Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Hundreds honour 'poet' of architecture Add to ...

Under a postcard-perfect sky, sheltered by a glass and concrete canopy of his own creation, hundreds of mourners gathered at Simon Fraser University to honour architect Arthur Erickson.

They spoke of his great friendships, his passion for nature, and his unending curiosity, which propelled him to travel the world in search of inspiration. His legacy, they said, is a wealth of distinctive buildings across Canada and the world, including Simon Fraser University atop Burnaby Mountain, Vancouver's law courts, the Canadian embassy in Washington and Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto.

More Related to this Story

Mr. Erickson, considered one of Canada's greatest architects, died May 20 at age 84. He would have turned 85 Sunday.

The ceremony was simple, elegant and eclectic, not unlike the man himself. The service included a string quartet, a soloist who sang Ave Maria , and a traditional Japanese flautist.

"What can I say? This is Arthur," said friend Nancy Southam just before the service began.

Outside his professional life, Mr. Erickson was remembered as a compassionate, kindly gentleman whose old-school manners charmed friends and admirers.

"He was a prince and a poet among us," said Abraham Rogatnick, his friend of more than half a century. "Alas, the poet is gone. But the poem of his life's long journey lives on."

Dean Peter Elliott of Vancouver's Christ Church Cathedral said it was fitting to remember Mr. Erickson on the grounds of Simon Fraser University, a small city of concrete and glass perched on the suburban Vancouver mountain. The university was one of Mr. Erickson's first architectural achievements.

Mr. Erickson and then-partner George Massey won a provincial competition to design the school, which opened in 1965.

"Its elevations and dimensions call to mind the broader aspirations of the human intellect and spirit, and connect us to all that is beautiful," Dean Elliott told mourners.

Others described Mr. Erickson as a "poet" of architecture.

"He became most renowned as an artist's architect, whose life and whose work can be seen as a long and lyrical, but silent poem," said Mr. Rogatnick, a fellow architect and University of British Columbia professor.

Mr. Rogatnick met Mr. Erickson 54 years ago in Vancouver and "immediately I knew I was in the presence of someone rare.

"And over the years I marvelled at the absence of self-importance he demonstrated even as his creative vision marked triumph after triumph.

"To him it was the poetry - not the poet - that mattered."

Another friend and contemporary, landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, spoke of their shared love of the outdoors, the "sea and mountains" and how he struggled to introduce the natural world into urban settings.

The pair worked together on Vancouver's law courts, which included one of the country's first green rooftops, and later collaborated on the Museum of Anthropology at UBC.

"You talked about the city as the greatest achievement of mankind," Ms. Oberlander said.

"You wished us to shoulder responsibility for the betterment of all in the city."

Mr. Erickson leaves his brother, Donald, two nephews, a niece and extended family.

The architect's passing didn't go unnoticed outside his circle of friends and colleagues. Last week, near a bench on the rooftop garden of Vancouver's law courts, a note was left that read: "Thank you Arthur Erickson."

 

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories