Viewpoint (December 01, 2003)

At the end of September, Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson led a delegation of Canadians on a cultural mission to Finland, Russia and Iceland under the theme of “The Modern North.” The trip was not without its criticism from the general public. Those who did not see the value of creating a cultural delegation felt the initiative to be wasteful of taxpayers’ money. But arguably, for the development of the profession of architecture, the trip was successful and praiseworthy. Architects Gilles Saucier, Arthur Erickson, Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe met with officials to promote the value of the built environment in Canada while exchanging ideas with other northern cultures who have produced architects like Alvar Aalto (delegates pictured above stand in his Library of Lapland in Rovaniemi, Finland). Our delegates were able to share their ideas and raise an awareness of architecture as an important cultural force in this country. Having some of our best architects building cultural relations with other countries can only improve the quality of architecture at home and allow our profession to gain more influence on a global level.

It is indeed in our interest to be connected with the current state of global architecture, but how? Over the past few months, many readers have asked about projects built outside of Canada. Any discussion of architecture beyond our borders by Canadians, or otherwise, should relate to the ways in which we produce architecture at home. As such, the work produced by Canadian firms within Canada and around the world should be promoted at an international level for its process of design and implementation as much for its glamour. Demonstrating the critical value of the process of Canadian architecture will serve to recognize the contributions that many regions of this country provide to the current state of international architectural discourse, since regionalism plays such an important role. Thus, we must advocate the many regional approaches to architecture by Canadian architects by identifying and discussing the myriad of cultural and social influences placed upon our domestic built environment. Architects in Canada excel in understanding the complexities within our society and manage to situate relevant social issues within our physical landscape. Surely, this will prove to be a positive influence on the current state of global architecture. We must not be timid, and this year’s Canadian Architect Awards of Excellence is representative of this form of advocacy.

At the close of 2003 we are assured that the potential for serious architectural discourse in the profession is strong and that the willingness of private and public interests to promote this strength and evolving confidence is healthy, as is evidenced by the winners of this year’s awards. What is most refreshing is the number of emerging young practices influencing and defining Canadian architecture in addition to those practices that have already added value to architecture in Canada. As for the jury, Californian architect Roger Sherman afforded an insightful and fresh perspective on the work being produced. Landscape architect Janet Rosenberg offered valuable input, as so many of the entries employed a wide array of landscape initiatives that furthered the discussion surrounding the issue of rigour. This important shift recognizes that architects are operating across various design platforms. Finally, past CA Award winner Marc Boutin brought his strong knowledge of the architectural scene in Canada to the table and, along with the other jury members, developed a clear approach to the adjudication process. Ian Chodikoff.