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Building for the future

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Almost a decade after receiving a reprieve from the university’s threats to shut it down, the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design celebrated its lease on life when it opened Toronto’s first architecture gallery last week.

“The [Eric Arthur] gallery will contribute to a broader understanding of the importance of architecture, landscape architecture and urban design in not only Toronto, but in Canada,” said Larry Wayne Richards, dean of the 111-year-old school. Featuring touring architecture and design exhibits as well as student and faculty work, Richards says he hopes the gallery will become a centre for the exchange of creative ideas between students and professionals.

The celebratory atmosphere on its opening night showed the elegant space—with its dappled limestone floors and expansive bay window overlooking College Street—is a welcome addition to the local art and design scene.

“The window makes visible the interior of the school. It signals an opening up to the street and emphasizes the activity within,” said the gallery’s architect, John Shnier.

Harvard architecture professor Joseph MacDonald joined guests in praising Shnier for integrating the contemporary design of the gallery into a portion of the century-old structure, calling it a good example of a modern insertion into a classical building.

The gallery’s namesake, Eric Ross Arthur, was a New Zealander who emigrated to Canada in 1923 to become a professor of architecture at the University of Toronto. He served in that role until 1966 and remained professor emeritus until his death in 1982 at age 84.

“He was a progressive architect and educator in that he promoted architecture that reflected the changing times of new technologies and new aesthetic notions,” said Richards, who believes Arthur was key in introducing modern design ideas of the ’30s and ’40s to his students. Arthur also helped found the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (an architectural conservation organization) in 1933 and received the Order of Canada in 1968. Many of the structures he lauded in his book Toronto: No Mean City (U of T Press, 1963) are long since gone. Wade Armstrong, the New Zealand High Commissioner, spoke strongly of Arthur as a patriotic First World War veteran who fought with the New Zealand Rifle Brigade. Raymond Moriyama, award-winning architect and former student of Arthur’s, regaled the crowd with humourous anecdotes that painted his mentor as a pedagogical powerhouse with a humane and eccentric personality.

Arthur’s work is on display at the gallery until January 31, 2002.