TEXT David Scott
I arrived at architecture school without much of an idea of what architecture was. As we each introduced ourselves and where we were from, the professor paused after I spoke and said, “Kamloops, eh? You’re getting a good building.” That moment was my first introduction to Peter’s work. The next fall I was sitting at a small table in the corner of his office with glue and knife in hand, building a model of that very same building.
Peter’s Ordinary Buildings exhibition arrived in Halifax not long after that. Seeing the Stone Band School and Lignum Sawmill drawings–buildings located within hours of my hometown of Kamloops–gave me that feeling that Winnipeggers must have when they hear mention of their city in a Neil Young song. I was proud of the idea that strong architecture could be conceived for the dusty part of the country in which I’d grown up. I was amazed by the drawings themselves.
In Peter’s office, there is and has always been significance given to the act of drawing. Drawings are often constructed as a postscript to a project shortly after the buildings are completed. They are an elixir for the often demanding and relentless act of project execution. When the dust of construction has settled, the buildings are quietly reconsidered and distilled into a single drawing that is emphatic of an idea which is central to the architecture of the project. In many ways, the act of preparing these drawings is an important continuum which binds many of the architects who have worked in the office together. I have often quietly stood looking at the delicate detail which Russell Acton once penned onto paper for the Lach Klan School, and the lattice of the CN Pavilion roof structure drawn by Mike Kothke. At the completion of each project, I am struck by the significance of the act of producing a drawing and I am reminded that this is where an architect’s voice is the strongest, when it is constructed on the page.
Working with and watching Peter work has allowed me to understand the importance of effort in design. Solutions are arrived at through the understanding of a problem and the working and reworking of a solution. The work is constructed from knowledge and comprehension–not from an epiphanic conception or a quick gesture of the pen. Projects are designed by way of a thorough process of measured evaluation; drawn at scale from the point of an early idea. Details are refined through discussion with the tradespeople who will build them, and from the experience gained by visiting workshops and job sites to witness and appreciate the people, tools and materials which will ultimately give form to the architecture. The work is the product of Peter’s clear understanding of what architecture is as a discipline and his relentless determination to make buildings a critical part of the lives of those who inhabit them.
Over the last 30 years, Peter has quietly constructed a small body of work which will have a lasting and meaningful position in the history of Canadian architecture. There is a substantial quality to the work which endures the changing seasons, improving with time and use. The projects are a testament to Peter’s belief that all who use the buildings should be treated with dignity and respect, and that all buildings are crafted to the highest level achievable regardless of the informality of its use or the banality of its material. Each building bears Peter’s unconscious understanding of the role of tradition and innovation; something which allows the work to be perpetually relevant and continuously significant to the people who experience them every day. CA
David Scott first worked for Peter Cardew Architects as a student in 1998 and returned after graduation to work in the office from 2000-12. He has taught design at the University of British Columbia and the University of Calgary, and project execution at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.