual frameworks for today’s Pop-dominated world.
Cofounder, atelier BUILD, and Adjunct Professor, School of Architecture, McGill University, Montreal
In terms of the Canadian context, one of the most significant architectural events in the last 50 years has to be Expo 67 in Montreal. It brought the city to the international stage and exuded an optimism and vision rarely seen since (see my article in CA, July 2005). We all know the projects–Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome, Safdie’s Habitat. I never got to see the Expo in 1967 as I was only four at the time. However, I did get to see it (or rather a small part of it) years later, not in Montreal but in my home province of Newfoundland. The Czechoslovakian Pavilion had been transplanted to become what is now the Gordon Pinsent Centre for the Arts in Grand Falls which opened in July 1971. The modernist and elegant edifice houses a 400-seat proscenium theatre, public library and an art exhibition area. This building had a profound effect on me and it lingers even now. In the collective consciousness, Expo 67 helped define and still remains part of the Montreal psyche.
Acting Director, School of Architecture, Dalhousie University, Halifax
Over the past 50 years, modern architecture has been pressed into service and reinterpreted time and again for the social, political and economic challenges faced by each region of the country. Taken up by government, modern architecture held the promise of social progress. One high point was certainly Montreal’s Expo 67, when Canada presented itself to the world as an innovative country, full of possibilities for the future. That event, and buildings like the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Toronto’s City Hall, and the UBC Museum of Anthropology create a mental map of what it is to be Canadian. We can add to that map new ways of thinking about cities in a northern climate, from Calgary’s Plus 15 to the underground malls of Montreal and Toronto. We can thank modern architects for the establishment of historic preservation districts around the country, for it is architects’ love of buildings–new ones and old ones that led to the Historic Properties in Halifax, the Vieux Port of Montreal, Yorkville in Toronto, and Granville Island in Vancouver. In the end, architecture enables government to represent “big ideas” to a voting public, and private enterprise the same to its markets. But architecture, as a national discourse developed in journals like Canadian Architect, has brought and continues to bring its own concerns and agendas influencing discussions, creating priorities, and ultimately giving form to buildings we still see today.
Assistant Professor, Department of Architectural Science, Ryerson University, Toronto
For 37 of its 50 years in publication, Canadian Architect has recognized outstanding projects in the design stage through its Awards of Excellence. Over the years, the awards juries have drawn from this country’s most respected practitioners and critics, awards recipients have represented many of the country’s finest architects, and the annual awards issue has become the most anticipated event in the magazine’s publication calendar. Established in 1968, the awards have come to serve an essential role not only in promoting design excellence, but also in documenting changing preoccupations within the architectural culture of this country. Most important, however, has been the role played by the awards on two fronts: recognizing the work of young ambitious practices, and raising client awareness of the value of peer recognition of excellence in design. On several occasions during my tenure as editor, recipients confided how receiving the award encouraged an otherwise skittish client to proceed with the project as designed rather than impose changes; in some rare instances, an award has made the difference between a project being abandoned or realized at all. And while, like any awards program, it has been subject to criticism (too many awards go to a small circle of “usual suspects,” judges take only aesthetics into account, the work being recognized is too similar), it remains the only national vehicle for recognition of projects in the design stage. As such, it plays an essential role in not only documenting or recognizing advances in Canada’s architectural culture, but also in helping to shape them.
Principal, ERA Architects, Toronto
The draft dodgers. The arrival of immigrant architects has always had an impact on the profession, continually challenging the longstanding old boys’ club of Canadian architecture, where for decades all you needed to get a commission was a vaguely British-sounding accent and some family connections. For me, the Americans who left their country during the controversy over the Vietnam war and who chose Canada as their new home are significant because, rather than the repeated notion that Canada suffers brain drains, these American anti-war protesters showed that some of the brightest minds have been attracted to Canada and have settled here because of what this country is and because of its strengths as a pluralist democracy. One thinks automatically of Jane Jacobs who came here with her family during that time, but there are many others, architects who perhaps now after all this time may not want to think of themselves in this light. But I’d like to thank Jane and the draft dodgers for the cultural shift they brought here and for their immense contribution to the architectural community in Canada.
