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The city of Vancouver recently saw images of Arthur Erickson—both the man and his masterworks—projected onto his iconic 1969 MacMillan Bloedel office tower as part of celebrations marking the renaming of the building as Arthur Erickson Place. While the light show was a visual treat, it also offered a much needed opportunity to reflect on Vancouver’s well-timed “Ericksonian moment.”
Indeed, while the internationally renowned architect was often ignored—and even scorned—in his birth city, as his 100th birthday approaches, the city whose form he helped shape is finally showing some love. At last, it seems, Erickson’s futuristic visions are no longer at odds with the once provincial port town he grew up in. And Vancouver is showing the love more than a decade after Erickson’s death.
Take Robson Square, Erickson's triumph of urban planning, located in the center of Vancouver. Initially imagined as a sort of high-rise turned on its side, Robson Square has finally become pedestrian-only, just as Erickson first envisioned it some four decades ago. At the same time—and imbued with a similar spirit of modernism—a young Vancouver furniture designer has created new pieces inspired by Erickson’s buildings.
This latest offering by designer Sholto Scruton, is known as the Mac Low chair. Inspired by Erickson’s brutalist beauty affectionately known as the “Mac Blo” building—which features a concrete grid patterning and miraculously column free interior—Sholto Scruton’s chair was created when the designer was working with the late landscape architect and long-time Erickson collaborator Cornelia Oberlander (who died earlier this year from COVID). The duo were tasked with re-animating the courtyard of the Mac Blo tower to create a more socially friendly outdoor space. Now the chair’s three iterations can re-animate your living room.
For devoted Erickson archiphiles, you can now place this furniture in original Erickson homes. Local realtor West Coast Modern is currently offering three different Erickson-designed listings, including his stellar 1967 Catton house, a kind of post-and-beam spaceship perched on a rugged West Vancouver mountainside.
As local appreciation for Vancouver’s—and some say Canada’s—greatest architect grows, it’s hard not to find a corner of the city that Erickson hasn’t influenced. His famous 1955 sketch of Vancouver as a city of towers by the sea has recently been realized. Although Vancouver remains out of reach for most citizens as North America’s most unaffordable city for real estate, Erickson’s public spaces still welcome visitors and locals alike.
Robson Square is located roughly 900 feet southeast of the Mac Blo / Arthur Erickson Square complex. The three-block expanse encompasses new law courts, offices, and public space that culminates in the Vancouver Art Gallery, which was adapted from Francis Rattenbury’s 1911 Neoclassical courthouse in 1981. Now, almost four decades later, Erickson’s original vision of pedestrianizing the Robson Street entrance of the VAG and joining it to the larger complex has materialized.
The City of Vancouver-funded project began in Fall 2019 and comprised work on the north and south sides of the VAG. The North Plaza, newly renamed šxʷƛ̓ənəq Xwtl’e7énḵ Square, (which roughly translates in local First Nations language as “a cultural and ceremonial gathering place,”) symbolically shed its colonial skin by reframing the plaza as an open space.
The plaza is still a popular place for public gatherings and protests, but new seating and landscaping also encourage more casual urban hang outs. A sculptural bus stop at the plaza’s eastern side offers stylish shelter, and breaks down the scale of the massive, black glass office tower across the street, entering into a dialogue with trees planted along Hornby Street to the west.
The South Plaza, completed at the end of March, is a more intimate space than the larger one to the north, and it contains everything from small social gatherings to jazz festivals. Erickson’s original idea of paving Robson Square was literally stretched across Robson Street. Its seamless integration was achieved by using concrete pavers with articulated granite patterns that blend with the complex’s original paving.
While Erickson’s classically proportioned Simon Fraser University Campus on the eastern edge of greater Vancouver has enjoyed recent updates, his stunning Museum of Anthropology at the far western edge of the city on UBC campus, is currently undergoing a major renovation. The great hall, with its soaring glass sea views framed by Northwest Coast totem poles, is being seismically upgraded by Nick Milkovich—his long-time collaborator—and his architectural team.
It was there that Erickson’s 80th birthday was celebrated, complete with local indigenous honor songs and dances, but sadly his original vision for a reflecting pool was not realized until the year after his death, in 2010. With any luck, the museum’s upgrade will be finished in time to celebrate Erickson’s centenary in 2024, in a city that has now matured enough to appreciate one of its greatest architects and his significant civic legacy.
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest