McGill University awards Blanche Lemco van Ginkel with a Doctor of Science degree

Last week, McGill University presented Professor Blanche Lemco van Ginkel, former Dean of the Faculty of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of Toronto and architect and planner of Toronto-based van Ginkel Associates with the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa. The honorary degree recognizes individuals whose accomplishments provide inspiration and leadership to McGill graduates. Former recipients from the field of architecture and landscape architecture include Raymond Moriyama (D.Sc, 1993), Witold Rybczynski (D.Sc, 2002), and Cornelia Hahn Oberlander (D.Sc, 2008).

Architect, educator and urban planner Blanche Lemco van Ginkel (CM, FRAIC, BArch [McGill], MCP [Harvard]) has influenced urban landscapes worldwide, but nowhere has her vision and tenacity had greater impact than here in Montreal, where she began her career and honed her remarkable skills. In partnership with her late husband, Sandy, Blanche van Ginkel played a key role in preserving Old Montreal during the 1960s and courageously led the charge to protect the south slope of Mount Royal from urban developers. Later, the duo helped design Montreal’s Expo ’67, the immediately successful international exhibition that came to symbolize Canada’s cultural effervescence in its centennial year.

An inspirational educator and leader in her profession, Blanche van Ginkel was among the first in promoting integrated, Modernist design concepts to generations of men and women architects and urban planners. Her work at the Atelier Le Corbusier in Paris included the Unité d’Habitation in Marseille, which is considered a masterpiece of European Modernism.

A former Dean of the Faculty of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of Toronto, she has taught at McGill, the Université de Montréal, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Blanche van Ginkel’s message to the students is as follows:

Thinking about the nature of architecture, engineering and city planning, I was reminded of the rhyme “little drops of water, little grains of sand make a mighty ocean and a pleasant land” and of Robert Browning’s poem which ends with “For the loss of a nail the shoe was lost. For the loss of the shoe the horse was lost, for the loss of a horse the rider was lost, for the loss of the rider the message was lost, for the loss of the message the battle was lost, for the loss of the battle the war was lost; for the loss of the war the kingdom was lost – and all for the loss of a horseshoe nail.”

Similarly, and more briefly, the architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, stated “God is in the details.” However, the city planner, Daniel Burnham exhorted us to “make no small plans,” recognizing the interrelationships within a construct and that the whole, ultimately, may be more significant than its parts. For architects, in particular, the overriding concern is to consider equally and simultaneously both the totality and the constituent elements – the one affecting the other. And somewhat similarly, reconciling the demands of human use, material possibilities and accessible resources – sometimes a difficult balancing act.

It is an interesting and exhilarating professional world. I wish all of you well in finding at least a semblance of equilibrium in this balancing act in your professional career – and I hope that you derive some satisfaction from it in the process.

For more information, please visit

With reporting by Tanya Southcott and the McGill University School of Architecture