Professor, School of Architecture, McGill University, Montreal
The problem? Obsolete hospitals. The innovation? Interstitial space. The impact? In the world of healthcare architecture, the most significant Canadian building in the last 50 years is the 1972 McMaster University Health Sciences Centre. The big idea was bigness. At a whopping 1,761,500 square feet, Mac makes its residential neighbours look like Monopoly pieces. Its enormous grid of columns punctuates an endless landscape of medical departments, differentiated only by colour coding and carved-out courtyards. McMaster was a child of the 1960s. The hospital has none of the traditional spatial hierarchies we associate with institutions built in the early 20th century. Instead, McMaster’s democratization of space resembles its slightly older Quebec cousins, Expo 67 and the Montreal metro system, whose global aspirations and large scale unfolded as a series of relatively equal pavilions or stops in a continuous whirl of planned movement. The paradox? Intended to keep up with the rapid pace of medical research, the building’s
already obsolete. Stair towers to nowhere remind us of M.C. Escher drawings, and of anticipated expansion plans constructed elsewhere. Still, the project’s a precious reminder of a time when architecture sprung from new ideas and anything seemed possible.
Heritage Architect, Heritage Resources, Department of Culture, Youth and Recreation, Government of Saskatchewan, Regina
As a child in the 1960s, I was accustomed to an atmosphere of optimism and an awareness of a design environment that was marked by the finely detailed, transparent and minimalist buildings influenced by International Style Modernism. Events like Expo 67 and the moon landing in 1969 seemed to validate a collective understanding that the ingenuity of mankind could solve any problem and included the idea that nature could be managed for our own collective benefit. Yet even then, a growing awareness of the effects of environmental degradation were beginning to result in some dire predictions for the future. By 1973, with the first energy shock in full swing, even from my limited vantage point as a 13-year-old, the optimism of the 1960s seemed over. The architecture had changed dramatically as well, with the large-scale, raw concrete buildings influenced by Brutalism that appeared to predict a tough and mechanistic future for our cities. Around this time, architects began looking to the past, including the recent modernist past, and became aware of the environmental implications of architecture. One could read the last 30 years as a search for an architectural expression that would be meaningful for an increasingly complex and interconnected future. A speaker at this year’s RAIC conference in Edmonton, American architect Edward Mazria began his career in the early 1970s during this time of an emerging sense of the broader implications of architecture. He expressed the opinion that architectural design being taught and practiced today is irrelevant. He pointed out the great influence that architects can have for the future and expressed a hope that the coming years will see a progression toward buildings that are energy neutral. The architectural and formal implications for buildings and cities can only be imagined, but 50 years from now, 1973 will be recognized as the starting point.
Director, School of Architecture, University of British Columbia, Vancouver
In considering significant actions during the past 50 years in Canadian architecture, I would like to recall three seminal works rendered at the scale of the individual building. In Diamond and Myers’ Sherbourne Lanes (Toronto 1974), the modern project in architecture demonstrates its ability to expand and enliven traditional urban principles while affirming a commitment to social advocacy; Church of the Precious Blood (St. Boniface 1968) by Gaboury, Lussier, Sigurdson affirms the capacity of a contemporary design ethos to engage historic building and a subtle, nuanced landscape; the Smith House (West Vancouver 1966) by Arthur Erickson and Geoffrey Massey, in its material and tectonic resolve provides a reciprocal balance between domestic intimacy and the physicality of a primal natural setting. Viewed collectively, these projects share in their ability to enhance the sense of what is possible in the world: to prompt and stimulate a true reconfiguration of expectations. They retain a sense of freshness and optimistic purpose about them garnered not by privileging originality and inventive formal expression but–significantly–through their comprehensive intelligence and rigorous execution. They suggest the scope of accomplishment that architecture is capable of in promoting a civil and generous society, flawed only by the measure of their relative singularity.
Architect/Planner, Roger Kemble, Nanaimo
We had more control over the building site in the ’50s. With the advent of contract managers and interior designers, our contribution has been diluted. Clients back then were individuals who lived in, and with, their decisions. Developers were not pervasive. Client-architect was an exercise in personal contact, even at the institutional level. My heart was in my residential work but schools fed the family. The building superintendent of the school board I worked with was a friend: he, an assistant and a secretary handled all construction…lots going on. After he retired in early ’80s his department mushroomed into a bureaucratic maze. That’s when I lost them, or they lost me! My residential work was a world of its own. The monster home was unheard of. Vancouver’s RS1 zones stood at FSR 0.6 for decades and were seldom maxed out. Then, builders in the early ’80s crammed as much house on the site “as they could get away with,” to use developer parlance. Hence the pink stucco monster. Compact housing and zero-lot-line tracts took over the suburbs. The much despised, underrated yet ubiquitous “Vancouver special” was history. Advisory Design Panels are the arbiter of design and pretty girl-groupies hang around City Hall like they once did for The Beatles.
President, Barton Myers Associates, Santa Barbara
Happy Birthday Canadian Architect. It is hard for me to believe that since your beginning, I graduated from university, completed a tour as a fighter pilot, completed a graduate degree in architecture, became an architect, married, produced a child, moved to Toronto from Philadelphia, founded two firms, completed a few buildings (too many unbuilt), was fired from the University of Toronto and banned from the campus of Waterloo, moved to Los Angeles, celebrated 25 years as a professor at UCLA, founded a new firm, produced a few buildings (also too many unbuilt) and now live in paradise, Santa Barbara. Along this journey, Vicki and I have lost both sets of parents and my two sisters, but have a wonderful grandson of 16 months. I still hope to do a great building! No invention or event has shaped this voyage, but I have selected some issues I see as positive or negative. The positive: the computer, the internet, the return of environmental common sense–towards a “green” architecture, the growing interest of the public and press in architecture, the proliferation of architectural publications, and the corporatization of architecture. The negative: the loss of drawing and reasoned critical dialogue, “bad manners” and architects’ lack of interest in urbanism and its context, fixation on “object” architecture, the flood of uncritical publications and the general lack of criticism, the emergence of the architect as “superstar,” the loss of the small to mid-size firm, and the corporatization of architecture.
Principal, Diamond + Schmitt Architects, Toronto
One of the most significant events in my experience in the practice of architecture was the introduction of the Merx system. Until then, young practitioners were handicapped without a social/professional intelligence system: knowledge of prospective projects was gained by an old boys’ system, or on the golf course. Having a universally available list of prospective projects from which to choose and compete on a merit basis has removed, to a large degree, the “whom you know and not what you know” syndrome. Conversely, there has been nothing to replace the mind and pencil symbiosis. The pencil is the most remarkable instrument–swift, economic, sensitive, nuanced and expressive. No innovation, electronic or otherwise, has replaced this powerful design tool.
Founding Director, Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal
Affirmation of the profound cultural role of architecture has manifested itself in the establishment of architecture museums during the last half of the 20th century. A leading force among them, the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) promulgates public understanding of the role of architecture in society, scholarly research in the fie
ld, and innovative design practice. The subject of the city has been central to some 100 exhibitions and publications based on the CCA’s extensive collection, which have interpreted an ever-expanding range of uncharted fields of study. These include urban development in Canada, the United States and Europe during key periods of colonialism, imperialism, metropolitanism, suburbanism; the effect of individual buildings on the urban and social fabric of cities; provocative positions of architects at the leading edge; the role of toys in shaping attitudes toward architecture and the city; photography’s impact on how buildings and the city are perceived and understood; the technical and socio-environmental issues surrounding “natural” and urban landscapes. The CCA’s research programs have contributed to the intellectual life of the field by building a network that now numbers over 100 invited scholars from 17 different countries, including Mellon Fellows, Power Corporation awards to students in master’s programs in Canadian universities, and Bechtel-CCA Collection grants in conjunction with universities in North America. As Mirko Zardini assumes the directorship this autumn, these programs will continue, as we also seek to cultivate new partnerships and collaborations with institutions and universities in Canada and abroad. Another goal is to deepen the CCA’s engagement with contemporary architectural practice.
Associate Director of Research and Knowledge Mobilization, Canadian Council on Learning, Calgary
In November 1982 at the CMDEX trade show in Las Vegas, Autodesk presented its original release of AutoCAD–the first computer-aided design package to run on a personal computer. I regard this as the most significant event in architecture to occur in the last 50 years because it made CAD accessible to the average architect. In the two decades since that date, architecture has been transformed from the manual skills of drafting to the digital ones of computerized design. This was only possible because computers became affordable and software became useful to architects. But the effect has been enormous in terms of practice, education and design. Many of the buildings designed today would simply not be possible without the use of computers and what we have seen so far is only the tip of the iceberg. This is not to say that AutoCAD was or is particularly good software, but it was in the right place at the right time.
Principal, Douglas J. Cardinal Architect, Ottawa
I believe that one of the most significant innovations is the development in computers to assist in the solving of complex mathematical problems in structures and the use of computer-aided design. My first project–St. Mary’s Church–could only be solved in 1967 with the computer technology developed at that time. I had always dreamed to have my organic work completely defined by computers so that every part of the building could be automatically dimensioned and full scale; that every part and every system could be sent to the manufacturer, the tradesmen and the contractors for fabrication and construction. This is a dream now fully realized by the latest advancement in computer technology. This allows the architect to take his historical and traditional role as the master builder, where he can control every facet of the building down to its most minute detail. For me it is a marvellous tool without which my architecture would be impossible to construct within our present-day schedules and restricted budgets.
Principal, Brian Allsopp Architect Ltd., Edmonton
The last 50 years of architecture in Canada reflect two generations of practice. The first half of those years ended in 1980, and really marked the end of a generation that boldly led us into a Canadian architecture. The generation led by Arthur Erickson, Ron Thom, Eberhard Zeidler, Moshe Safdie, John Andrews, Ray Moriyama, Barton Myers and Jack Diamond participated in a great experiment to make a new architecture reflecting our changing image of Canada. In the west, Peter Hemingway, Douglas Cardinal, Clifford Wiens and Etienne Gaboury experimented with the power of buildings in the Canadian landscape. That architecture, reaching its peak in the great building boom between Expo 67 and the Montreal Olympics of 1976, was hopeful, inspiring, experimental, and much about reflecting the maturity of Canada’s culture. It was about making a Canadian architecture reflecting the power and spirit of our country as it emerged from the shadow of our European founding fathers and the great American superpower sleeping to the south. Somehow, in the wake of the election of a separatist government in Quebec, the alienation of the new economic power in the west after the National Energy Program, and the decline of many traditional resource-based industries, Canada after 1980 became a steadily less hopeful society. It was more about maintaining our place in the increasingly global, information technology-based and integrated international culture. Architecture in the last 25 years seems more to me about making architecture in Canada, rather than making a Canadian architecture. The successor generation of architects led by John and Patricia Patkau, Bruce Kuwabara, Donald Schmitt, Richard Henriquez, Gilles Saucier, Brigitte Shim, Howard Sutcliffe and Brian MacKay-Lyons have produced a wonderful, sophisticated and relevant world-class architecture that in some respects just happens to have been constructed in Canada. Yet in the best of their work I still see a search for an essence of the Canadian experience. Sadly, it is a theme we do not speak or write about anymore. The power of the Canadian landscape, the geography and climate which informs all of the important art of our country is the driving force behind a Canadian architecture. I believe strongly that Canadian cities are unique in their response to geography; every major city in Canada is shaped by the presence of a major geographic feature. We must bring the power of these settings into the architectural discourse, not just as a response to site and context, but in the essential idea of making a Canadian architecture.
Editor, Canadian Consulting Engineer, Toronto
As the former editor of Canadian Architect from 1991 to 1997, the symposium we held at the magazine in the early 1990s on “new” Modernism marked a watershed in architectural thinking. Postmodernism had reached its zenith: Michael Kirkland’s and Edward Jones’ Mississauga City Hall had been completed a couple of years before and already PoMo was proliferating. Springing up everywhere were strip malls with fake peaked roofs, public buildings donning hollow steel towers, and endless stretches of prefabricated red brick and stucco. As a non-architect who had come to the magazine fresh to the architectural “scene,” I was thrilled by Mississauga City Hall’s bold forms, sensuous materials and sheer drama. It seemed to me, that compared to the rather bland landscape of the 1950s and ’60s steel and glass buildings that proliferated in Toronto at the time, Mississauga City Hall was truly a building with presence. However, it was clear that architects–at least those at the forefront of critical thinking–were beginning to recoil from the excesses and debasement of Postmodernism and were returning to the cleaner abstractions of classic Modernism. Thus, with some navet and trepidation, Canadian Architect invited a group of architectural theorists and practitioners from across Canada to discuss whether the resurgence of Modernism was altogether a good thing. What struck me at the time was the vehemence with which the participants around the table debated with each other. I think they generally agreed that while the urban design thinking of Postmodernists such as Venturi was worth keeping, architecture itself should return to an honest Miesian expression of structure and materials. In a kind of Time magazine take-off, w
e put a photo of Le Corbusier on the cover and boldly went to press in January 1991 with a debate that touched the core of architectural thinking in the second half of the 20th century.
Architecture Critic, The Vancouver Sun, and Canadian Architect contributor since 1979, Vancouver
Everyone likes the idea of architectural criticism. Far fewer like the actual practice of architectural criticism. My experience is that the public loves it, but architects, editors, developers, advertisers, magazines and newspapers often do not. This makes for some critical conundrums. A recent example of this is a shouting match between Moshe Safdie and me on a terrace outside the Istanbul Convention Centre during the UIA’s World Congress of Architecture in July, where we were the only Canadian speakers. Moshe had taken umbrage with a 60-second boil-down by CBC Vancouver producers of my 12-minute interview aired earlier about the 10th anniversary of his Library Square. Left on the cutting-room floor were these critical assessments by me: praise for aspects of its urban design and interior plaza; a comparison of his schmaltzy 1995 library with the brilliant Bibliothque nationale du Qubec by Vancouver’s own Patkaus; an observation that the Modernoid and cubic working library’s ungenerous spaces and appointments are discontinuous with its extravagant Postmodern container, inspired by that most famous public work by Vespasian and Titus. Safdie’s library box inserted awkwardly into its Colosseum container has always seemed to me like some bottle of cheap plonk, pretentiously wrapped in a fancy embossed whisky box, then garlanded in gold foil. For the record, Safdie has always claimed there is nothing Colosseum-like about his Vancouver design, but also told me, shortly after it opened, that then-mayor, now-premier Gordon Campbell did not let him undertake the design development that this populist competition-winner needed. If given the chance, he would have edited out the overt classical detailing, said Safdie, author of a famed Atlantic Monthly tirade against PoMo entitled “Private Jokes in Public Places.” Sorry, Moshe, ya makes your Colosseum bed to knock them plebes dead into during that shopping mall referendum, ya sleeps in it (a key component of that foolishly managed competition was a public referendum where finalist maquettes where shown in Vancouver malls)! What irked me most about the Istanbul exchange, and the unsynchronized radio debate that preceded it, is that I have never had a chance to write a full review of Library Square. Never resisting a chance to blurt out unfortunate truths about pompous and foolish constructions, I look forward to doing one now, perhaps bundling it together with a retrospective review of Safdie’s deservedly orphaned former Ottawa City Hall, another deeply flawed competition winner. When architects lash out about criticism–as Safdie did–there often seems to be a deeper psychological dimension to their protests. More than any other art, science or profession, public criticism is an integral part of the education of architects everywhere. Yet despite this–and more likely because of it–critical comments that would hardly generate a murmur if applied to an actor’s performance or the assumptions of a scientific brief, precipitate shocked and appalled reactions from wounded architects. The saddest aspect of all of this is that so much of what is said during crits in architecture schools is not actually architectural criticism as I understand it (interpretations of the intellectual, tectonic, technical and social notions implicit in the designs of buildings and cities), but rather big-ego showboating, faux-intellectual fad-gadgetry from theory, private language idolatry, plus the Masonic lingo of socialization into the profession. Because the public criticism of buildings is so difficult, dangerous and debt-inducing, the numbers of practicing critics are tiny; all of us who live by writing on buildings in Canada can ride together in a taxi, and CICA–the global architecture critics’ organization–has 120 members; there are sub-species of rare Himalayan moulds that rate more specialists looking at them than does commentary and exegesis on contemporary construction. The post of architecture critic was abolished at both daily newspapers in our sister city of Seattle within one month of each other last year, reportedly after a campaign by the development industry to eliminate those irksome independent opinions–builders want only their weekend “homes pages” advertorial coverage. It isn’t just our designers who want to control architectural criticism, it seems. With London’s Architectural Review, and only occasionally, New York’s Architectural Record, Canadian Architect is one of the few professional magazines published in the English language that supports the independent criticism of buildings for pay. Keep it up as long as your publishers let you, and ignore the yapping of those mewling architects!
Principal, Marc Boutin Architect, and Assistant Professor of Architecture, Faculty of Environmental Design, University of Calgary, Calgary
Certainly significant for pedigree, influence and longevity was the architectural production that came out of Vancouver during the late 1980s to mid-1990s related to First Nations schools. In my mind, its importance was a sensibility wherein the very best was created and practiced right here in Canada, a place that is more renowned for derivations than innovations. The key ingredient to this movement was the interpretation of aboriginal culture–not western first world references–to catalyze and sustain formal operations and innovation, innovations that moved beyond those advanced by seminal thoughts of the time such as Kenneth Frampton’s critical regionalism. Within the liberal, socially and environmentally minded context of Vancouver during this time and in a period where Postmodernism as an architectural style left much to be desired, aboriginal programmes gave architects the vehicle to freely explore new architectural boundaries based on the particular, the site-specific, and the tectonic: key concepts in an architectural milieu searching for authenticity at this time. Pragmatically, the essential infrastructure of this movement was the vision of the client representative. Marie-Odile Marceau hired the very best architects to work on these projects and, by extension, influenced a generation of design.
