National Treasure #32: Douglas Cardinal

“Douglas Cardinal expresses his buildings in a signature style of harmonious curvilinear forms . . . Precisely because he believes there is no end to our capability to create that which is envisioned, Douglas Cardinal has defied rectilinear conventional principles of architecture.” – Douglas Cardinal’s Philosophy

Expressing a building?  Harmonious curvilinear forms?  It sounds kinda artsy-fartsy to me, even though I’m pretty sure I’ve seen some deadly dull conventional rectilinear buildings.  I just didn’t have that vocabulary to describe them.

In any event, I’m good to put the words aside, in the spirit of knowing someone by their fruits: in this case, his amazing buildings.

And then there’s the whole computer thing . . .

“St. Albert Place, in St. Albert, Alberta – now designated a historic building – was the first building in the world to be built with totally computerized architectural technology to dimension all construction drawings. Douglas Cardinal’s unique approach to computers extends beyond the conceptual design phase, as he constructs in three dimensions with detail accuracy to at least ten decimal places.”

Close-up of St. Albert Place

Close-up of St. Albert Place

Close-up of St. Albert Place

OK, ten decimal places doesn’t sound too artsy-fartsy, even though I never knew you could make brick look like rolling hills.  So maybe I’ll give him the last word.

“Ultimately, it is not the architect that creates the buildings, but the client; it is their vision, their financing, and their social commitment that organically grows a built environment that reflects their projected identity. The architect gives shape to and coordinates the intricacies of the clients’ visions for a building.” – Douglas Cardinal’s Philosophy

Interesting links:

Canadian Museum of History – On a list of the ten most beautiful buildings in the world

Time-lapse construction video of the Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre, University of Saskatchewan

Speech on incorporating indigenous values into our built environments


This is one of a series on Canadian national treasures – my sesquicentennial project. They reflect people (living and dead), places and things that I think are worth celebrating about our country, and are done in no order of precedence.


This is one of a series on Canadian national treasures – my sesquicentennial project. They reflect people (living and dead), places and things that I think are worth celebrating about our country, and are done in no order of precedence.

 

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4 Comments

  1. John and I were lucky enough to get an invitation to view the Museum of Civilization while it was under construction, a dark and damp, surreal place — that curved staircase only half-way to the high ceiling — whole circular, beamed floors open to the next below — the cleanish smell of freshly poured concrete — little carts put-putting around, their tiny headlights on high beam — we took every step very carefully. We wore hardhats.

    John took hundreds of photos. He did a series of etchings and Douglas Cardinal bought them. But here’s the thing I remember most about him: his enthusiasm for the computer. He took us on a detailed tour of his office/workspace showing them off, what they could do. He embraced what up until then was a sort of “anti-art” machine and the results were industry- and art-changing.

  2. Jim Robertson

    Another excellent choice.
    I left St Albert before St Albert Place was built. (I was all set to give Cardinal credit for a teepee/corckscrew shaped church in Winnipeg, but just embarrassingly discovered it isn’t his – but he did design another church in Winnipeg)

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim R – It was a new building to me, also, and quite striking. My photos don’t do it justice – a nasty, overcast day, with farmers’ market tents clustered around the square in front of it, so I had to settle for the upper half!

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