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Death of Canadian icon


With the passing of Arthur Erickson, who died yesterday at the age of 84, Canada has lost one of its treasures, and B.C.’s architectural community has lost a true leader.

Erickson’s architectural talent is known worldwide. For many, he came to define British Columbia architecture. He certainly put it on the international map.

Erickson’s unique view of the world came through in his work. He considered environmental awareness in his projects long before it was fashionable. He had a genuine appreciation and understanding of nature and context, qualities that he was magically able to translate into his work.

His distinct architectural style borrowed from Greek tradition with traces of cultural influences from Asia, Africa, South America and the Middle East. Mostly, though, it was about British Columbia. He used light, wood, stone and other natural elements in a way that captured the essence of the West Coast.

Erickson was born and raised in Vancouver, and went on to study at the University of British Columbia and McGill University, where he graduated with his Bachelor of Architecture in 1950. He became a member of the AIBC in 1953. In 1955, he began teaching at the University of Oregon before joining the UBC School of Architecture in 1956. Erickson also worked for several local architectural firms over the years before teaming with Geoffrey Massey to open a practice in 1963. In 1972, Erickson established his own Vancouver-based firm.

In 2005, he resigned as an AIBC-registered architect. Erickson’s architectural assent truly began in 1963, when he teamed up with Geoffrey Massey to conceptualize and create the Simon Fraser University campus. Even today, his vision for an academic village still resonates on Burnaby Mountain.

From there, Erickson quickly amassed a portfolio of groundbreaking work, not only in Canada but around the world. He created landmark buildings in London and Los Angeles. He was responsible for the Canadian Embassy in Washington and Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto.

Closer to home, he gave us such iconic spaces as Vancouver’s Robson Square and the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. His genius was not limited to large public projects: Erickson-designed homes are still scattered like gems about the Lower Mainland.

Perhaps his greatest legacy, however, is the inspiration he gave to others. Several of today’s architectural leaders spent time learning at his hand. Many others chose to become architects because of Erickson and his peers. His ideas continue to shape the next generation of architects.

Too often in Canada, we do not truly appreciate our own. Erickson collected national recognition along the way, including being named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1973, and a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1981. While he was known and admired at home, he was also revered on the international stage. He was the first Canadian to receive the American Institute of Architects’ highest honour, the AIA Gold Medal. He collected comparable honours from the French Academie d’Architecture as well as the Royal Architectural Institute of
Canada.

One cannot overstate Arthur Erickson’s impact on Canadian architecture. He was a teacher, mentor, collaborator, creator, artist, and visionary. His loss brings sadness, but also admiration and awe.


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