Modernist home gets a 21st century update


by Trevor Boddy / The Globe and Mail Published February 2008

A thorough revamp of a 1956 home holds true to its heritage while re-energizing a beautiful space

‘Every time it snows,” says Bruce Stuart, “I put on Mike Oldfield’s recording of Tubular Bells, then watch the snowflakes drift down into the glass courtyard.” The theme from The Exorcist may be a fitting musical accompaniment to watching flakes dart and dance, but the house pride of Mr. Stuart and wife Marg is the tune that truly resonates here.

We are gazing at the 16-foot-square, glassed-in, snow-collecting courtyard at the centre of their modernist, Palm Springs-style house, designed by Vancouver architect R.R. McKee in 1956 for Stanley Waroway, owner of a beauty supplies company.

Mr. Stuart, a management consultant, and his wife, an interior designer, have restored the Endowment Lands home and added an extension. With its flavour of the 1960s desert retreats of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., the Stuart home stands in stark contrast to a woodsy West Coast-style house next door, designed by Ron Thom.


The original 1956 rendering made by R.R. McKee.  Architect Nick Milkovich’s U-shaped addition to the home is where the car port used to be. The plan of this squared-out house on a large lot with spectacular view could hardly be simpler: A square doughnut of living spaces and bedrooms around a central courtyard.

While the Stuart home’s window proportions and eave-height run of slatted sun-screens are carefully worked out, the plan … Read More

OVER THE TOP: Omer Arbel Humanizes ‘Master of the Universe’ Penthouse-cum-Showroom


by Trevor Boddy / The Globe and Mail Published November 2013

It is one of those ‘only in Vancouver’ tales.  The top two floors of the condo tower at 1000 Beach Avenue are roughed-in a decade ago—potentially the grandest penthouse in the entire city.  Construction proceeds only to raw unfinished concrete walls, with a never-used private lap pool, and an empty 35 foot high ceiling living room. This sky abode to-be was bought and sold a number of times, but never finished, never occupied.

While the price of this potential penthouse increased with every transaction, the fact that it could make people money without anyone ever actually living there became symbolic of a downtown Vancouver real estate scene soaring past vitality into absurdity. Why bother with paint, furniture and occupants, some in the business wondered, if there is money to be made on flipping a cipher, speculating on a ghost, trading on mere potential, rather than messy reality?

It is ‘Vancouverism’ in a nutshell that this proto-residence became more profitable than most others complicated by actual inhabitation. Like any icon, the empty space at 1000 Beach became the object of speculation and gossip, and over the past ten years, I have heard lots of it: “Pavel Bure has made an offer;” “They are going to subdivide the nearly 8,000 square feet of it—it’s too big for Vancouver;” “It’s going to be used as a diplomatic mission, or a VANOC guest house;” “Axl Rose is going to buy;” and most … Read More

Bloc 10 Housing, Winnipeg, Canada by 5468796


by Trevor Boddy / The Architectural Review / Published in November 2012

The question of affordable housing lurks, the recurring bad dream of contemporary architecture. The difficulty of building dwellings simply and well imparts a night terror to many of us, and we are unable to deny its sepulchral truths in the days that follow.  The Art Nouveau era—much like the similarly sinuous boom of the last decade—were times of splendidly urbane apartment blocks, or villas in city or countryside brimming with lush ornamentation and restless surfaces.

But at the end of the First World War, the profession turned as one (in Continental Europe, at least, where destruction was most concentrated) to the problem of affordable housing.  Whether the German debate about existenzminimum, Le Corbusier’s speculations about the house as a “a machine for living,” to the prototypes, both good and bad, tested at Stuttgart’s 1927 Wiesenhofsiedlung, new housing forms to repair a blasted Europe were the heart of the Modern project.

