ARCHITECTS | Arthur Charles Erickson :: The Passing of a Giant

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Arthur Charles Erickson | 14 June 1924 – 20 May 2009

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Erickson holding a photograph of Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto (1982)

From his first coffee table book, The Architecture of Arthur Erickson (1975)

His vision for Vancouver’s West End, designed whilst at university

The Smith House, West Vancouver (1964)

Simon Fraser University (SFU) , Burnaby, British Columbia (1965)

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Two maquettes for the Ritz-Carlton, Vancouver (stalled project), c. 2007

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Phyllis Lambert’s Tribute to Arthur Erickson:

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Phyllis Lambert. Portrait of Arthur Erickson in the Helmut Eppich House, West Vancouver, B.C. designed by Arthur Erickson, 1972. 2002.

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I am indebted to Arthur Erickson.

As a boy, with my childhood infatuation with all-things-expo 67, I fell for his Man in the Community pavilion in a big way.

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Man in the Community, one of the theme pavilions at expo 67

Then I watched his MacMillan Bloedel building begin to rise from its foundations on Georgia Street in dodgy downtown Vancouver.

I had never seen anything like the MacBlo before. Two separate towers joined by a service core, so everyone (theoretically, at least)  had access to light and a view.

The building tapered elegantly as it rose from Georgia Street. It is still one of my favorite all-time pieces of architecture. It, I think, put Vancouver on the map architecture-wise in that ultra-modern decade, the ’60s. (My hometown, Burnaby, got that distinction in 1965 when Simon Fraser University opened.)

It was a shame when, a few years later, the somewhat-grotesque Royal Centre took the prime Georgia and Burrard corner, thereby blocking the eastern profile of this most elegant of buildings; his “Doric Temple,” as he put it. The view below would be forever lost.

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The MacMillan Bloedel Building, Vancouver (1969)

1970. Another expo! This time in Osaka, Japan. And Arthur was there, representing Canada. Looking back, that must have been the beginning of my fascination with things Japanese. His brilliant use of mirrors — that quasi-taboo object in Japan — to express Canada’s vastness and openness displayed his own long-term involvement with, and knowledge of, Japanese culture and its aesthetics.

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I became a fan. I followed his careers ups and downs.

And then … many years later,

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I met the Master himself. After his introductory chat before the Vancouver Art Gallery opened its Arthur Erickson: Critical Works exhibition in 2007, I felt compelled to stand in line to chat with Arthur and to thank him for doing so much to spark my curiosity about architecture and its place in world culture (and ask a few questions about expo architecture).

He was such a gentle man. Funny as hell. Self-deprecating. Witty. Everything you’d hoped he be.

A giant.

R.I.P

What went unreported was that there was no treasure to tear down. Erickson’s Graham house — built in 1963 for David Graham — had been steadily stripped of its original genius over decades. Erickson built a 3,500-square-foot wood-and-glass icon on what everyone had considered an impossible site. By last winter, that house was a bloated 6,000 square feet, thanks to unsympathetic, non-Erickson additions. The fireplace was built over. An elevator had been installed. The house was lost not when bulldozers arrived in the front yard; it was lost piecemeal over many years. And the culprit was not a wealthy, London-based businessman, but a community that failed to safeguard its own heritage.

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MacMillan Bloedel Building: conceptual rendering

Arthur Erickson stamps

designKULTUR | MASS TRANSIT | SkyTrain Vancouver :: 25 Years ::: 2010.12.11



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