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Architect Bing Thom has died at age 75. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/The Associated Press)
Architect Bing Thom has died at age 75. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/The Associated Press)

Community shocked by sudden death of Vancouver architect Bing Thom Add to ...

Bing Thom may have been well into his 70s, but he was still full of energy and still designing buildings with the power to engage their communities, a British Columbia developer said on Tuesday amid shock and dismay at Mr. Thom’s death.

“He was 75 turning 55,” said Ian Gillespie, president and CEO of Westbank, a development company based in Vancouver with more than $25-billion in projects completed or under development, including four in the works with Mr. Thom. “He had another 15 years of great work in front of him.

“He was at the peak of his career right now.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Thom, who founded the Vancouver-based Bing Thom Architects and designed noted buildings around the world, including many in British Columbia, died of a brain aneurysm in Hong Kong, where he was born in 1940. His wife, Bonnie, was at his side.

Mr. Gillespie said in an interview that he knew Mr. Thom was ill, but was taken aback by his death and the fact they would never talk again. “I feel like we got cut off in mid conversation,” he said.

B.C. leaders remembered a gracious individual who was candid and as committed to communities around his buildings as to the buildings themselves. His legacy, they said, is the libraries, community centres, performing arts centres and other buildings he designed.

“His legacy and his positive impact on the world around him will stand the test of time,” B.C. Premier Christy Clark said in a statement. She added that Mr. Thom “combined a passion for innovation with a holistic approach to making the world a better place to live.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid tribute to Mr. Thom on Twitter, writing: “Bing Thom’s unique and outstanding work left its mark in British Columbia and around the world.”

The Architectural Institute of British Columbia said it would take some time to figure out how to pay tribute to Mr. Thom. “Bing Thom’s vision encouraged us all to consider how buildings affect the world beyond their walls,” institute president Darryl Condon said in a statement.

Leslie Van Duzer, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s architecture school, said Mr. Thom, whom she knew, was also a pioneer in the field for his devotion to ensuring public comfort with his buildings.

“I think his greatest legacy is his understanding of the power of architecture to build communities,” she said. “Much more important than the building itself is its role as a catalyst for its surroundings and its community, the community it serves.”

Ms. Van Duzer said her favourite project was the large but intimate Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at UBC, where Mr. Thom studied architecture in the 1960s before further studies at the University of California, Berkley.

Other buildings include the Central City Surrey complex in British Columbia’s second-largest city, and the sleek, central branch of Surrey’s library system. That building, combined with a new city hall nearby that Mr. Thom did not design, are import parts of the new downtown for the community southeast of Vancouver.

In an interview, Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner paid tribute to Mr. Thom for his faith in her city, which has had image problems over crime and other issues.

“He has been one of our strongest advocates and supporters for so many years,” said Ms. Hepner, who long watched Mr. Thom from the vantage points of being a senior Surrey civil servant, city councillor and, currently, mayor. “He could see what was possible.”

Projects outside Canada included the Mead Centre for American Theatre in Washington, and the Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, Tex., and the Xiqu Centre Opera House in Hong Kong.

After his studies and work in Tokyo, Mr. Thom was project director for Arthur Erickson Architects, overseeing such projects as Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto and Vancouver’s Robson Square Courthouse Complex.

In 1982, he founded Bing Thom Architects. On Tuesday, the firm said in a statement that Mr. Thom had wanted principal Venelin Kokalov to lead the firm into the future – an idea endorsed by the senior management team. “I am committed to carrying Bing’s dreams and vision into the future,” Mr. Kokalov said in the statement.

Mr. Gillespie said three of four Westbank projects with Mr. Thom are largely designed. “Now what we’re going to do is we’re going to just double down and take the projects we were working on and make them as good as he ever could have imagined. That’s the best we could do to respect that legacy.”

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