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category: Architecture
published: Sep 2013
publisher: Douglas & McIntyre

Arthur Erickson

An Architect's Life

by David Stouck

tagged: artists, architects, photographers

Winner of the City of Vancouver Book Award, the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize, the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Book Prize, and the 2014 Basil Stubbs-Stuart Prize, as well as long-listed for the 2014 RBC Taylor Prize, Arthur Erickson is an intimate portrait of the brilliant and controversial architect who put Canada on the world stage.

Arthur Erickson, Canada's pre-eminent philosopher-architect, was renowned for his innovative approach to landscape, his genius for spatial composition and his epic vision of architecture for people.

Erickson worked chiefly in concrete, which he called "the marble of our times," and wherever they appear, his buildings move the spirit with their poetic freshness and their mission to inspire. Travel was key to Erickson's creative process: floating high above the clouds on extended flights, he made the preliminary drawings for the spectacular, large-scale works that would be built in various parts of Canada -- Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall, Vancouver's Simon Fraser University -- and around the world.

But he was also a controversial figure, more than once attracting the ire of his fellow architects, and leading a complicated personal life that resulted in a series of bankruptcies. In a fall from grace that recalls a Greek tragedy, Canada's great architect -- a handsome, elegant man who lived like a millionaire and counted among his close friends Pierre Trudeau and Elizabeth Taylor -- eventually became penniless.

This first full biography of Erickson, who died in 2009 at the age of 84, traces his life from its modest origins to his emergence on the world stage. Grounded in interviews with Erickson and his family, friends and clients, Arthur Erickson is both an intimate portrait of the man and a stirring account of how he made his buildings work. Brilliantly written and superbly researched, it is also a provocative look at the phenomenon of cultural heroes and the nature of what we call "genius."

About the Author

David Stouck is a professor in the Department of English at Simon Fraser University.

  • Short-listed, Melva J. Dwyer Award
  • Winner, City of Vancouver Book Award
  • Winner, Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Book Prize
  • Winner, The Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize
  • Long-listed, RBC Taylor Prize
  • Winner, The Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize
  • Winner, Basil Stubbs-Stuart Prize
Editorial Reviews

"David Stouck's book is admirably candid about Erickson's architectural excesses, his bankruptcy, his sexuality, and the celebrity craving of his later years. Yet the reader recognizes Erickson's genius not only in his greatest works, such as Simon Fraser University and the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, but in his extraordinary perceptions of what humans could and should do. The pages come alive with a young Leonard Bernstein playing the piano in a forties Vancouver salon, Frank Lloyd Wright presiding at Taliesin, Duke Ellington joining Erickson's graduation party, and Erickson and Pierre Trudeau swimming au naturel in a Laurentian lake. A remarkable biography of an exceptional artist."

— CD Syndicated

"David Stouck offers an intimate and truly fascinating portrait of the complex and contradictory 'starchitect' who was at the heart of Canadian art and design for more than half a century."

— Globe & Mail

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