Research Associate and College Lecturer, School of Architecture, McGill University, Montreal
In 1994, Atelier Big City’s Pabos Interpretation Centre on the Gasp Peninsula won a Governor General’s Medal. This award capped a rare moment in Canadian architecture: an inexperienced firm got to build an uncompromising scheme because of–not despite–the provocative high-concept design, which sprang directly from frank consideration of basic factors such as program, site, structure, and materials. Shocking. Unfortunately, Big City’s recognition has since motivated a number of small “design-oriented” firms like Winnipeg-based DIN Projects to try to compete in Canada’s non-design-oriented building industry. Pabos embodies the ongoing Canadian myth that design matters, that all it might take to be an architect here is to know how to dream up good architecture. How so? Don’t good designers always get to build? Well, actually, no. Too often the mysterious machinations that lead to commissions, even in juried competitions, treat architecture as a market commodity rather than a public good, so that getting buildings built and winning awards seems to require great networking rather than thrilling design, and golfing skills rather than drawing chops. Pabos is an all-too-rare exception, but one that proves the rule.
Senior Partner, Zeidler Partnership Architects, Toronto
Vast changes have occurred which Canadian architects have had to address during the last 50 years: computer capabilities,
global economic forces, space travel–on and on. Problems have changed too. For the majority of buildings in Canada, function, construction and cost have become paramount to their realization. Where is there evidence of an abundant number of considerations for happiness, context, delight, comfort–and yes, even beauty? Where are the advocates for a focus to continue architecture’s vast and proud architectural heritage–a fine balance between the rational and the emotional? We have to find a way to create a system that will give consideration to both of them, particularly the emotional as seen not only by the individual but also the community. Are independent civil societies or non-partisan planning and urban design panels such as those found in Vancouver a path which should be well travelled? Perhaps. I believe architecture should strive to embrace our lives as a whole and not just as a function, construction and cost as dictated by the free market society. Architecture is like nature which should give all necessary things for life in abundance–the practical and rational, and the sustainable as well as the delightful.
Principal, Affleck + de la Riva Architects, Montreal
The mother of the arts–architecture–has been around much longer than 20th-century clichs about progress through revolution. Composed of the spaces of our everyday lives, architecture is unbeholden to revolutionary events–Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring happened to music and Marcel Duchamp’s urinal happened to visual art, but architecture doesn’t happen, it’s always there. Canadian architecture in the last 50 years has been witness to a series of historical cycles reinvented through time rather than an heroic march of progress. As farmers, the majority of Canadians practiced sustainable development for our country’s first three centuries and this cycle has bloomed again after a period of serious neglect. Modernism was born, died, and was resurrected. Meanwhile, other cycles have fallen into decline. What happened to the idea of architecture as social space–blindfolding students and leading them around public places in order to “feel the space?” Such experiments have been discredited because they do not lead to quantifiable results. The tragedy is that the non-quantifiable nature of such research is precisely what is important about it–architecture as experience. Sharpening our awareness of space, the medium we are immersed in and share with others, is what architecture is all about, and happily, is quite immeasurable.
Principal, Hotson Bakker Boniface Haden Architects, Vancouver
The most significant development in architecture in Canada since 1955 has been the failure of the profession to comprehensively address suburbanization. We abandoned the periphery of our cities to the forces of one-dimensional planning and wrongheaded road engineering standards. Instead of engaging in the potent social and economic forces and demographic needs that have caused the flood of suburban development to wash further into our landscape, architects have opted for disengaged condescension–snorting at suburbia from the safety of the black-clad patios of hip urban bars. This has left reform to the nostalgic vision of traditional neighbourhood design. Land use innovation, yes, but too often clad in faux heritage garb. The result of our profession’s refusal to foray into the realm of the ring road has not only been hectares of visual banality, but, more importantly, the stamping of a deeply unsustainable infrastructure pattern on some of our most valuable farmlands and treasured landscapes. This network of flabby land use is immensely difficult to reinvent once in place. Surely, a nation gifted with some of the greatest terrain in the world should respect this legacy–and not devastate it with mini-malls. Architects are complicit in this wastage.
