The Museum of Anthropology at The University of British Columbia

ARCHITECT Arthur Erickson
LOCATION Vancouver, British Columbia 

Completed in 1976, the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia by Arthur Erickson aptly captures both the landscape of the West Coast and the spirit of the First Nations people. Similar to much of Erickson’s work, the Museum is made primarily of concrete, but the ideas embodied in this building are unique in their material interpretation when compared to his other concrete projects. 

The exterior subtly mimics the rugged West Coast mountains as formed by the hands of man while the interior calls to mind the spirit of a First Nations longhouse. The grand hall facing the inlet is a metaphorical cathedral of totemic art symbolizing the faith of indigenous West Coast people. The main components of the building are expressed as concrete frames–paradigms of structure and gateways to the secluded lands of the University of British Columbia as well as to the mountains across the inlet. This is where Erickson welcomes back the Native people to their ancestral home. 

Arthur Erickson has created many poignant buildings in Canada, but none capture the Canadian identity as powerfully as the UBC Museum of Anthropology, which sits proudly as an icon of the West Coast spirit, even moreso the spirit of Canadian architecture. 

Jury Comments

The jury feels that the Museum exemplifies more than any other building Erickson’s thoughtful handling of Modern concrete structures so as to respond to its natural setting and program. Inspired by the post-and-beam architecture of the northwest coastal First Nations, the striking façade opening towards the sea does not, however, fall prey to unidimensional ethnological references. On the contrary, it weds the language of Modern large-span concrete structures with a primitive purity of form while providing a dramatic framing for viewing the splendid landscape beyond.

The jury for these awards was comprised of Martin Bressani, Natalie Bull, Michael McMordie and Yves Gosselin, AP/FRAIC, Jury Chair.