RAIC President’s Medal for Multimedia Representations of Architecture Winner: Canadian Modern Architecture, 1967 to the Present

"This book brings together some of the foremost observers on architecture in Canada. Canadian Modern Architecture is a timely body of work whose diversity and variety are entirely Canadian." 

Photo by James Mallinson

EDITORS Elsa Lam and Graham Livesey

CHAPTER AUTHORS George Baird, Brian Carter, Ian Chodikoff, Odile Hénault, George Kapelos, Lisa Landrum, Steven Mannell, Sherry McKay, Marco Polo, Colin Ripley, Lola Sheppard, David Theodore, Larry Wayne Richards, Adele Weder, Mason White

The book Canadian Modern Architecture, 1967 to the Present is the first comprehensive volume on modern and contemporary Canadian architecture to appear in over 25 years. The 50-year retrospective is co-edited by Canadian Architect editor Elsa Lam (FRAIC) and architectural educator Graham Livesey (FRAIC). It is co-published by Princeton Architectural Press and Canadian Architect magazine, and includes 15 original essays, along with some 500 photographs and drawings.

“Lam and Livesey have brought together many of the most distinguished academics and critics in the field, and the result is a long and coherent conversation about the importance of modern Canadian architecture,” writes Alex Bozikovic in The Globe and Mail. “The book is highly readable and heavily illustrated, an asset to professionals and to average citizens.”

Adds architectural historian Kenneth Frampton, who wrote the book’s foreword, “this anthology […] amounts to a major achievement of collective scholarship. […] By any standards, this is an encyclopedic tour de force.”

National Movements

This book is divided into four sections. The first section, on national movements, most explicitly addresses the idea of Canada’s institutions being expressed through architecture.

The book begins with the architecture created to mark Canada’s centennial year. Marco Polo (FRAIC) and Colin Ripley (MRAIC) describe a set of programs developed by the federal government to celebrate 1967 using architecture, including keystone projects in each province. The year was also marked by Expo 67, whose experimental pavilions came to embody a watershed moment in Canada’s political and cultural history.

Authored by George Kapelos (FRAIC), the second chapter examines the architecture of key Canadian public institutions commissioned by federal, provincial and municipal governments. The examples include national museums, city halls and civic centres, embassies and consulates, and the architectural legacy of the three Olympic games hosted in Canada.

Lisa Landrum (FRAIC)’s essay studies the history of university architecture in Canada since the early 1960s through four celebrated campus designs: Massey College and the Trent University campus by Ron Thom, University of Toronto Scarborough’s Science and Humanities Building by John Andrews, and Simon Fraser University by Arthur Erickson.

In the final chapter on national trends, Odile Hénault presents the transformative changes that have occurred in architecture for Indigenous communities in Canada since the 1980s. She details the impact of initiatives such as British Columbia’s school design program for First Nations communities, which emphasized high-calibre architecture and local involvement, and the emergence of a new generation of Indigenous designers.

International Influences

In the 50 years since 1967, Canadian architects have played a crucial role in the development of many international trends.

In his essay, George Baird (FRAIC) explains how the concept of the “megastructure” building was widely embraced in Canada during the 1960s and 1970s. The concept is strikingly manifested in Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67, and was also used in designs such as Arthur Erickson’s University of Lethbridge and Robson Square, and Craig, Zeidler & Strong’s Eaton Centre and Ontario Place.

Larry Wayne Richards (FRAIC) studies the impact of postmodernism on Canadian architecture. Two of the most internationally celebrated postmodern projects are in Canada: Mississauga City Hall near Toronto, which reinterprets tropes from agricultural imagery, and the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, whose classical ordering system derives from the historic Shaughnessy House preserved on the property.

Ian Chodikoff (FRAIC) looks at a number of important urban revitalization projects in Canadian cities, in which architects were part of a larger team. Vancouver has a history of urban reinvention, exemplified in its 1970s revitalization of Granville Island and its more recent Woodward’s redevelopment. Chodikoff’s chapter also looks at key sites in Toronto and Montreal.

In the last essay on international influences, Steven Mannell (FRAIC) details the history of sustainable design and legislation in Canada, demonstrating how Canadian architects have responded to evolving demands for sustainable construction. Early self-sustaining single-family home experiments in the 1970s eventually led to designs for larger buildings, and Canadian architects are becoming increasingly proficient as the world moves towards low-carbon design.

Regional Responses

As the country with the second largest landmass in the world, Canada is defined by its strong regions. In architecture, the concept of “Critical Regionalism” is particularly pertinent, and Canadian architects have found a variety of ways to respond to local geographies, climates and cultures.

Sherry McKay starts off this section on the West Coast. The iconic mid-century modern West Coast House was essential to the emergence of modern architecture in Canada in the 1940s and 1950s. The experiences of architects working on these houses led them to take a similar approach to working with landform and vistas in designs for Vancouver’s larger buildings.

Next, Graham Livesey (FRAIC) lays out the evolution of Prairie architecture, starting with the pioneering work of Étienne Gaboury, Clifford Wiens and Douglas Cardinal. While the region presents diverse landscapes, the most notable architects in the Prairie provinces have striven to create iconic works that relate to the region’s strong horizons and large skies.

Heading east, Brian Carter (Hon. FRAIC) looks at the recent architecture of the Atlantic Provinces. The school of architecture at Dalhousie University was an important influence for many architects, including Brian MacKay-Lyons, who studied and currently teaches there. A group of younger firms are now also building on the unique traditions of the region.

To wrap up this section, Lola Sheppard and Mason White (MRAIC) review the architecture of Canada’s Arctic region since the 1960s. They examine efforts to develop standardized housing for First Nations communities, experiments in developing new towns for the North, and technological solutions that have informed the approach of some architects to building in the region.

Centers of Influence

Canadian culture is defined in large part by its three largest cities: Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. During the last 50 years, each of these cities has spawned a range of important architectural practices.

David Theodore (MRAIC)’s essay explores distinctive aspects of Quebec architecture since 1967. Theodore shows how Quebec’s cultural revolution of the 1960s fostered the emergence of important Francophone practices. The province’s design competition system has built on this legacy, yielding cultural projects that often engage directly with historic sites and structures.

Elsa Lam’s essay on Toronto traces the legacy of people and firms that followed in the wake of the 1956 international competition to design a new city hall. It also details the architectural impact of a string of policies, including the effect of the 1970s Municipal Reform Council, the Two Kings planning changes in the 1990s, and the “cultural renaissance” provincial investment program of the early 2000s.

Finally, Adele Weder (Hon. MRAIC) looks at the development-driven landscape of Vancouver since Expo 86, and the way well-considered works of architecture have been inserted into the fabric. While Vancouver’s predominant image is one of sleek towers, architects such as Bing Thom, Peter Cardew and Patkau Architects have designed striking, humanistic projects.

Jury Comments ::  This book brings together some of the foremost observers on architecture in Canada. In 15 chapters, these authors clearly explain the themes and regional trends that have shaped the country’s built form in this period—a period in which, as the editors suggest, a truly Canadian architecture was born. This assembly of expertise and regional knowledge allows the book to provide a depth of insight that no one individual could offer. Canadian Modern Architecture is a timely body of work whose diversity and variety are entirely Canadian. 

The jurors for this award were Michael Cox (PP/FRAIC), Wayne De Angelis (PP/FRAIC) and Alex Bozikovic.