Half a decade into this global recession, there is scant evidence of the profession rising from its fluffy bed of Aestheticism Nouveau to again confront the creation of mass housing that people can actually afford. In Canada, au contraire bien-sur: Frank Gehry’s recent presentation of a staggeringly dense cluster of three calypso-ing condo towers for Toronto’s Mirvish family; a Foster’s team under Nigel Dance opening Vancouver’s muddled Jameson Tower (amazingly, the mega-firm’s first constructed high rise apartment building); and in the same city, BIG from Read More

I. M. Pei: Mandarin, Brahmin, Mover + Shaker


by Trevor Boddy / The Architectural Review, London / Published in September, 2012

Following the life and impact of IM Pei: the first non-Western architect to rise to the peaks of the global profession

There is a world of difference between the two Chinese-born architects who have won the Pritzker Prize. 1983 winner Ieoh Ming Pei left China as a teenager for studies in the US, graduating directly into a dozen-year spell as in-house designer for prominent New York developer William Zeckendorf.

Accordingly, Pei’s work is corporate in character (leavened by loss-leading cultural complexes) and only rarely, and almost guiltily, Chinese. The 2011 Pritzker Prize went to Wang Shu − whose work is tactile, hand-shaped, at times surreally idiosyncratic, but also linked to Chinese traditions in ways the roots-seeking Pei never understood. Shu’s Pritzker win can only be read as a pointed rejoinder to Pei’s cohort of global corporate firms.

Pei should ultimately join his former teacher Walter Gropius near the front of the long line of most over-praised architects of the 20th century. But he is important for other reasons: crucially, as the first non-Western architect to rise to the peaks of the global profession. That ascent is worth examining, because it says much about both the profession, and this architect’s managerial acumen − his major legacy.

Pei’s father was manager of the Bank of China’s Canton branch when the Chinese civil war broke out (forcing him to bundle the two-year-old Ieoh Ming off to refuge in Hong Kong); … Read More

A light touch: Bing Thom’s Library in Surrey BC, Canada


by Trevor Boddy / The Architectural Review, London / Published in March 2012

Daylight and books are often regarded as incompatible, but this library in Metro Vancouver is a poetic and scientific sculpting of light that animates a dramatic interior

Architects have come to view natural light as a generic commodity, not a precious animator of architectural form. One of the many unintended effects of this era of sustainability is to strip sunlight of the spiritual and synthesizing qualities that it held for designers right up to the time of Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn, and instead to consider it as mere illuminating photons or trickles of electromagnetic energy, like power from a plug. Beginning with Saint-Denis, Abbot Suger’s medieval doctrine of lux continua, the integration of light into public buildings has served symbolic as well as practical purposes, but lately it has been reduced to yet one more interchangeable item on energy management checklists.

However, the ability of sunlight to partially heat buildings is − architecturally speaking − one of its least interesting qualities. Thanks to ray-casting three-dimensional computer programmes for design and rendering, architects have, ironically, never been better able to predict how their creations will respond to the arc of sunlight, but never at so much of a loss about just how to put light at the necessary centre of form-making. Day-lighting has been reduced to a dismal science.

To say that Bing Thom Architects’ new central library for the Vancouver suburb of Surrey is obsessed with … Read More

Montreal, Canada – Exhibitionism: To ‘show’ or to ‘tell’ architecture that is the question


by Trevor Boddy / The Architectural Review, London / Published in December 2010

A complex game of showing and telling architecture in Montreal:

At the peak of the millennial building boom, architects were desperate to design large museums and art galleries. With the diminished expectations of the great recession, architects are now desperate to have mere exhibitions in them.

The explosion of interest in architectural exhibitions – from both our profession and the wider public – was the subject of a late-2010 colloquium sponsored by the Mellon Foundation at Montreal’s Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA). The gathering brought together museum professionals, architects and historians to explore the intellectual terrain of how to transform buildings, public spaces, and most of all, architectural ideas into cogent exhibitions of interest to diverse publics.

Several dozen curators and critics from Italy, Switzerland, France, Holland, UK and the US gathered on the neutral ground of a grey and leaf-strewn Montreal, awaiting its inevitable entombment by snow. To summarise vastly, the Montreal debate was between ‘show’ and ‘tell’; that is, more traditional architectural exhibitions which mount showings of drawings, models and photographs, versus a more recent tendency to construct elaborate thematic narratives heavily reliant on video and wall texts, lots and lots of wall texts. The exhibition curators most associated with the latter tended to spit out the word ‘monograph’ as if the gravest architectural sins are shows or books highlighting drawings and photographs of actual built work by a single designer or firm.

