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Arthur Erickson

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Arthur Charles Erickson
Born(1924-06-14)June 14, 1924
DiedMay 20, 2009(2009-05-20) (aged 84)
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Alma mater
AwardsAIA Gold Medal
Companion of the Order of Canada
Gold Medal of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada
Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects
BuildingsUniversity of Lethbridge
Simon Fraser University
Canadian Chancery, Washington
Museum of Glass
Robson Square
Roy Thomson Hall
Museum of Anthropology at UBC
1 Cal Plaza
Napp Research Centre
San Diego Convention Center

Arthur Charles Erickson CC FAIA FRAIC Hon FRIBA (June 14, 1924 – May 20, 2009) was a Canadian architect and urban planner. He studied at the University of British Columbia and, in 1950, received his B.Arch. (Honours) from McGill University.[1] He is known as Canada's most influential architect[2] and was the only Canadian architect to win the American Institute of Architects AIA Gold Medal (in 1986, for the Embassy of Canada, Washington, D.C.). When told of Erickson's award, Philip Johnson said, "Arthur Erickson is by far the greatest architect in Canada, and he may be the greatest on this continent."[3]

Early life and education


Erickson was born in Vancouver, British Columbia on June 14, 1924. The son of Oscar Erickson and Myrtle Chatterson, he had an early interest, and talent for, painting and horticulture. As had his father,[4] Erickson served in the Canadian Army, enlisting with the Canadian Army Intelligence Corps during World War II and serving in India, British Ceylon, and Malaysia.[5]

Erickson’s original intention was to go into the Diplomatic corps; he changed his mind when he saw the work of Frank Lloyd Wright.[5] He studied at the University of British Columbia, followed by the McGill University School of Architecture.[6] After graduating from McGill in 1950, Erickson was granted a travel scholarship and traveled around the Mediterranean, studying climate and style in their relationship to architecture. He spent ten years teaching at the University of Oregon and the University of British Columbia, during which time he designed some of British Columbia's most important houses--Canadian Homes Magazine called his 1959 Filberg House "Canada's most fabulous house".[7][8] Erickson spent a few years at Thompson Berwick and Pratt and Partners[9] then, in 1962, founded Erickson/Massey Architects with Geoffrey Massey. In 1963, Erickson and Massey submitted the winning design for Simon Fraser University.[10]

Style and method


Erickson's early buildings were often modernist concrete or wooden structures designed to respond to the natural conditions of their locations, especially climate.[11] Erickson always integrated light and water features into his designs, along with the characteristic horizontal elements and terraces that came from the vernacular architecture of the Far East.[11] Many buildings, such as the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, were inspired by the post and beam architecture of the Coastal First Nations, Asian temples and the North American log cabin. Erickson is also known for numerous futuristic designs such as the Fresno City Hall, the UCI School of Biological Sciences and the 1967 Catton House, also known as the 'Starship House'.[12] His work balanced the style of modernism with an integration of the surrounding natural environment. Erickson constantly stressed the importance of greenery and water in all of his designs—as a teacher, he impressed this upon his students by making them draw blades of grass.[6] He insisted on bringing in a landscape architect at the outset of all of his projects and, for most of his projects, worked with the landscape architect Cornelia Oberlander.

Significant works


Simon Fraser University (Burnaby, BC)

Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C.

Simon Fraser University is located on top of Burnaby Mountain, at Greater Vancouver's eastern edge, 1,214 feet above sea level. The scale of the project is reminiscent of utopian designs from French architects in the late eighteenth century such as Etienne-Louis Bouillee,[11] and provides a balance between the British Columbia context and the structural ambitions of the 1960s period of Modern architecture. The unfinished concrete blends in with the surrounding geography in colour but not in shape. When viewed from above in plan, the campus forms a geometric contrast to the snowy mountains of its context but does not interfere with the site's spectacular views and is open to its natural surroundings. While Erickson had 900 acres on which to build, he kept the campus tight and left the rest for meadow and playing fields. The design features a covered plaza with massive skylights which respond to Vancouver’s wet climate.[13] The campus is landscaped to provide numerous small spaces for study; it in centre, Erickson placed a large rectangular pool containing an enormous block of Fraser River jade.[14] Perhaps most significantly, academic disciplines are not isolated in separate buildings; the campus is a quadrangle designed so that people have to cross paths and interact with each other. The design was met with international acclaim, with one critic writing that it "answered questions about the nature of education".[15]

Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, BC)

Museum of Anthropology at UBC, Vancouver, B.C.

The Museum of Anthropology was built in 1976, as an inclusion to the campus at the University of British Columbia. It houses artifacts and exhibits from world cultures, with an emphasis on Pacific Northwest cultures and the First Nations of British Columbia. This building blends methods of reinforced concrete and the traditional post-and-beam construction to articulate the structure. Oversized beams evoke a monumental feeling in many of Erickson's projects, calling on the size and scale of the trees found in the surrounding context. It is well known for Erickson’s use of concrete piers and large stretches of glass. By using concrete beams to represent de-materialized logs and opening up the main atrium through expanses of glass, Erickson refers to the traditional notion of post-and-beam construction while integrating these characteristics into a modernist building.[11] The structure sits on a promontory facing the ocean and mountains. The landscape of the site was particularly important, as Erickson wanted to depict the connection between indigenous Pacific Northwest cultures to the land. He and Oberlander studied the landscapes of Haida Gwaii, with its totem poles standing on mounds covered with wild grasses and surrounded by forest. A seed expert provided the correct plantings of indigenous grasses and flowers, fallen logs were left in situ, a gravel pond was created to reflect the mountains and sky, and mounds of earth were used to both muffle traffic and create the sense of hills rolling to the ocean.[14] The university describes the museum as: ..."a total work of art, expressing a convergence of the site, building, collection and the performances and ceremonies that take place there."[16]

Robson Square (Vancouver, BC)

Robson Square, Vancouver, B.C.

