Editor’s Note, July/August 2009
July 1, 2009
Mostly we navigate the city by rote, ignorant of its genesis and blind to its constructed subtleties. Streets are lined with storefronts or houses or condo towers or office buildings. Parks, and parking lots, appear here and there. Disposal bins haul away detritus while concrete mixers churn out the next iteration. With its stunning outlooks, Vancouver-the built environment-is easy to take for granted. The recent death, at age 84, of Arthur Erickson reminds us that our sense of place derives, in large part, from his special gift and the influence he had on the next generation of architects.
Erickson's work is by no means universally adored. "I've always hated Roy Thomson Hall," a friend emailed from Toronto the day after Erickson's death. "But I absolutely love the Museum of Anthropology." Robson Square infuriates some people and delights others. Glass and concrete can be irksome materials, and some of Erickson's buildings feel geometrically chilly and aloof. Students have transferred out of SFU atop Burnaby Mountain because they found the structures not just institutionally impersonal but dauntingly so. Yet a colleague with a condo in the Waterfall Building near Granville Island says, "I feel privileged to live there. It is a transformative space. After all the noise and bustle of a day at the office, I find extreme peace in the clean lines, spare finishes, and free passage of light and air."
What's undeniable, amid the diverse assessments, is that Erickson found a way-in his public buildings, certainly, but even more so in the more than 80 houses he designed-of making landscape not merely an inspiration for his architecture but the conceptual foundation of it. "He taught us about grace," says Michael Harris, our arts editor, who saw Erickson regularly in recent years, profiled him in a 2006 issue of this magazine, and contributed the Endmark on page 122 of the July/August issue. "He taught a generation of architects how to envision and build a meaningful city: Bing Thom, James Cheng, Nick Milkovich. His legacy will live on, through them as well as through his own work. He set the bar so high that, from now on, we're always going to notice when a mediocre building blights the skyline. He showed us what real architecture looks like."