NATIONAL

Who will save the modernist legacy in B.C.?

NANCY MACDONALD January 21 2008
NATIONAL

Who will save the modernist legacy in B.C.?

NANCY MACDONALD January 21 2008

Who will save the modernist legacy in B.C.?

NANCY MACDONALD

The December demolition of a West Vancouver house designed by renowned Canadian architect Arthur Erickson has given a new urgency to efforts to preserve Vancouver’s disappearing modernist heritage. The David Graham house, an architectural icon built in 1963—and featured in a four-page spread in Life magazine in 1968— helped build Erickson’s reputation as one of the world’s leading architects, says Rhodri Windsor-Liscombe, head of art history at the University of British Columbia.

The “intensely significant” wood-and-glass home, built into a cliff face 40 feet above the sea, was “West Coast modernism at its best,” he says. Owner Shiraz Lalji, a London-based property developer—whose media-shy family is ranked 50th-richest in the country by Canadian Business magazine—was well aware of its significance, and of the last-minute push to protect it as an historic site. No dice. Lalji is planning a new home for the site.

Preservationists’ worries now turn to B.C. Binning’s 1941 West Vancouver home, where the artist lived and worked until his death in 1976, and where Jessie, his widow, lived until her death last May. Ten days after Erickson’s Graham House fell, the geometric Binning House, a National Heritage site credited with kick-starting the West Coast modernist style, was put up for sale. The non-profit Land Conservancy of British Columbia, however, mindful of the grief over the Graham House, is talking to the estate about taking over stewardship of the curious residence, which incorporates the artist’s murals, both inside and out.

The destruction of Erickson’s early masterpiece was “tragic,” according to the 83-year-old architect. Conservationists will have to be nimble if they want to prevent further tragedies in a city where ocean views are in high demand and land values have skyrocketed. M