The Life and Times of Arthur Erickson
The broadcast documentary, The Life and Times of Arthur Erickson spans his formative years growing up in Vancouver, to his work on current design projects as the reigning elder statesman of Canadian architecture. Like Erickson, the film is multi-faceted, and probes the incredible highs and devastating lows of his professional and personal life. By using selected examples of his work as a through line, with critical evaluations by his peers and critics, The Life and Times of Arthur Erickson tells the definitive story of Canada's greatest architect by concentrating on two interwoven themes; Erickson’s character and his social vision.
A complex non-conformist and iconoclast, Erickson's personality has led to inevitable clashes with the upper echelons of artistic and corporate circles, both Canadian and international. His career is marked by a number of high profile controversies, such as the bizarre case of financial mismanagement that led to his bankruptcy in the early 1990s, as well as Trudeau’s bid to select Erickson, a friend and traveling companion, as the designer of the Canadian embassy in Washington, DC. The resulting political storm called for Trudeau's resignation and a judicial inquiry, while Erickson faced venomous attacks from individual architects, as well as the Royal Architecture Institute of Canada and the British Columbia Society of Architects.
Despite his renowned design capabilities, Erickson’s social vision is rooted in the belief that people matter more than architecture and that design is really the least important part. "I am not involved in the aesthetics of architecture or interested in design as such. I'm interested in what buildings can do beyond what they look like, and how they affect whole areas and people's lives. I have never done a building where I didn't at least attempt to see it in a new philosophical or social way."
Erickson’s approach is evidenced through such structures as the BC Provincial Law Courts. Recognised world-wide for its brilliant innovation and stunningly original design, the Law Courts was one of the first major law buildings to move beyond the usual neo-classical edifice and to subvert the intimidating and elitist nature of the legal system. As part of Robson Square, the civic focal point for the city of Vancouver, the Law Courts is decidedly accessible to the public and people friendly.
Other examples of Erickson's commitment to improving the social fabric of a community are the new Portland Hotel in Vancouver's downtown eastside, and the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington. Nicknamed 'Erickson's flophouse', the new Portland Hotel is a ten-story refuge for some of the city's most unfortunate residents. His efforts to improve Tacoma’s once forgotten industrial waterfront wasteland have earned him much credit. The
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer lauds: "With one grand gesture, architect Arthur Erickson did the $48 million dollar museum a tremendous favour by creating an identifiable image, but he did an even larger service to the community by providing an urban living room."
This documentary covers Erickson on the brink of his 80th birthday, at a point in his life where, in his own words, he "no longer gives a damn what people think." It exposes candid conversations with Erickson, as well as with key figures in the controversies of his past. It explores important questions such as where does Erickson stand as an architect? How will he be remembered? And, just what is the extent of his contribution to Canadian and international architecture?