Partner, Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects, Toronto
The use of the computer in architecture has dramatically altered design practice, moving beyond representational, metaphorical and formal modalities, to becoming, for a younger generation of digital architects, the generative tool for the operations of design. BIM software (eg; REVIT) and FTP sites are supporting a more integrated and interactive approach that provide interdisciplinary design teams the ability to move ideas and design strategies faster, and in a more coordinated, seamless way. The fusion of form and sustainable design strategies is expressing the raising of environmental design standards through integrated design processes. The deployment of contemporary architecture and urbanism as a foil to New Urbanism is provoking the debate about architecture as an agent of city building. Globalization has simultaneously spawned instantly recognizable showcase buildings by star architects and the rapid proliferation of placeless architecture and urbanism.
Principal, Guy Architects, Yellowknife
Here we are at the beginning of a new millennium, from my vantage point in Yellowknife; I see a myriad of cultures around me thanks to commercial jet travel. This multicultural milieu, which can now be found in the smallest of communities, is the most important phenomenon to occur on the planet during the last 50 years. For the first time in history, humanity has come to the realization that the planet and not the nation is home. Cultural identity is no longer linked to geography. In this new milieu, our profession has to grapple with the collective needs of humanity while dealing with the specific needs of community. Unlike that mythical tower in Babel, today’s architecture has to unite people and celebrate diversity. A new awareness is emerging; it enriches, informs and expands our experiential palette, thereby bringing a new understanding of our place in the world. A new architecture, to be relevant, will have to be rooted in the complexities of globalization, bringing purpose, place and peace to our ever-shrinking world.
Partner, Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects, Toronto
The last 50 years has been a time of significant change, yet the profession of architecture has not moved successfully beyond an ego-driven, project-focused, hierarchical model of practice. I would issue a challenge to the profession to stop undermining and undervaluing the services that we offer, and understand that the poor quality of the general building environment, both in terms of aesthetics, performance and sustainability, is linked directly to our stagnation. We need to move from passive problem-solving to a more strategic and interventionist position. We need to use our intellectual, production, and charismatic abilities to expand our reach across economic, political and commercial platforms. With our abilities to embrace vastly complex and diverse issues, we should be playing a greater leadership role in all building opportunities. Perhaps our capacity to be more effective leaders in our built environment would be greater if the public understood that the architectural profession is not pyramidal but a vast enterprise that requires the contribution of many different individuals, and their related talents and skills. Change the way we think about the profession; use the creativity of one imagination that sparks a project into its first being, celebrate those that carry it through to reality, and promote the importance of excellence in architecture.
Consultant, Founding Partner, Moriyama & Teshima Architects, Toronto
Five events and general developments are changing the profession and resulting architecture: a) the computer and the portable laptop, b) an increase of women in practice and teaching, c) an increase in number of practicing architects of different backgrounds, religion, culture and language, d) an increase in general cautiousness and conservatism, and e) a
n increase in public cynicism together with short-term overconsumption. As architects are concerned with affirming life, we should consider exercising passionate disinterestedness, embracing sensuous intellectualism, opening doors of creativity in ourselves and in others, and taking a greater risk of positivity.
Professor, School of Architecture, University of British Columbia, Vancouver
Few images have captured such worldwide attention about the fragility of the earth and have had such potential to instill awareness of its biophysical limits as the early photographs taken from space. The juxtaposition of the seemingly boundless technological capability and human ingenuity evidenced in the space program and the constraints of a bounded planet remains, for me, one of the defining conundrums of our time. Advances in information and communications technologies continue, at an accelerated rate, to permeate and influence almost every aspect of human experience and have redefined the context in which architecture occurs and the way it is practiced. With the merging of virtual and physical environments into a blended reality and the linking of digital design and fabrication technologies, the possibilities of built form in the silicon age seem limitless. Yet technology also provides us with unprecedented access to information about the rate and scale of global environmental degradation and shows us that by exceeding natural limits we are consciously charting a perilous path. The scope and responsibility of contemporary architecture is clearly qualitatively different than it was 50 years ago. Today’s architectural challenge is to offer creative and inspiring works that can nurture and support sustainable patterns of living at a time when public and political will remain elusive.
Barry Johns (Architecture) Limited, Edmonton
We have emerged from the modern movement with a critical regionalism that sets Canadian architecture apart from the rest of the world. The information age and the affirmation of sustainable design inform the work in our climate, work which is perceived around the world as being grounded in leading technology. If only to reaffirm the raw joy that comes from the privilege of being an architect, I would like to commemorate a special moment for us to ponder: the here and now. Opportunities are ours to invent. We must still revisit fundamental challenges of educating the public as to what it is we do. We make things. We shape lives. Architecture gives us a passionate perspective and a responsibility as the only profession actually trained to think holistically about the environment, to be prudent about the implications of the next 50 years on this planet. Our legacy must be that Canadian architects and our architecture will have made an enduring and positive impact on the world around us.