The ‘tell-ers’ … Read More

SCHMALTZ AND SMARTS: Sparkling Hill Resort’s Multifaceted Desig


by Trevor Boddy / ARCADE 29.1 / Published in September 2010

The key to both its schmaltzy, crystalline embellishments as well as its investment in superior architecture is Sparkling Hill’s patron, Austrian Gernot Langes-Swarovski. Yes, that Swarovski family, of the crystal-peddling boutiques in every shopping mall on every continent. While the Canadian hotel is a personal, not a corporate undertaking, the only retail space facing the lobby is a Swarovski store, filled with the usual range of gorgeous prisms and less-than-gorgeous multi-colored confections in glass (see the “Elvis Out of the Blue” pendant in the Current Collection or the Classic Collection’s “Kris Bear Blowing Kisses”).

Via interior designers Seeton Shinkewski Design Group of Vancouver, the patron’s wishes are executed with crystals set into backlit boxes along banisters, festooning the backs of dining room chairs, and dangling by the beaded thousands in the light-filled lobby. The real strangeness, however, is reserved for the guest rooms, which feature a Swarovski “cold fireplace” in crystal shards lit by flickering mood lights, a trianguloid greeting box of white crystals at the entrance and crystal-prism primed spotlights over the picture-window-centered soaker tub. And just when you are trying to get to sleep after performing your evening bath ritual to an audience of falcons and eagles gliding outside, you notice oblique, nite-lite shapes projecting through crystals onto the ceiling above your bed. Talk about over-crystal!

This said – and this seen, as it can hardly be avoided – the architecture by project designer Chris Rowe of … Read More

A new design flair warms Nordic hearts


by Trevor Boddy / The Globe and Mail Published August 2007

With a Vancouver-like horizon of building cranes fore-grounded by dump-truck-laden roads, the Danish capital is wrapped up in a building boom it cannot quite understand, much less tame. While the city is smaller than ours, Copenhagen’s largely redundant port, former shipbuilding havens and deemed-surplus naval dockyards are much larger, but every bit of them now seems swamped in a development wave that is only a few years old.


The Danish dockside building boom has two key differences from our own: no building is taller than 10 stories; and developers must construct a 50-50 balance of housing and workspaces at every major development.  Copenhagen’s planners—low key experts who know Vancouver’s city-building in extraordinary detail—are resolved not to turn their city into a light-less and view-less resort for retirees and hot money investors.  Pass the Danish, please!


Copenhagen is changing with a rapidity seldom seen in Europe. Kierkegaardian grey Nordic diffidence has been replaced by an aggressive play-making, just as Aquavit has been replaced with imported Scotch and Tequila.  Stable, statist predictability falls before roller-coasters of speculation. For example, there is now an over-build of condos, but helpfully a new mania for harbour-side offices is just heating up. This is all because the ancient seat of Danish kings is emerging as the portal city for global business, choosing to locate here to serve all of Scandinavia from its comfortable streets.  The Vikings had nothing on these all-business Danes.

 … Read More

Arthur Erickson’s first masterpiece on sale


by Trevor Boddy / The Globe and Mail / Published in June 2007

 The “most beautiful house in Canada” is up for sale, and $10-million will net you a masterpiece. The Filberg house in Comox was called just that by Canadian Homes in 1961, soon after this airy, pavilion-like dwelling was completed.

The Arthur Erickson-designed house sits astride a spectacular bluff, blessed with one of the most astonishing views in the province: straight south to Hornby and Denman Islands, and past them on to the cone of volcanic Mount Baker, a hundred and sixty kilometres distant; east to the snow-capped peaks of the Coast Range on the mainland, and even west to the closer-in forests and mountain slopes of Vancouver Island.

With the possible exception of the West Vancouver B.C. Binning residence mentioned in last week’s column, the Filberg house has the best integration of modernist house with modernist landscape design in the province. The rolling lawns around the Robert Filberg house are deceiving, as according to Mr. Erickson, they are anything but natural: the slopes, views and shapes of the entire bluff-top landscape were altered by the client working closely with the architect.

“When I first arrived up there,” says Mr. Erickson, “Robert [Filberg]was on top of a small earth-mover, a caterpillar” scrapping and moving the soil of the prime ocean view land his lumber-baron father had long owned. Mr. Filberg had studied at the University of B.C. with Erickson in the early years of World War II, just … Read More