Built in Vancouver in 1979 as a large civic center, Erickson’s design for Robson Square included waterfalls, a roof garden, several plazas, and stairs with ramps integrated within. This complex is one of the few in North America that integrates everything from public space and landscape to a set of surrounding buildings, spanning from the art gallery to the law courts. As time goes on, more additions are being created that seem to contrast the original intent of the design. Glass barriers were installed near the waterfall, preventing people from getting close to it, as well as on the edges of planters to prevent people from being able to sit on them. It has also since lost the outdoor restaurants, cinema, and large auditorium that once existed on the site.[17] On the design of the roof garden, Erickson was assisted by his former student, architect Bing Thom; the landscape architect on Robson Square was Cornelia Oberlander.

Roy Thomson Hall (Toronto, ON)

Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto, Canada (1982)

Designed and built in the city of Toronto, Roy Thomson Hall was not designed to blend into its surroundings in order to be recognized as a landmark and home to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Characteristic of Erickson's other designs with additions of water and other natural elements, this project includes a water feature of pond and rocks adjacent the building. Due to its placement below-grade, it can go unnoticed to pedestrians walking by.[18] The interior of the building was designed by Erickson's life partner Francisco Kipacz, the only Canadian published as "Designer of the Year" by the American Press Institute. The interior used a colour palette of grey and silver to harmonize with the concrete structure and create a peaceful atmosphere. This interior has since been retrofitted by the firm KPMB Architects, adding wood planking as well as purple and plum seating throughout the hall in attempt to make the atmosphere warmer.[19]

Canadian Chancery (Washington, DC)

Canadian Chancery, Washington, D.C. (1989)
Museum of Glass, Tacoma, WA (2002)

The personal selection of Arthur Erickson as the architect for the Canadian Chancery in Washington, DC by then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was controversial, because Trudeau and Erickson were close friends and the Prime Minister overruled the objections and choices of the embassy's design committee.[20] Erickson's biographer Nicholas Olsberg described the building as "making fun of the ridiculous terms to which buildings must adhere in Washington... mocking the US and all of its imperial pretensions."[21] In fact, Erickson had to obey his client's instructions, which were to express neighbourliness, openness and friendship, while adhering to the restrictions put in place by the 20 committees which regulate what happens on Pennsylvania Avenue. He blended the Neoclassicism of existing structures with the idiom of the Plantation house to create an expanse of space. Oberlander landscaped the courtyard with northern plants; Erickson had Haida artist Bill Reid create the massive sculpture Spirit of Haida Gwaii, the Black Canoe, which sits in the courtyard in a pool of water.[14] While his detractors may have had initial doubts about his ability to create a structure which represented Canada, it is this building which won Erickson the AIA Gold Medal.

Museum of Glass (Tacoma, WA)


The Museum of Glass was built in the city of Tacoma, Washington, as part of an initiative to revitalize the waterfront which was one of the most polluted industrial areas in Washington in the past. Erickson's design for the museum features a 90-foot-tall metal cone erupting from a structure of steel and concrete. The enormous cone acts as a 'chimney' for the museum's amphitheater, where visitors can overlook visiting artists as they create glass art. Large public art displays and concrete plazas overlook the neighbouring waterway, while pools of water interlaced with stairs and switchback ramps to connect each levels. The museum aims to connect the downtown core to the city's waterfront as well, through a 150-foot long bridge named the Chihuly Bridge of Glass. The bridge is named after Tacoma native Dale Chihuly, who was a pioneer of the Studio Glass Movement and has many works on display at the museum.[22]

Works (by year completed)

One California Plaza, Los Angeles, CA(1985)
Fresno City Hall, Fresno, CA (1991)

Arthur Erickson divided the archives of his work among several Canadian repositories. The Canadian Architecture Collection of McGill University holds his Middle East projects from 1975-1997,[76] as well as other architectural drawings and biographical and professional papers from pre-1950 to 1987.[77] The Canadian Architectural Archives at the University of Calgary hold material that covers the 1963–1970 years.[78] The Canadian Centre for Architecture fonds documents his work from 1947-2002.[79]



Honorary university degrees



Reputation, influences and legacy


Erickson was the mentor of many other noted local architects and urbanists, including founding members[81] of many of Vancouver's premier design-oriented architectural firms. His buildings were also the subject of paintings by artists including Vancouver-based Tiko Kerr.[82]

In 1971, he received the Royal Bank Award. In 1973, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada and was promoted to Companion in 1981.[83] Erickson received the Chicago Architectural Award in 1984 alongside Philip Johnson and Joan Burgee.[84] In 1986, he received the AIA Gold Medal, making him the first ever Canadian architect to receive this award.

Erickson lived in Point Grey with his life partner and interior design collaborator, Francisco Kripacz.[21] He died in Vancouver on May 20, 2009.[10] His legacy still lives on through the Arthur Erickson Foundation. The foundation has been registered in the province of British Columbia since 1993 as a non-profit charitable society. Founded originally as the Arthur Erickson House and Garden Foundation in 1993, the organization was created by Erickson's neighbour and fellow landscape architect Elizabeth Watts in order to raise money to buy Erickson's Point Grey home after he went bankrupt.[84] The society succeeded and became owner of the Point Grey residence in Vancouver, BC. After his death, the foundation was expanded to offer education, research, and work in preservation with stewardship, education, and tours offered to keep people informed about the legacy of one of Canada's first internationally acclaimed architects.[5]

See also



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Further reading