Viewpoint (October 01, 2004)

Architecture has been enjoying a prominent position in the media, as signature firms with international reputations are being either touted or dismissed. The problem associated with this recent celebrity focus is the potential to forget about other emerging architectural currents developing across Canada. Recently, a number of Canadian firms, both large and small, have been given opportunities to promote their means of architectural production through publications that provide an antidote to the misinformation surrounding “starchitects” that our popular press is feeding the general public. The books illustrated above signal four important areas that can contribute to the dissemination of ideas and architectural production across the design profession and the public at-large.

Firstly, there is the importance of improving our architectural sex appeal on the global scene. The work of Saucier + Perrotte (S,+,P) is the latest firm to become promoted by the Canada Council and is placed amongst the ranks of the Canadian architectural elite. The legacy of the familiar square-format architecture book published by TUNS Press at Dalhousie University is well-known to the architectural community across Canada. Their most recent publication, Saucier + Perrotte Architectes 1995-2002 is well-illustrated and documented with concise commentary. This book is being released just in time for the 2004 Venice Biennale where the entire Canadian Pavilion will feature the work of S,+,P, a partnership formed in 1988.

Secondly, there is the issue of solidifying the imageability of Canadian architecture abroad as being on par with many of the international signature firms. A new coffee-table book entitled The Architecture of Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg published by Birkhaser features essays by Phyllis Lambert and Detlef Mertins with interviews by Rodolphe el-Khoury and Bruce Mau. A conversation with Mau reveals the many challenges of the firm, its growth and its ability to deal with the recent influx of signature architects. In a significant comment, Marianne McKenna asks herself whether or not she and her partners should change the approach of their practice in response to singular pieces of architecture by the likes of Gehry, Alsop or Libeskind. McKenna recognizes that the city, a collection of public and private spaces, is truly more than an agglomeration of disparate pieces.

Thirdly, the specificity of academic experimentation in publications such as Site Unseen (see Gary Michael Dault’s article on p. 10) demonstrates the richness in our profession’s understanding of our cities and a desire to address our curiosities through speculative design and research, all in an attempt to positively influence directions in urban design.

Lastly, new modes of production being put forth by emerging designers are essential to the furtherance of design discourse in Canada. Assembled into a fabulous collection of literary, photographic and architectural essays, building/art is a useful reference documenting some of the emerging practices from every region in the country. It provides insight into the idea-makers who are not yet part of the established list of Canadian firms. The book is published by the University of Calgary Press, which is beginning to take an interest in publishing the possibilities of architecture in Canada.

Since the general public often misunderstands the prominence that architecture has gained in the popular press, Canadian architecture deserves to be debated and discussed amongst our own profession and disseminated back to the public. The four recent publications noted above are important resources as they document meaningful approaches to the ways in which architecture is commissioned, developed, executed and evaluated in Canada. Furthermore, they provide greater insight into current architectural developments than the popular press which tends to focus on personality and scandal over the importance of the meaning and contribution of building. Ian Chodikoff