Arthur Erickson: Modernist architect celebrated as a master of concrete

Canada's well-known modern architect Arthur Erickson died last month aged 84 in Vancouver. Last year, an exhibition was held at Canada House in Trafalgar Square acknowledging his unique contribution to architecture in Canada and other parts of the world. The exhibit included work by his former assistants James Cheng and Bing Thom, who described Erickson as one of "the greatest Canadians of all time. He has done so much to put Canadian architecture on the map." In a sense, he defined West Coast Modernism in Canada. He abhorred the post-Modernist phase in architecture, with its historicist and superficial ornamentation.

Outside Canada, the projects his largish firm carried out include the Napp Laboratories at Cambridge, the Kuwait Oil Sector Complex in Kuwait, the Kunlun Apartment Hotel building in Beijing and the San Diego Convention Center. He had branch offices in Los Angeles, Toronto, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Many of these schemes were big projects in their own right, but designed before the now current, iconic "star architecture" took over. His buildings were creative works of art, drawn by hand and both innovative and experimental. He was closely attentive to landscape details and usually built in concrete, a material he loved, calling it "the marble of our time".

Arthur Erickson was born in 1924, a native of Vancouver and the son of influential promoters of the arts. They encouraged him to establish contacts with other artists. However, it was the sight of an article in Fortune magazine on Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West, Scottsdale that inspired him to take up the architecture course at Montreal's McGill University. He later commented in his autobiography that, "If such a magical realm was the province of an architect, I would become one." He did, graduating in 1950.

After graduation, his first major university project was for the Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, which he won together with his then-partner, Geoffrey Massey. Other work immediately followed, including his widely published and beautifully landscaped "horizontal skyscraper" for the Vancouver Law Courts, an elegant and transparent attempt to democratise the legal system. According to Erickson, with this building a passer-by was meant to be able to see justice at work.

Among other prestigious national projects was the Canadian Pavilion for Expo 67, shaped in the form of an inverted pyramid for that year's World's Fair in Montreal. He also designed the popular Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. Less successful, perhaps, was the Canadian Embassy that he designed for Washington DC, which was a direct commission awarded by the Prime Minster of Canada, Pierre Trudeau, without due process.

At the Vancouverism exhibition at Canada House, it was claimed that Erickson was the first to believe that Vancouver "could be a world-class city". Subsequent events, including the concentration on a more diverse and dense urban planning fabric in the city, brought in more residential sites with expansive sea views, while commercial areas were moved to downtown sites such as Richmond.

The huge concrete superstructure that Erickson designed for the Museum of Anthropology (1976) at the University for British Columbia not only framed a splendid ocean view, but also provided generous spaces and superb light conditions for the tallest of all the Totems displayed within. A major achievement locally, it is undeniably one of the best buildings he designed, drawing as it does upon both local native cultural sources and the solid concrete technology of the modern movement.

A master of modern concrete, Erickson experimented with the rough-textured, concrete-framed commercial high building for MacMillan-Bloedel in downtown Vancouver in the mid-Sixties. Its neat, egg-crate façade is amplified by his use of an entasis that allows the building to reduce its structural loading towards the top, making it a more economical solution for high building.

Arthur Erickson, who was unmarried, is survived by his brother, Don Erickson, his nephews, Christopher and Geoffrey, and his niece, Emily McCullum.

Dennis Sharp

Arthur Erickson, architect and landscape architect: born Vancouver 14 June 1924; died Vancouver 20 May 2009.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Content Leader

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This role requires a high level...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent