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John Bentley Mays photographed at the Globe's studio on Front St., Toronto.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

The late John Bentley Mays has capped his career with one last award: an honour for explaining the art of architecture to the public.

The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) announced on Monday that Mr. Mays, who died in September, has been awarded the President's Medal for Media in Architecture. This award, given every other year, "recognizes storytelling about buildings and cities that promotes understanding of architecture and the role of architects in the daily lives of Canadians," the institute said in a release.

The award jury cited Mr. Mays "for his artful skill, creative and deeply influential body of work as a writer who expressed universal feelings about architecture with touching simplicity."

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Mr. Mays "played a pivotal role in promoting good architecture to the everyday user," the jury wrote.

The RAIC also honoured McGill University professor Annmarie Adams for an article on hospital architecture in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The Louisiana-born Mr. Mays, a long-time Globe and Mail contributor, died by a sudden heart attack in September at 75. At the time, he was writing a weekly column on residential architecture in Toronto for this newspaper's Real Estate section; before that he served as The Globe's art critic from 1980 to 1998, and also wrote about Toronto in the column Citysites, which was collected in the book Emerald City (1994).

Mr. Mays, who also wrote for Azure, Canadian Architect and Canadian Art among other publications in his long career, was courtly in his manner, but a forceful critic – always eager for debate, particularly about the shape of his adopted home. "When will Toronto allow itself to have a good, old-fashioned fight about architecture?" he asked, wishfully, in a 2009 column.

The virtues that Mr. Mays defended were artistic quality and an idea of architecture as an art form – one that should reflect contemporary culture.

"At least in the form we have it today, architectural traditionalism is a dead end for the mind and soul," he wrote in 2008. "Even the best of such design is a matter of pedantic copying of columns, entablature and so on from old treatises and surviving buildings, while the worst of it (which is much of it) is desolate pastiche and feeble imitation."

Against this, Mr. Mays was thrilled by modernism – for "the inexhaustible fertility, the ever-new relevance," he wrote, "of modernism's often untidy culture of dispute and contention."

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Margaret Cannon, John Bentley Mays's wife of 45 years (and herself a long-time Globe contributor), will accept the award on his behalf during the RAIC's Festival of Architecture convention, which takes place in Ottawa May 24 to 27.

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