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Canadian Architect: Review of 50 Years of Canadian Architect Awards
| January 3, 2018

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They're 50

From Issue No. 265 | January 11, 2018

They’re 50

Looking back on five decades of architectural hopes, triumphs and signs of our times.

Canadian Architect Awards

James Murray, the first editor of Canadian Architect.

In 1967, Canadian Architect’s founding editor James Murray was joined by architects Macy DuBois and Eberhard Zeidler to deliberate for two days on the best of Canadian design. The three men pored over a field of 232 submissions, and in choosing a handful of projects deemed to “reflect the most advanced thinking” in the profession, launched the inauguralCanadian Architect Yearbook Awards.

Among that first year’s winners were Moshe Safdie, John B. Parkin and Raymond Moriyama, whose works in no small way still shape what and how we think about architecture in Canada. Also lauded was Clifford & Lawrie’s proposed scheme for the Spadina Expressway at the Eglinton Interchange in Toronto, a project that aspired to accommodate the freeway by “harmoniously” integrating an underground pedestrian passageway below it, and proving to the jury that “we no longer have to fear the car.” (Jane Jacobs et al felt otherwise, though, and the partially constructed Expressway was cancelled in 1971.) The offering in 1973 of an Award of Excellence for Sankey Associates’s urban-design scheme for Montreal’s Quartier Notre-Dame affirmed the still-dominant belief in separating urban areas into discrete sections for living, working, visiting, driving, walking, tourism, government and industry—all bordered off from each other with an artisanally hand-drawn turquoise line.

Canadian Architect Awards

One of the early Canadian Architect Award winners; the 1973 design proposal for the Quartier Notre-Dame in Old Montreal, by Sankey Associates

In the years to come, the annual Awards became a staple for the magazine and the profession, for the first 25 years always with James Murray as jury chair and two high-calibre architects rounding things out. Emerging as a new Canadian identity coalesced in the afterglow of the Centennial, the Awards came into being amidst a Canadian architectural awakening. 

The Awards increasingly came to reflect the growing diversity, pluralism and overall standards of the profession and its work. Beginning in the 1970s, the juries gradually evolved from a Toronto-centric all-male group to represent more varied demographics. The name changed from the Yearbook Awards to the Awards of Excellence, signaling a new rigour and higher standard of accomplishment and innovation. Consequently, fewer Awards were bestowed—and in 1980, none whatsoever. In 1997, the evaluations became more nuanced by offering awards in two tiers: Excellence and Merit. Recognition of the next generation was added in 1987 with the establishment of the first Student Awards. In 1991, Ruth Cawker become the first female juror.

Since 1968, the juries celebrated several hundred projects, with the full list of Awards of Excellence winners now published in the following pages. From the winners, a handful of design have been highlighted. These projects aren’t necessarily the objective “best” of the hundreds of entries, but they are works that encapsulate the architectural and social values of their decade. The other hundreds of projects tabled in these columns tell those stories too, and taken together, chart the profession’s remarkable evolution to the present.

What became of them all? Some projects, such as Craig, Zeidler & Strong’s massively ambitious Toronto Harbour City, were never built. Others, like Norman Hotson’s Granville Island redevelopment, have become national landmarks. Many more helped to push architectural thinking in quieter ways. Some winning projects have already been demolished, recognized as missteps or later recognized as tragically lost masterpieces. Others are facing the quieter erasure of being slowly forgotten, surfacing intermittently to graze the fringes of public consciousness through architectural Twitter or—ahem—a wistful magazine retrospective. All of them—whether built or not—express something about the profession, and about us. By virtue of being chosen, they are a record of our collective values.

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