Garages and Starchitects - May 12, 2022
Updated: May 17
Arthur Erickson: the man, the myth, the legend. A starchitect before starchitects were cool. According to Raymond Mah of Leap Creative, Erickson was not simply an architect but a philosopher, an artist, a spiritualist, and a global explorer! Sometimes I think we put Erickson on a little bit too high a pedestal, but that's only because I wish we had more diversity in whom we choose to study. He truly did make a name for himself and created some iconic works of architecture in Canada. I appreciate Arthurs's inspiration and close relationships with female painters and artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Pat Taylor and Emily Carr. If I’m being honest, I didn’t care much for a play-by-play life story of Arthur Erickson from birth to death, but the discussions on his morals and practice did incite some specific thoughts. The topic of this reflection will focus on Arthur Erickson’s personal home and garden. I signed up for a tour of the garden in a few weeks, hosted by the Arthur Erickson Foundation, so I hope to reflect on this reflection post-visit.
According to the Arthur Erickson Foundation (AEF), Arthur described his home and garden as “a clearing in the forest” (AEF, n.d.). The garden boasts lush rhododendrons, ferns, bamboos, dogwood trees, and a Douglas fir— a quiet oasis in Point Grey. The foliage is reflected in his iconic reflecting pond, all just modestly located behind a simple cedar fence (AEF, n.d.). Erickson bought this double lot property on West 14th Ave. for $11,000 in 1957. Erickson owned this home until 1992 when he was forced to file for bankruptcy. At this time, his friends like Peter Wall and Phyllis Lambert, along with Capital Group Inc. and Power Corporation of Canada, donated mortgages and were able to lift the mortgage Erickson had and transfer the title to the foundation (Mulgrew, 1997). AEF President Phil Boname mentioned that the lot at the time of Arthur’s purchase was just a garage. He later expanded the garage into an entire home and created his garden oasis. I find the idea of ‘the garage’ to be a fascinating notion. This idea reminded me of a chapter from Borden and Meredith’s book Matter: Material Processes in Architectural Production (2012). Last term, in Joe Dahmen’s Material Ecologies class, he asked us to read chapter 7 from the book titled “Open.” The chapter is written by David Benjamin, a successful architect, founder and principal of The Living, an architectural firm focusing on research and practice, and most importantly, prototyping. In “Open,” he begins with a discussion on ‘The Garage.’ He talks about the work done in the garage as being raw, quick and rough. Apple Computer, Microsoft, and the band Fugazi all started in garages. Benjamin writes:
The garage became a place for software, circuit boards, and young misfits with long hair. It was a room for combining concepts with physical materials, through a method of experimenting and prototyping. The garage meant suspicion of conventional thinking. The garage was a place to say f*** you to the way things are usually done…. For creative young people, the garage and the basement were not just practice spaces. They were a state of mind.
-From "Open" in Matter, David Benjamin, 2012, p.143
I imagine Arthur’s garage, home, and garden were not simply escapes for him. I believe they were points of inspiration. Phil later said that nearly every one of Arthur’s commissions included an integrated water element. It seemed like his garden and his reflecting pool were his muse. While some of his commissions, like Eppich II, are quite the opposite of a small garage home (one without a view nonetheless), I think Arthur had this sensitivity to scale and modesty. Perhaps his modest home in Point Grey kept him grounded and realistic. He avoided falling into the flashy “here I am! check me out!” architecture world. Maybe that is what sets him apart from the starchitects that came after him, like Frank Gehry or Bjarke Ingles.
Benjamin, David. “Open.” Matter: Material Processes in Architectural Production, by Gail Peter
Borden and Michael Meredith, Routledge, 2012, pp. 143–153.
Mulgrew, Ian. "Erickson's Heritage Site Saved by Donors: ‘A Magical Poetic Spirit’ [Final Edition]”
The Vancouver Sun (1986), 1997.