By Michael Green, MGA
When I was young, I didn’t know any architects. What I knew was that I loved to build and draw and that certain buildings made me feel different, though I wasn’t sure why. My mother would bring home library books on architecture and I would pore over them. Year after year, Arthur Erickson’s work resonated most for me. I lived in Ottawa with East Coast trees, but Erickson’s houses sculpted into the magic of West Coast forests, framed views of mountains drawn in the clouds at SFU and shone light on First Nations art and culture through UBC’s Museum of Anthropology in its bold, rugged, clean architecture. I was fascinated with the thought of how these very Canadian buildings that I had never visited might feel to walk around and to be inside. So, in time, I too became an architect, and, in time, I moved to Vancouver and began to truly appreciate the profound nature of Erickson’s work.
The late Erickson in his home in 2007.
In Canada, I believe, Erickson remains the most important architect in our modern history. When I moved to Vancouver, I came to see his work in the context of the brilliant people like Nick Milkovich and so many other design leaders here he collaborated with. What I came to admire most was the ambition of the entire office and of Arthur: his ambition to try new things and push new limits; to change the conventions of the day and to make our city better.
Erickson’s groundbreaking designs at Robson Square and the Law Courts are a testament to his refusal to follow convention.
The Law Courts became my favourite building in the city, and remains so to this day. That building broke a convention. It was intended to be vertical, but Arthur saw it differently. His choice was to lay the vertical preconception into a horizontal building. The result creates a building that is alive with community, in it and over it and underneath it. And the longer I’ve worked in Vancouver, the more I’ve come to think that I’m not sure an architect could do that today. Too often our city has put up roadblocks to truly innovative thinking.
Another snapshot of the Law Courts.
The architect’s role is to push boundaries and rules and challenge institutions to solve real problems and to make living in our city better. Arthur’s work in the city exemplified the idea that we should aspire and innovate here. Nature is our backdrop but the walls we choose to build deeply matter.
Our predecessor magazine, Western Homes & Living, featured a stunning Erickson design on the July 1964 cover.
I think what Arthur showed us was boldness and leadership, and true vision. He also reminded us what a great team of shared values can do. He created a foundation for our city that we all still cherish. He elevated design from here to the world stage.
A spread from the July 1964 Western Homes & Living.
Arthur’s aspiration of what our city should pursue is what we as designers must pursue. It’s important that we move beyond following the stifling rules, red tape and nimbyism and instead challenge institutions—from the VAG to the City of Vancouver—as to what we should be. That’s our job. And Arthur showed us how.