July 15, 2024

Architectural Concepts Guide

Elevating Home Design Standards

Design community celebrates late architect’s 100th birthday

4 min read

Arthur Erickson’s style is sprinkled throughout Vancouver — and the world. It’s in the way light pours in through big glass windows in a museum, the reflection of the sun coming off glass at a big city concert hall and the unique use of geography in a prairie university, all blending modernism with natural surroundings. 

While the renowned architect passed away in 2009, his legacy lives on, and special attention is being paid to his work this year on what would have been his 100th birthday. 

Born in Vancouver on June 14, 1924, Erickson went on to study at the nearby University of British Columbia and later at McGill University in Quebec. He travelled the world learning about architecture in different climates and terrains, according to his website. 

His work started off focusing on “modest wood-framed houses,” according to architecture critic Trevor Boddy, who was friends with Erickson. Those modest homes were built primarily in West Vancouver and on Vancouver Island, he said. 

But in the mid-60s, Boddy said that Erickson and fellow architect Geoffrey Massey won a design competition to build Simon Fraser University, which sits atop Burnaby Mountain.

A concrete building
Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. is pictured on June 7, 2024. (Ethan Cairns/CBC)

From there, Erickson went on to design the University of Lethbridge, built into the side of the city’s coulees.

“Arthur thought long and hard: What is a university?” Boddy said. 

“He really was driven less by formal style. [He tried] to make them work for people but also to bump it up a notch to inspire them to take them somewhere where they’ve never been before.”

Two large concrete and glass buildings sit on top of green hills, with a truck driving past on a road in the foreground.
The University of Lethbridge campus and Scenic Drive photographed on May 3 2023. (Ose Irete/CBC)

Erickson designed local buildings, including UBC’s Museum of Anthropology, the provincial Law Courts in Vancouver, the Waterfall building on Granville Island and Canada House. 

Outside of Vancouver, Erickson was behind the Glass Museum in Tacoma, Wash., the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., Fresno City Hall in Fresno, Calif., and Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto, among many other landmarks. 

A building that is mostly glass and concrete, with a water feature
The Waterfall Building by Arthur Erickson is pictured in Vancouver on June 7, 2024. (Ethan Cairns/CBC)

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Legacy

It isn’t just his buildings that had an impact on the architectural community — many architects have come to Vancouver to work with and learn from Erickson, Boddy said. 

In fact, his mentorship left a lasting impression on Boddy himself. 

“I’m here today largely due to Arthur,” he said. 

A man on a screen and framed by books speaks to a woman.
Architect Arthur Erickson talks to the CBC’s Barbara Frum in May 1982. (The Journal/CBC Archives)

Boddy arrived at UBC in the 80s to teach architecture. Seeing Boddy’s knack for architecture writing, Erickson encouraged him to become a critic. 

“He says, well, criticism is very, very important. I’ll do anything I can to help you.” 

Decades later, he’s had a long career doing just that. Boddy is also a director with the Arthur Erickson Foundation, which was established to preserve the legacy of his late friend. 

A building that is mostly glass, concrete and greenery
The Vancouver Law Courts, designed by Arthur Erickson, are pictured in Vancouver, B.C. on June 7, 2024. (Ethan Cairns/CBC)

Celebrations

On Thursday, UBC’s Museum of Anthropology reopened after an 18-month closure for seismic upgrades to the building. 

Museum director Sue Rowley said that, in particular, the Great Hall, designed by Erickson, had been determined to be at great risk should an earthquake hit the coast. 

“One of the things that’s different is this beautiful curtain glass, so you really get that sense of there’s really nothing between you and the outside, which was one of Arthur’s visions,” she said during a tour of the new and improved space. 

Architect Nick Milkovich, who started his career under Erickson and worked on some of the original aspects of the building, also worked on the upgrades and told the Canadian Press he felt a deep sense of responsibility to honour Erickson’s vision. 

“His studio gave me the opportunity to become a decent architect,” Milkovich said of Erickson at the museum on Tuesday. “So, it’s gratitude, and it’s also an obligation to that learning session that I had in that wonderful studio and the people I met.”

A modern-looking glass and concrete building is reflected in the water that fronts it.
The Museum of Anthropology originally opened in 1976. (Christopher Erickson/www.arthurerickson.com)

Milkovich said many of the people he met while working with Erickson still gather regularly, and he’s looking forward to their reactions to the upgraded Great Hall.

“That group of folks, we meet together, reminisce and talk about what we were doing, and I’m going to be taking them through the building,” Milkovich said.

To honour Erickson’s contribution, there will be an architectural tour of the museum on Friday afternoon, followed by a birthday celebration in his honour.

Additionally, the West Vancouver Art Museum is running an exhibition celebrating Erickson’s work, entitled A Refuge: Arthur Erickson. It runs until July 20. 

The Arthur Erickson Foundation also gives regular tours of Erickson’s Garden in the Point Grey neighbourhood of Vancouver, where Erickson lived for 50 years. 

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