April 30, 2011
by Canadian Architect
Bing Thom is a visionary leader in our community and his work is helping to redefine our downtown core by creating a vibrant, modern city centre. The world-renowned buildings he has created for Surrey–including the Central City development, Simon Fraser University campus, and Surrey City Centre Library–have added beauty and vitality to the area. The iconic buildings are much more than physical structures; they have become the cultural heart of the area, sites of gathering where festivals and community events take place. Many of his innovative and award-winning designs incorporate the beauty of wood, which not only taps into the spirit of the West Coast, but is also a smart environmental choice. His architectural contribution will be remembered as one of the driving forces behind the transformation of Surrey into British Columbia’s next great metropolitan centre.
Dianne Watts is the current Mayor of Surrey, British Columbia.
Bing hired me in Vancouver to work on Robson Square about two years after a job offer from Arthur Erickson’s Toronto office fell through at the last minute, just before I graduated. I was impressed with his sensitivity with respect to that little piece of personal history known as Robson Square, and our friendship remains to this day.
I remember Bing during those heady, extraordinarily busy and stressful years. He would always find time to listen and explore new ideas that kept surfacing in the studio. With a ready laugh, he could bring a discussion, a sketch or a small model to another level before getting on with his other duties. He was always a critical thinker and very astute about a much bigger picture, given the politics of juggling and managing three big influences in the office–the complex urban paradigm that became Robson Square, Arthur (of course), and our client. In this context, Bing gets a lot of deserved credit for the overwhelming success of the project and for pushing a young team of architects to new heights of personal discovery.
Each time when we have reconnected, Bing seems ageless to me–he harbours a passion for the profession that continually resurfaces in conversation, fuelled by the belief that we are all deeply responsible for changing people’s lives for the better. His proven ability to bring projects to fruition where there are questionable sites, budgets, or political will, is exemplary. It seems to me that his international team of diverse professionals–not coincidentally–carries on an early Erickson tradition of reaching into the culture of various places for inspiration, and complements a life devoted to the improvement of a global society through exemplary work. His selfless giving back to the community through the Bing Thom Architects Foundation is a fitting testament to the powerful impact this architect brings to our profession.
I am proud to know him as a friend and colleague.
Barry Johns is the Executive Director of Design at Group2 Architecture Engineering Ltd. in Edmonton, and is the incoming Chancellor of the RAIC College of Fellows.
“You’re going to have to work for your fee.” That is basically what I remember from our first interview with Bing Thom 20 years ago. “No problem,” I thought. He was one of Vancouver’s elite architects, and we wanted the job.
Working through the process–and not just the projects themselves–has been interesting. To paint a picture of our working relationship, those who know Bing will know of his vision and how he expects the impossible. He will often shamelessly pick on the one who has the most to lose–the structural engineer. When you want to deviate from the tack he is on, you begin to realize there is a certain urgency to capture the direction he is going. This process is, at the same time, a moving target and just when you feel a Eureka moment coming, Bing will say, “Okay, let’s go the other way.” Then it’s back to the drawing board, and you are forced to reach even higher for an idea that you know will finally silence the man. But this process is not completely impossible, and I can recall many pleasurable moments arising from the various structural challenges that we ultimately resolved.
Over time, Bing and I became interested in the old master-builder concept (in our case, he is the master, and I’m the builder). This is how Bing operates. He thinks about the whole picture, and the entire budget is his. The client trusts him with it, and for good reason: he puts the money where it counts. I have seen this many times. He listens closely to builders while bringing a team around him that he can trust. He is compelled to grasp everything about the problem, and he understands that his relationships allow him to achieve such goals. He is fiercely loyal and he pays his bills. Could an engineer ask for more?
Gerald Epp is a Partner in the Vancouver-based structural engineering firm Fast + Epp. He is also President of StructureCraft Builders Inc.
Bing Thom was the project architect for Arthur Erickson’s iconic Robson Square and Provincial Law Courts. Courtesy Bing Thom Architects
Working with Gerry Epp, Thom developed the elegant structural system for the expansion to the Vancouver Aquarium. Martin Tessler