In Memoriam: Clifford Wiens

Saskatchewan architect Clifford Wiens has passed away at the age of 93.

Wiens is known for his iconic structures in the province,  including John Nugent’s Studio (also known as St. Mark’s Shop) in Lumsden (1960); the University of Regina Heating and Cooling Plant (1968), the Qu’Appelle Silton Summer Chapel (1967); the Regina CBC Broadcast Centre (1983); the Prince Albert City Hall (1984) and many others.

Clifford Weins (centre) with Hossein Amanat (left) and John Patkau (right). Photo by Trevor Boddy.

Wiens was born in 1926 near Glen Kerr, Saskatchewan, and raised on his Mennonite family’s farm. He studied industrial design and architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design, graduating in 1954. He returned to Regina to apprentice with firms Stock and Ramsay, and to work with architect Joseph Pettick. In 1957, he started his own practice, which was active until 1995.

Silton Chapel, view from east, Qu’Appelle Lakes, Saskatchewan. Clifford Wiens, 1969. (Karl Hinrichs), From Canadian Modern Architecture, 1967 to the present.

Initial projects included three churches: Roman Catholic St. Joseph’s in Whitewood (1959), Mennonite Brethren in Regina (1961), and Roman Catholic Our Lady in Moose Jaw (1966).

Wiens’ work from the 1960s and 70s is particularly well-known. Arthur Erickson praised his designs, declaring, “Not only is he Saskatchewan’s finest architect ever,  but Clifford Wiens’ work is of international importance.”

As one of the pioneers of a distinctive Prairie architecture, writes architectural historian Graham Livesey, Wiens created an idiom that related to the distinct landscape of the Prairies, with its strong horizon lines.  Writes Livesey, “His Central Heating and Cooling Plant at the University of Regina (1967) is most indicative of his architecture in that it is seemingly straightforward, yet intricate in execution; its bold shape is reminiscent of both iconic Indigenous and agricultural forms.”

Central Heating and Cooling Plant, University of Regina, Regina, Saskatchewan. Clifford Wiens, 1967. (Henry Kalen, Henry Kalen fonds, University of Manitoba Archives and Special Collections). From Canadian Modern Architecture, 1967 to the present.

Architectural critic Trevor Boddy curated an exhibition on his work, hosted at the Mendal Art Gallery in 2005-2006. “He’s a true {rairie original. There’s a lot of bandying about who’s Modernist and who’s not, but with Clifford, there’s no doubt,” says Boddy. “Every building project was a problem to be solved and an inventive solution to be devised. His originality really stands out.”

Boddy speculates that Wiens’ design capabilities were formed through his adolescence on a farm, where one needed to learn many skills, “from metalworking to being an electrician.” He says the strong industrial design education at the Rhode Island School of Design also contributed to Wien’s architecture.

Clifford Wiens. Photo courtesy Mieka Wiens.

Wiens has been a visiting professor at the University of Manitoba, University of Calgary, University of Arizona and Arizona State University.

Boddy says that Wiens called architects “improvers.” When architects do things well, thought Wiens, it left the world a little bit improved.

After closing his practice in 1995, Wiens permanently relocated to his wife Patricia’s hometown, Vancouver. His architectural archive resides at the University of Regina.

Wiens is survived by his six children.