Toronto architect receives Royal Architectural Institute of Canada’s Allied Arts Medal

Layered rhombus shapes by Christine Leu. Photo: Doublespace Photography
Layered rhombus shapes by Christine Leu. Photo: Doublespace Photography

A Toronto architect whose focus is ephemeral art installations in public places will receive the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada’s (RAIC) Allied Arts Medal for 2017. 

Christine Leu, MRAIC, is the co-founder, with Alan Webb, of the multi-disciplinary arts and curation practice LeuWebb Projects in Toronto. She also teaches courses in architecture and interior design at Ryerson University. LeuWebb uses space, light, sound and texture to activate public space, with a focus on social issues and respect for historical context. The practice’s grounding in site-specificity comes from the founders’ experience and training as architects.

“Each one of Christine Leu’s permanent works and temporary installations manifests a thoughtful and thought-provoking approach to its architectural or environmental context,” said the three-member jury. “This is an extraordinary body of work that bridges art and architecture. It demonstrates skill in response to site interpretation. There is a high-quality craft element.”

The jury consisted of: Marianne McKenna, FRAIC, founding partner of KPMB Architects, Toronto; Paule Boutin, AP/FIRAC, RAIC Past-President, principal of Paule Boutin Architecte, Montreal; and Yves Trépanier, founder and co-owner of TrépanierBaer Gallery, Calgary.

LeuWebb Projects recently created a landscape installation at Ontario Place in Toronto, reimagining the utopian architectural forms of the park’s 46-year-old structures, designed by Zeidler Partnership Architects. Flotsam/Jetsam consists of several hundred plaster casts of the site’s iconic structures, the Cinesphere, pavilions, and modular pods, strewn upon the beach, interspersed with detritus. 

Fort York National Historic Site in Toronto was the site of Melting Point, an installation merging light and sound for Nuit Blanche in 2013. Light poured from the mouths of Fort York cannons, accompanied by a soundtrack of cannon rumbles, harps, and waves – laying a defense against encroaching development.

The RAIC bestows the Allied Arts Medal every two years. The award honours a Canadian artist or designer for outstanding achievement in artwork created to be integrated with architecture. Any medium allied to architecture is eligible including murals, sculpture, glass, fabric, lighting, furniture, water, sound, site-specific installation, video, digital and industrial and landscape design.

The award will be presented at the RAIC/OAA Festival of Architecture, which takes place in Ottawa May 24 to 27.

“I am very honoured to be bestowed this award, and I appreciate the acknowledgment and kind words of the RAIC jury,” said Leu. “This body of work and its approach to the connection between art and architecture would not be possible without the remarkably creative and supportive relationship with my partner, Alan Webb.”  

This year, the jury decided to award a Special Mention certificate to the Artist-in-Residence program at HCMA Architecture + Design, an architecture studio with offices in Vancouver and Victoria, B.C.  Since 2014, HCMA has hosted six Canadian artists at the studio for periods of a few months. The program provides the opportunity for participants to pursue their artistic research, take advantage of resources at the HCMA studio and collaborate with the studio on projects. 

The presence of an artist in residence in the HCMA studio is stimulating to the architects,” said the jury. “It challenges their perception and broadens their perspective. The program is a source of inspiration to other firms, providing them with a model to emulate.”

Among the results are a dance piece created by Heather Myers for the Grandview Heights Aquatic Centre in Surrey, B.C., and a mural by Scott Sueme and Michael Rozen for the Royal Bay Secondary School in Colwood, B.C.

“Collaborating with this diverse range of creatives has both challenged and benefitted our staff, practice and clients through the cross-pollination of ideas and the collaborative learning opportunities that have emerged,” said Darryl Condon, Managing Principal of HCMA Architecture + Design. “We hope this recognition by the RAIC will encourage others to engage in similar collaborations.