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Art & Architecture Henry Yorke Mann: An early proponent of ‘extreme wood’ design

Henry Yorke Mann in 2013.

Denise Mann

Henry Yorke Mann figured among British Columbia's pioneer organic architects, but of a markedly different strand from his more famous peers such as Fred Hollingsworth. Not content to merely avoid crass commercial work, Mr. Mann embraced what might be called "extreme wood" in his architecture and was an active proponent of a back-to-the-land architectural counterculture.

Mr. Mann was was one of the earliest and most ardent proponents of the kind of heavy-timber hand-crafted architecture that would visually symbolize 1960s West Coast bohemianism. Along with fellow University of Oregon architecture graduate Bud Wood, Mr. Mann sought inspiration in arcane geometries and quirky embellishments, but his most distinctive houses, such as the Clark Residence in West Vancouver, were designed more like wood fortresses and elaborate tree houses than conventional homes.

Mr. Mann, who died in Oliver, B.C., on April 2 at 84, was a role model of free thinking for an incoming generation of West Coast architects such as Bob Hassell and Barry Griblin, who built all-wood houses but with a lighter, more economical and streamlined approach.

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"We admired him, because he was taking a different route," Mr. Griblin says, "and that was always appealing to young, renegade architects."

Henry Yorke Mann was born in Rossland, B.C., on Aug. 15, 1930, to a family of builders, but he started out his adult life as a ski racer.

That nascent career ended with a spectacular fall that broke his back. He then studied architecture at the University of Oregon and received his degree in 1954. He returned to Vancouver determined to practise an architecture that expressed the spirit of his time and place. With its hand-built character and almost obsessive use of heavy timber, his domestic architecture could not provide a paradigm for other architects, but its significance lay elsewhere: the vastly over-dimensioned posts and beams posited wood as a monumental building material, much like the great stone buildings of older lands.

By 1970, the commercial pressures of architecture began to weigh heavily upon Mr. Mann and he fled Vancouver and the profession for the life of a homesteader and rancher – first in the Squamish Valley, moving two years later to Oliver, B.C.

In 1993, he returned to architecture, designing his own mandala-inspired home, called Manndala, in Oliver, and several homes on the Gulf Islands near Vancouver. Though his later work was more refined and conventional than his earlier wood extravaganzas, he continued to argue against the austere and inorganic, expressing his aesthetic manifesto with his limited-edition monograph of his 1960s work, Architecture: Part of the God Dance – an elaborately designed book evocative of an earlier era, just like the man who wrote it.

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