West Coast architectural legend Fred Hollingsworth passes away

Fred Hollingsworth wasn’t as famous as his contemporaries Arthur Erickson and Ron Thom. But he stood with them as one of the key architects in Vancouver’s West Coast Modern movement.

“He was a very modest man, he always underplayed his own accomplishments,” said heritage expert Don Luxton. “But I think he was an amazing designer, and a propelling force in modernism at the time.”

Hollingsworth died April 10, 2015 at the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver at the age of 98. He had been in poor health since he suffered a stroke about a year and a half ago.

Hollingsworth first came to prominence in the late 1940s, designing simple, elegant post-and-beam homes in North Vancouver. “They were small, like 900 square feet,” said Luxton. “A big one was 1,200.”

But he made up for their small size with innovation. Hollingsworth’s homes were incredibly cool, with open floor plans, French doors and wings that separated the living from the sleeping spaces. They usually came with built-in cabinets and furniture, funky brick fireplaces, and sunken living rooms. Clerestory windows near the ceiling bounced light into the house, and radiant heat came up from the polished cement floors. The homes often had plywood walls, because they were cheap.

“The kind of people who were building these things were schoolteachers and electricians,” said Fred’s son Russell Hollingsworth, also a successful architect. “So tradespeople, young professional people just starting out. He didn’t have wealthy clients. As a matter of fact he didn’t really have a wealthy client till very late in his life, when he did a house for Nat Bosa in West Van.”

Luxton said Hollingsworth drew inspiration from architectural legend Frank Lloyd Wright. “He knew Wright – he used to go down there and visit him in Taliesin West (in Arizona). Some of his buildings are very directly based on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian houses. Frank Lloyd Wright pursued the whole idea of low-cost housing, especially in the postwar period, and Fred’s thinking was inspired by that, the idea of keeping the houses very simple.”

“(My dad) developed a line of houses called the Neoteric houses,” said Russell Hollingsworth. “There’s more of these houses on the heritage list in North Van than any other architect, by a long shot. My dad was not in any way an elitist architect. He was the opposite. He had a real thrust in life to bring Modernism and creative platforms for living to regular people, not just wealthy people.”

Fred Thornton Hollingsworth was born in Golborne, Lancaster, England on January 8, 1917. He immigrated to Canada with his family in 1929, and grew up in Marpole. His first passions were model airplanes—he was the Canadian national model airplane champion in 1935 and 1939—and music. He played sax and sang in the Fred Hollingsworth Orchestra, a jazz band, in the 1930s and ’40s.

After the Second World War he fell in love with architecture. He designed his first house in 1946 in North Vancouver—his own, where he lived until he had his stroke. He didn’t have an architectural degree when he started designing houses—he entered the profession through an apprenticeship program, and didn’t become a registered architect until 1959.

But that didn’t stop Vancouver’s top architectural firm, Sharp and Thompson, from hiring him in the late 1940s. At Sharp and Thompson, Hollingsworth became close friends with Thom.

“The two of them were really pivotal in the development of the West Coast School,” said Russell Hollingsworth. “This was before Erickson came along, they were really in the forefront of it. They were both enthralled with Wright’s work, and other west coast guys, and they imported that up into the rugged wilds of the Pacific Northwest.”

Fred Hollingsworth is survived by Russell, daughters Lynn and Kim, and his wife Phyllis, who still lives in the home he designed in 1946.

—By John MacKie of the Vancouver Sun

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