Phyllis Lambert urges SFU to reconsider demolition of Erickson/Massey women’s residence

As part of its plans to expand student housing on campus, Simon Fraser University (SFU) is planning to demolish Madge Hogarth House, one of the original buildings on the Burnaby Mountain campus masterplanned by Arthur Erickson and Geoffrey Massey.

Madge Hogarth House opened as a women’s residence in 1965, and later became a campus resource space. The university has said that renovating the building to meet current seismic, fire and life safety requirements is unfeasible. The planned demolition would make way for a new residence for 369 students.

The chair of the Arthur Erickson Foundation council, Phyllis Lambert, has written to SFU president Andrew Petter and campus planning and development director Ian Abercrombie, demanding the school halt demolition and assess Madge Hogarth House for heritage value.

Erickson/Massey rendering of original Madge Hogarth House. Canadian Centre for Architecture Collection.
Rendering of proposal for site of Madge Hogarth House.

The text of Phyllis Lambert’s letter to Ian Abercrombie follows:

Dear Mr. Abercrombie,

I write to you urgently about the  status of the  Madge Hogarth Building in the  West Precinct of the Erickson/Massey Simon Fraser campus. I have just  been informed that this outstanding work, one of the great original campus buildings of 1965, known then as the Women’s Residence, is slated for demolition.

It would be unthinkable for any of the original buildings of the  great authored North American campuses—Thomas Jefferson’s 1819 University of Virginia, or Mies van der Rohe’s 1940s and early 50s Illinois Institute of Technology, for example—to be touched, except to restore or even repurpose them, as  has been done.

Is Arthur Erickson not one of the  acknowledged major architects of the  20th century, equal to Jefferson and van der Rohe? And was not his  universally heralded Simon Fraser declared to work “perfectly as  an environment and a monumental piece of architecture” by Ada Louise Huxtable, the New York Times architectural critic, in a cover story of Time magazine? Must Canada continue to disregard its  great works?

Unfortunately, Huxtable’s perfect environment has not been maintained at SFU. Along with the other extraordinary architecture of Erickson/Massey, the  unheralded Madge  Hogarth Building has suffered neglect along with deferred maintenance. However, as one of the great buildings of the  campus, or anywhere, the  Madge Hogarth Building, the Women’s  Residence, MUST bear witness as  one of the high points of Canadian civilization. This building is a rare example of the architects’ thought about—and execution of—communal residential structures, both within the structure itself and in its  relationship to the  wider campus.

We have the  knowhow and tools to repair and renew the building. As a residence typology it can be repurposed in numerous ways. A 11SFU Site & Guidelines study made a few years ago proposed incorporating the  existing building with a new higher density building. The incorporation of new and old has become a leading architectural practice world-wide. No building today can replace the existing building—certainly not in the current climate of economic constraint and scarcity of architectural vision.

In addition to the very great quality of the building (Erickson’s rendering is attached), the Madge  Hogarth house is  a women-only student residence named in honour of Vancouver philanthropist and SFU convocation founder, Madge Hogarth Trumbull. She financed the building. How will the destruction of a structure dedicated to and honoring women play out for SFU’s reputation among the top 50 of the world’s universities? And how will deriding such a gift affect future donors to the University?

Mr. Abercrombie, thank you for considerately responding to my letter of 22 March 2018, in which I introduced you to the Arthur Erickson Foundation and offered our assistance to Simon Fraser University in relation to the recently launched Burnaby Campus Plaza Renewal project, by inviting Don Luxton, Donald Luxton & Associates, and Larry Beasley, Beasley & Associates Inc., to your Campus Design Review Panel: Meeting #1 Summary, September 17, 2018. Their reports to our Board were positive. However, the proposed destruction of the  Madge Hogarth House is  certainly not positive. In addition to  advocating for respectful stewardship of Arthur Erickson’s physical works, the mandate of the  Arthur Erickson Foundation (AEF)  is  to inspire future generations to seek, as Arthur Erickson did, the deep understanding and aesthetic that informs great design; and advancing education in and understanding of architecture and design and related history and philosophy.

In the name of the Arthur Erickson Foundation, I urge you, as Director of Campus Planning and Development, for the reasons stated above, to honor the  extraordinary donor Madge Hogarth, and your university, its  magnificent site and original vision. By doing so, you will simultaneously take a major step in perpetuation of the internationally renowned design of SFU  and show appropriate respect for Canadian creativity, integrity, and culture. I urge you to rethink the symbolic and architectural significance of the  Women’s Residence, and to undertake with the appropriate architect its  renovation and expansion. I urge you to change course.


Yours truly,

Phyllis Lambert CC, GOQ, CAL, M.S. Arch, LL D, FRAIC Chair, Arthur Erickson Foundation

Founding Director Emeritus, Canadian Centre for Architecture