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Immediately below: Arthur Erickson, photo by Rick Eglinton.

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Arthur Erickson: Acclaimed Architect of Vancouver's Ross Street Gurdwara Dies

by CHRISTOPHER HUME

 

Editor's Note:   Having determined that they needed a larger facility for its gurdwara, the Khalsa Diwan Society of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, hired world-renowned architect Arthur Erickson to design the new edifice. In 1970, the gurdwara was moved from its modest 1908 structure on 2nd Avenue to the new prize-winning and exquisite Arthur Erickson-designed gurdwara located on 8000 Ross Street in South Vancouver.

Moving from the ground upwards, the building is essentially a stack of progressively smaller white rectangular levels topped with a metal framed open pointed dome, which can only be described as the meeting of western modernism and Sikh tradition.

"His death this week at the age of 84 marks the end of an era", writes Architecture critic and columnist, Christopher Hume.

 

Arthur Erickson came and went a Canadian, but this country's most celebrated architect was truly a citizen of the world.

The peripatetic designer travelled obsessively and produced buildings around the globe. Renowned for his elegance - personal and professional - he was the last of a generation of architects that came of age during a time of enormous optimism and potential. An acknowledged modern master - he is the only Canadian to have won the American Institute of Architect's Gold Medal - Erickson remained productive until the end.

His death this week at the age of 84 marks the end of an era.

In Toronto, where he had an office for several chaotic years in the 1990s, he will be best remembered for Roy Thomson Hall (1982). But his most spectacular contribution might well be Yorkdale subway station (1974); though poorly maintained, it brought unprecedented refinement to a structure usually dismissed as strictly utilitarian.

Born and raised in Vancouver, Erickson contributed hugely to that city. His most famous projects in British Columbia - Robson Square (1980), the Museum of Anthropology (1978), and Simon Fraser University (1963) - helped create a West Coast architectural culture and identity.

Throughout his career, Erickson also designed numerous private houses that took full advantage of the dramatic B.C. landscape.

Erickson the man was unfailingly gracious and immaculate. Much sought-after for dinner parties, he could regale guests with stories of his travels in Japan, serving with MI6, the British secret service during World War II and tramping through the Himalayas with a young Pierre Trudeau.

When he became Prime Minister, Trudeau, clearly impressed, overruled a jury and personally selected Erickson to design Canada's embassy in Washington. Located on an important site on Pennsylvania Avenue, the building opened in 1989.

Though controversial, it presents an image of sophistication and sensuousness that might once have seemed un-Canadian, but now feels entirely appropriate.

Unlike many contemporary architects, Erickson never developed a signature style. His buildings, which vary wildly, take their cues from the details of the site and the clients' needs.

That might have kept him from achieving the kind of celebrity status of that other great Canadian-born architect, Frank Gehry, but Erickson's buildings are every bit as iconic, even heroic. In his hands, an ordinary waterfront condo became a grand civic gesture.

And unlike many of his contemporaries, Erickson saw himself not as an entertainer, but a poet. As well as being one of Canada's first modernists, he was one of the country's last romantics.


[Courtesy: The Toronto Star]

May 21, 2009

Conversation about this article

1: Kabir Singh, Architect. (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), May 29, 2009, 12:16 AM.

Our community needs to reach out more and more to the internationally acclaimed masters/architects for giving shape to our institutional buildings whether it be of religious or civic nature. Not many people are actually aware of this fact that the said Gurdwara building has been designed by the same architect who has also designed Simon Fraser University.

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