Managing Director, Busby Perkins + Will Architects, Vancouver
With better clients, a strong economy and an increased value placed on design expertise, the future beckons for better architecture. Across Canada, communities are realizing the value of design excellence through competitions, design review panels and municipal requirements that are matched with a growing enthusiasm from clients and institutions. Developers are retaining top-quality architects to guide their residential, retail and office projects in the interest of marketing success. The leaky condo mess has given architects a powerful weapon to insist on high-quality, well-detailed envelopes and durable building design. The long bull market in design and construction in most of the country has given owners and developers the financial elbow room to pay more for higher quality buildings. Expertise is the tool of successful marketing by architects and is responsible for the growth of many firms. Today, sustainable design is taking hold at an exponential rate. The combination of government and political commitment, personal and community values, education and opportunity, have created a powerful wave of change and progress. Almost every Canadian city has, or is actively considering an implementation policy for green building design. LEED Canada is complete and in widespread use, and the two-year-old Canada Green Building Council has over 885 member firms, mostly architects. We are widely regarded as being in the forefront of solutions to environmental concerns, still the number one issue for all Canadians. We are creating modest, beautiful, powerful and exquisite projects that have design roots in the community and in our very Canadian respect for nature and the environment. We should all be filled with optimism that looks to the future.
Contributing Editor, Canadian Architect, Vancouver
CA’s 50th anniversary seems an appropriate time to reflect on the considerable responsibilities we bear as architects. We are indeed creating the fabric of communities in which the next several generations of our descendants will live and work. It seems not only appropriate but essential, therefore, that the architectural profession assumes the role of mediator between the leading edge of political, social and technological change, and the economic and physical realities facing clients commissioning buildings in the present day. For all its permanence, architecture has always been the embodiment of change, reflecting the values and aspirations of the societies it serves. This aspect of architecture has surely never been more important than now, when the depletion of our natural resources and the degradation of the environment have become critical global concerns. North America is still seen as a role model by much of the developing world, so it is vital that we commit ourselves to designing buildings that are sustainable even if replicated on a global scale. We have the knowledge and the means, yet standard practice still falls far short of what is now attainable. Thus as sustainability becomes more and more a race against time, the most important challenge facing the profession must surely be to close the gap between what is achievable and what we actually achieve.
Towards the year 2005…
Reprinted from our 25th anniversary in November 1980, then Managing Editor Bob Gretton wrote the commentary below. His near-accurate predictions of what life would be like for an architect in 2005 puts the 1980s behind us. We may also begin to look toward the next 25 years, when the 44-year-old architect in 2030 will probably continue to arrive at work on a daily basis.
It’s not really that far away, but distant enough in our volatile times to guess that in 2005 the architect who entered school during 1980 will, at 44, look back to the early 1980s with either amusement or nostalgia–depending on whether he or she wears a 21st-century leisure suit or loincloth.
Where, in the continuum of architectural history will the names Jencks, Graves, Rossi, Domenig and Gehry sit in 2005? Will many of the phrases of today, such as High-Tech, Ad Hocism, Neo-Vernacular, Post Modernism and Radical Eclectism, be at rest in the already overflowing grave for vogue words?
Our guess is that our middle-aged architect of 2005 will no longer be sitting on the stylistic trapeze of the 20th century. More likely he’ll be preoccupied with not so much a new architectural style but a new style of architectural practice, faced with problems, which while less philosophical by today’s standards, could be the basic philosophy required in 2005. A new form of people participation in tax-subsidized buildings; a new construction economy built on the bitter lessons of the 1980s; a more specialized knowledge of renovation, recycling and pre-engineered systems; a real understanding of what must be done in our cities and how to communicate this need; a new challenge based on the slogan: “Go north, young man,” where a knowledge of design in the far north and the Arctic
will be needed; a mind-boggling perception of the as yet untapped potential of the microprocessor and the computer; a real understanding of housing design in the task of sheltering millions; a new understanding that today’s search for new paths was spurred by a realization that glass boxes are not for people; and unless an alternative for oil is found, he will need to design for a world which can only look to the sun.
But these are questions which can only be answered by a futurist. Our intent in this issue has been to show a cross section of architectural design over the past quarter of a century. We must leave it to our successors to judge how the architectural concerns of 1980 will affect architects and the people they design for in 2005.