Book Review: Canada (Modern Architectures in History series)

Rhodri Windsor Liscombe

Michelangelo Sabatino


Reaktion Books Ltd.

London (2016)




Although Canada is a large country in area, its population of approximately 38 million—equivalent to the state of California— is concentrated near its southern border with the United States. The rapid expansion of its population over the past century has also led to a corresponding demand for housing and public services—and architects needed to design them. All this has coincided pretty much with a period highlighted by the rise of modern architecture on a global scale.


Rhodri Liscombe and Michelangelo Sabatino, the authors of Canada, have endeavored to cover this “modern” period within the confines of 349 pages, expanding the focus to include the activities of Canadian architects abroad, as well as within the borders of the Commonwealth. Including everything does have its drawbacks, however: some interesting details about Arthur Erickson’s winning design for the Los Angeles’ Bunker Hill competition were included, whereas others, such as the Kitchener City Hall competition lacked an important reference—Detlef Mertins’ expansive coverage of the event in Competing Visions.*


Going through the book, project by project, one encounters numerous competitions, some of which elevated the winners to national and international prominence: Safdie, Erickson, Patkau—just to name a few. But one of the main themes of the book was its focus on what was peculiarly Canadian in its encounter with modern architecture. Canada was not culturally isolated from the rest of the world—and that country south of the border. But what it accomplished in many cases, both regionally and nationally, comes to light in this book.


Although short on descriptive material in many of the cases mentioned, Canada can serve as a valuable resource for those who wish to pursue the study of Canadian in more detail. Visually, the books images would have been more appealing in color. But one can understand that budget sometimes gets in the way of more fluff.


*KPMB’s design for Kitchener City Hall cannot be fully understood without seeing the Mississauga City Hall Competition entries and winners, where Barton Myers with Bruce Kuwabara won second place. Kuwabara evidently learned a lot from that competition, as KPMB’s winning Kitchener design incorporated many of the lessons learned from the various Mississauga designs.