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Hundreds attend Arthur Erickson memorial

June 14, 2009

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Some 800 people attended a memorial service at SFU Burnaby for architect Arthur Erickson—and all were framed by his work.

Choir-song, classical music, a Japanese flute, and tributes to Erickson echoed in Convocation Mall, and the sun shone bright on it and on the Academic Quadrangle (AQ) building and its steps to the east.

It was June 14, and it would have been Erickson’s 85th birthday.

Erickson died in Vancouver on May 20. His world-spanning career in architecture included co-designing the unique SFU campus atop Burnaby Mountain with Geoffrey Massey in 1963.

Among the tributes at the memorial:

  • “A prince and a poet among us . .  a man of innate kindness and compassion. . . . The poems of his long life’s journey live on.”—Abraham Rogatnick, UBC professor emeritus of architecture, and long a friend and neighbour of Erickson.
  • “You always said you could never conceive of a building apart from its setting. . . .You challenged the site on the mountaintop . . .”—Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, landscape architect and a collaborator with Erickson for 35 years.
  • “A poet of built space.”–Very Rev. Peter Elliott, dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver and celebrant of the memorial.

And readings included these from Erickson himself:

  • “The architect has the opportunity—and I believe the duty—of being a cohesive force.  . . . As the mechanization of life and man proceeds on its relentless course, we need to reaffirm that which the machines would atrophy in us—the human spirit.”
  • “I came to understand that in all traditional Japanese art the subject was nature, not man. . . . Humanism has shaped our aesthetics. But the Japanese base their aesthetics on the tree form. . . . A building, therefore, should not stand on the ground but be rooted in place. Its structure grows upward like a trunk and ends in the sweep of the eave, like a branch gesturing towards heaven. . . . The static proportions and muscular tensions of Western architecture are replaced with a reaching, spiralling gesture, which to the uninitiated seems weak but actually reflects powers more profound than man himself.”

As the ceremony drew to an end, Japanese flute player Takeo Yamashiro paid musical tribute Erickson.

And far behind him, a lone student carrying on with his normal day climbed the steps up to the AQ.

Here’s an earlier story about Erickson and his work at SFU. It includes video of a 2006 interview with Erickson and colleague Geoff Massey.

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Nicole Weghsteen

It was a memorable day for me, honouring an outstanding Canadian icon on the SFU Campus that he designed in the mid-sixties. Those who described Erickson's style marrying structure and nature were describing what those present were observing: the clean lines of the AQ framing the multicolour Japanese maples on a deep sky-blue backdrop. Magic.

Jeannine St-Onge

I discovered Arthur Erickson a few days after he died.He was on the biography channel.I used to like victorian houses.I do not like my decor anymoore.If ever I am in Vancouver I would like to put flowers on his grave,If youlet me Know where he is buried.It will make up for not living in the Graham house I keep looking at his web site I also bought his book. Jeannine.

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