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Three Views of an Architect

Matt Schudel

I recently wrote the obituary of Canadian architect Arthur Erickson, who designed the Canadian embassy here in Washington. Philip Johnson, the oracular American architect, once said, "Arthur Erickson is by far the greatest architect in Canada, and may be the greatest on this continent."

I chose to concentrate largely on Erickson's controversial design for the Canadian embassy, which is directly across Pennsylvania Avenue from I.M. Pei's East Building of the National Gallery of Art. The project was fraught with anxiety from the beginning, with Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau overruling a commission to award the plum project to Erickson -- a longtime friend who had worked for Trudeau before. Critics eitiher loved the building or hated it. (I have to say I rather like it -- it stands out, in a somewhat unassuming way -- but then the pronouncements of big-time architects usually sail over my head.)

It's interesting to note how other papers approached this obituary.

The New York Times obituary was written by a Canadian, and it reflects Erickson's work in his native country.

The Los Angeles Times's architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne weighed in with an obituary that emphasized Erickson's work in California and focuses on his judgment of its aesthetic qualities. The Canadian embassy is mentioned in passing only once.

It seems that obituaries are a lot like architecture, and the view depends a lot on where one stands.

By Matt Schudel  |  May 23, 2009; 2:12 PM ET
Categories:  Matt Schudel  
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