Posts Tagged 'books'

Bookshelf: New Buildings in the Commonwealth

During the 1950s Canadian architecture was largely unknown to the outside world. A handful of Canadian buildings were published in foreign books and periodicals (largely American and British), but the architectural output of the Great White North received little international attention until the mid-1960s completion of Arthur Erickson’s Simon Fraser University, Moshe Safdie’s Habitat and John Andrews’ Scarborough College.

The sole book to reasonably document 1950s Canadian architecture in its time is New Buildings in the Commonwealth, published in 1961 by The Architectural Press in London. Canada accounts for the largest section of the book’s 240 pages, alongside Commonwealth countries Australia, New Zealand, India, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Trinidad and Jamaica. Many of Canada’s best-known buildings of the era are represented, albeit with some notable omissions and questionable inclusions, and more than half of of the 42 Canadian buildings profiled are located in the Toronto area. The prolific John B. Parkin Associates is represented by the OAA headquarters building, Ortho Pharmaceuticals plant and offices, Don Mills Convenience Centre and John C. Parkin’s own Bridle Path residence. Peter Dickinson’s work for Page & Steele includes the Park Plaza Hotel, Workmen’s Compensation Board Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre, Regent Park South towers and the 500 and 561 Avenue Road apartment buildings. Rounding out the Toronto contingent is James Murray’s Anglo Canada Insurance building, Shore and Moffat’s York Township municipal offices, Peter Caspari’s City Park apartments and Irving Grossman’s Betel residence. Ottawa City Hall has an impressive three-page spread, the most allocated to any building, and Stratford’s Festival Theatre, the 1958 Massey Gold Medal winner, is also present. But Hart Massey’s striking steel-framed Ottawa residence is unaccountably missing, along with Peter Dickinson’s One Benvenuto Place apartments and O’Keefe Centre for the Performing Arts.

Outside of Ontario, coverage is disproportionately sparse and somewhat idiosyncratic. Vancouver’s diamond-shaped BC Electric tower, probably Canada’s best tall building of the period, leads off the Canadian section and adorns the book jacket, but the city’s main public library and Burrard Building are mysteriously absent, as are any of the celebrated houses by the likes of Ron Thom and Arthur Erickson. A single church represents the entire province of Quebec, and Saskatchewan and Atlantic Canada are shut out entirely. Edmonton City Hall, the Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, a Calgary apartment complex and a concrete highway bridge give Alberta more than its due, while Manitoba warrants only a library at the University of Manitoba. The university’s elegant J.A. Russell Building for the Faculty of Architecture certainly justified inclusion, at a minimum.

A short essay introduces each country or geographical region. Frederic Lasserre, head of the Department of Architecture at the University of British Columbia, characterizes the development of architecture in Canada as a series of borrowings from other countries and cultures, a stylistic potpourri further exacerbated by widely varying regional interpretations. Perceiving little domestic creativity and lamenting the lack of a unified national style, Lasserre concludes, “A Canadian architecture is unlikely. A Canadian architectural contribution is much more of a possibility.” Plurality quickly trumped purism; within a few years an identifiable Canadian style seemed not only unreachable but beside the point, an irrelevant middle ground between global design trends and regionalized expressions of Canada’s diverse geography, climate and culture.

Bookshelf: Canadian Architecture 1960/70

Most Canadian cultural historians view the 1960s as the decade when Canada came of age as a vital, dynamic, forward-looking nation. In addition to the broader social and technological changes occurring throughout the Western world, Canada’s icons of the era—Expo 67, the maple leaf flag, Marshall McLuhan, Pierre Trudeau—symbolized a country transcending its largely conservative, colonial past for a shiny new future where almost anything seemed possible.

The 1960s were a similarly transformational time for building in Canada, as architects synthesized global design influences with local geography, climate and culture to create a fresh and dynamic Canadian architecture. This pivotal period is captured in the 1971 book Canadian Architecture 1960/70, written and photographed by Carol Moore Ede, then a young CBC television producer, director and writer. The sizable 264-page hardcover documents 24 Canadian-designed buildings from Vancouver to Charlottetown and profiles their respective architects.

When preparing a survey of the immediate past, the challenge is selecting the subjects: what will stand the test of time and what will soon be dismissed as a regrettable diversion? Forty years after the publication of Canadian Architecture 1960/70, it’s remarkable how closely Moore Ede’s choice of buildings parallels what is regarded today as the canon of Canadian architecture in the Sixties: Arthur Erickson’s Simon Fraser University, Smith Residence and MacMillan Bloedel Building; Ron Thom’s Massey College, Trent University and Fraser Residence; Moshe Safdie’s Habitat; Douglas Cardinal’s St. Mary’s Church; John Andrews’ Scarborough College; Raymond Moriyama’s Japanese-Canadian Cultural Centre; Étienne Gaboury’s Church of the Precious Blood; Clifford Wiens’s Lady of the Lake Chapel and University of Regina heating and cooling plant; Affleck, Desbarats, Dimakopoulos, Lebensold and Sise’s Place Bonaventure and Confederation Centre of the Arts; and others. Two arguable omissions of note are John B. Parkin Associates’ Ottawa Station and Macy DuBois’s Central Technical School Art Centre. A clean, crisp design by Burton Kramer Associates, complete with reproductions of the original architectural drawings, makes the book an attractive object itself, although the photographic quality is somewhat compromised by the low-gloss paper stock.

Pushed aside by Post-Modernism in the 1980s and early 90s, Canada’s Modernist architecture has since been embraced not only as a cultural legacy, but also as an inspiration for subsequent generations of architects. Canadian Architecture 1960/70 is a key document of the nation’s architectural past and is still a worthy point of departure for its architectural future.

Recent Posts