Governor General’s Medal Winner

It is with great pleasure that we present the recipients of the 2008 Governor General’s Medal. Most of the projects presented on the following pages are well-known to readers of Canadian Architect, as nine of the 12 winning projects have already been published in our magazine. Nonetheless, revisiting these buildings as a collection of award-winning works provides an opportunity to review their architectural, technical, social and cultural value.

As Canadian architects continue to develop regional design sensibilities in contemporary architecture, defining an overarching trend remains difficult. However, a few characteristic drivers emerge when assessing this year’s winning projects. Firstly, there is the ongoing consideration with respect to the skillful incorporation of sustainable design strategies that respond to the often-harsh Canadian climate. The Winnipeg Centennial Library Addition, the Terrence Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research, and the National Ballet School are all examples of projects that deftly utilize architectural and engineering strategies to maximize the benefit of sun-drenched interior spaces during the short days of winter when sub-zero temperatures prevail upon Canadian cities. The three projects from British Columbia–the Gleneagles Community Centre, ROAR_one and the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre–exist in mild but potentially challenging climates, but which encompass artful architectural responses with an emphasis on craft that illustrate, respectively, the legacy of West Coast timber detailing, a humane response to residential design on a tight urban site, and the geography and social history of a First Nations community.

Another ongoing topic of consideration for Canadian architects is the landscape. What is remarkable about the winners of this year’s Governor General’s Awards is the range of explorations in the relationship between landscape and architecture. Ian MacDonald’s own house at 4a Wychwood Park in Toronto evidences an obvious mastery in capturing views of the site while maintaining privacy and a sense of intimacy. As for the influences of landscape on the expression of building geometry, both the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa and the Chemical Sciences Building at Trent University represent projects that are fluid reconciliations between site, program and architectural ambitions. Even the Communication, Culture & Technology Building at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus and the Scarborough Baptist Church display considered and thoughtful responses to their sites–one at the edge of a suburban campus, the other at the edge of a suburban parking lot.

One project that offers delight and surprise is the Jaypee Institute of Information Technology in Noida, India. Designed by Montreal’s Le Groupe Arcop and led by Ramesh Khosla, the Jaypee Institute boasts a subtle display of masonry, framing, and the sequencing of interior spaces. There are hundreds of huge projects currently being designed and built by Canadian architects in rapidly changing markets like India, China and the United Arab Emirates, and the Jaypee Institute represents only one of several high-calibre Canadian-designed international projects worthy of merit.

The breadth of work recognized here is the result of the jury’s keen selection of a wide range of prize-winning projects from this year’s 160-plus entries. Comprised of Manfred Sabatke from Stuttgart, Pina Petricone and John McMinn from Toronto, Anne Cormier from Montreal, and Steve Christer from Reykjavk, the jury was suitably diverse. Complementing each other’s experiences and ideologies, the jury dutifully advocated for projects that exemplify high standards in the areas of sustainability, technological innovation, conceptual rigour and design excellence.

Manfred Sabatke worked for Gunner Birkerts and Associates before joining and building up the internationally renowned Behnisch Architekten. After he was made partner in 1970, Sabatke remained with the firm for another 24 years until his retirement.

As a partner in Giannone Associates Architects in Toronto and an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto, Pina Petricone’s notable projects include the re:TreetHouse and Welcome Mat installations, the award-winning Herman Miller Canada Showroom in Toronto, and the recently completed Centre for Ethics, a new interfaculty and interdisciplinary initiative at the University of Toronto.

John McMinn was awarded the Canada Council Prix de Rome in Architecture in 1992. An Associate Professor at the University of Waterloo, McMinn also maintains an active design practice and has been involved in many publications and curatorial projects, including 41 to 66: Architecture in Canada–Region, Culture, Tectonic, the Canadian exhibition at the 2008 Venice Biennale in Architecture.

As a cofounder of Montreal-based Atelier Big City, Anne Cormier has led the firm to success, receiving numerous awards in the process, including three Governor General’s Medals for architecture, the Grand Prix from the Quebec Order of Architects in 1994, and the Canada Council Prix de Rome in Architecture in 2006. Additionally, Cormier has taught in Canada and abroad, and is currently Director of the School of Architecture at the Universit de Montral.

Steve Christer has taught at the Architectural Association in London and was a guest professor at the Berlage Institute. In 1987, he founded Studio Granda in Reykjavk with Margrt Hardardttir. CA