August 1, 2015
by Elsa Lam
The jury for the 1969 Canadian Architect Awards of Excellence, from left to right: Victor Prus of Montreal, founding editor James Murray, associate editor Patricia Gillespie, managing editor Robert Gretton and Jerome Markson of Toronto. Reprinted from The Canadian Architect Yearbook, 1969.
Sixty years ago, The Canadian Architect first appeared on newsstands. The magazine, wrote founding editor James Murray, aimed to contribute in two ways: “first, the provision of a means of communication for Canadian architecture, by reporting and publishing its best executed and proposed achievements; second, the provision of a forum for the play of ideas and beliefs which constitute the philosophy and technique of architecture.” These two roles—the publishing of exemplary works and the discussion of architectural ideas—have formed the bedrock of the magazine ever since.
Scanning through the formidable run of back issues, one is struck by the cyclical nature of architectural production. The stripped-down look of Mid-Century Modernist structures, all slim steel lines and clean glass planes, is making a comeback. The avant-garde experimental structures of Expo 67 would not have been out of place in the ensuing decades. The fine concrete work common in Brutalist buildings is much admired by architects today.
Architectural practice, it seems, also goes in cycles. The profession has gone up and down with the economy, an ebb and flow that shows in the magazine’s varying thickness. Concerns about the business of architecture date back decades. An early feature counsels young solo practitioners to rely on their wives for help with accounting. The Developer Proposal System, introduced for the construction of university residences in the 1960s, shares similarities with today’s P3 procurement method. Then, as now, architects reacted with outrage at a system seemingly geared towards eliciting the lowest price rather than the highest quality.
Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of my stroll through the archives has been the numerous encounters with familiar faces. Jack Diamond, FRAIC, wrote reviews 45 years ago that evidenced his passion for city-making—in one case getting into a heated exchange with Moshe Safdie, FRAIC. Raymond Moriyama FRAIC, Clifford Wiens, John and Patricia Patkau FRAIC, Shim-Sutcliffe, Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg and many others cut their teeth with major commissions spotlighted in The Canadian Architect.
The worlds of architectural ideas and architectural practice are inextricably linked. For decades, leading practitioners Macy DuBois, Ron Thom and Peter Hemingway were frequent contributors to the magazine, expounding their design philosophies on one hand, and frankly critiquing the work of colleagues on the other. Throughout the ’70s, a column called “Voice” provided a forum “for readers to freely express views on all matters related to architecture.” The resulting essays, by practitioners such as Ray Affleck, Joseph Baker FIRAC, and Arthur Erickson, provide a fascinating cross-section of views on education, procurement, urban politics, and above all, the importance of good design.
What comes through again and again is the passion of architects. Canadian architects care deeply for making places that contribute to people’s lives. They are fervent advocates for strong, vibrant communities. They are fighters, battling for their vision of a more humane environment, one building and one corner detail at a time. They believe that their work, whether a humble cottage or a monumental megastructure, adds beauty and order to the world.
It’s been 60 years, and—thank goodness—some things haven’t changed.