April 16, 1996
Interview by Jim Donaldson
I just want you to talk about why you chose McGill the first time around.
I was lucky enough in Vancouver to work with Tom Porter and Catherine Vishninsky, who is receiving an honorary degree, I understand, at the same time. Those two were in the office of Thompson, Berwick and Pratt where I was also working for a year. I was there about a year. And a third party, Duncan McNabb, was there as well. The three of them were in the first class with John Bland at McGill. And they were really sold on McGill. So when I was there, I was working around, I was not – actually I had no previous architectural training, but engineering training, but I was really interested in getting into this whole architecture thing, but I had no training whatsoever at that point, I just simply could draw and that seemed to be useful so that’s where I was left. But they, in turn, when I did ask to talk about going to a university, they said “Well, you’ve got to go to McGill”. And they wrote a letter on my behalf to John Bland and that’s how I went down. Or I wrote him long letters, as a matter of fact, is what happened, and I did not go down. On their advice, I wrote John a letter and with that letter, I got a marvelous letter back, which I will never forget. I asked him what was the programme about, things like this, I asked him several questions like this. He answered in a single page, very simply, about the fact that he had new people coming from Europe, the school was going to be completely enriched and that he had – One question I did ask him was “what was the curriculum about and what was the nature of it”. And he said, “I believe that the School of Architecture should be free in its Arts and sound in its Sciences”. And that sounded pretty good to me at the time.
What year was that, Doug?
That would be 1945.
Then you studied, but then you eventually left, you didn’t finish at McGill I don’t think, did you?
No, but I went at the end of that year, I went down there, and that’s when I met Arthur Erickson as a matter of fact. I had never met him before, I met him just a little bit during the summer just before I did go, and discovered he was going there too. And so we did not go together but we ended up getting a booth together, an apartment together when we got down there. And that was the beginning of a very strong friendship because the two of us went into the same class, we both had some engineering time and it gave us advanced standing, so we were put into third year, I think, yes, it was third year, and so we sailed into that and that was…
Did you leave McGill eventually before you graduated?
Yes, I did. I only lasted two years, actually, because I have a strong – I had come out of Engineering because I rather hated a lot of the – some of the aspects of Engineering, learning a lot of that stuff, and I found myself in McGill with the same programme pretty well and after fighting it for awhile, I still couldn’t pass it, so I failed out, actually at the end of two years there, at the end of fourth - I did the third and fourth year. I never really completed it. And so, it was time for it, I had run out of money anyhow and I just came back home and came back to Vancouver. And I went back to the same firm, and managed to get in there and stayed there for quite a long time.
That was Thompson, Berwick and Pratt?
Yeah. There was an apprenticeship route, I didn’t really sign up for that, but I was committed to it pretty well. And later on, quite a bit later on, I guess about nineteen sixty-f-… Long time! I can’t remember. I went – I had an invitation to go down to the University of Oregon. A friend of mine we had been working with was a landscape architect from there, and he had - we got along very well, and he sort of liked the stuff I was doing. I had talked to him about my general predicament, and asked him what the American schools were like and he said, “Well, come on down”. And he came, in fact, in August and he said, “We’ve had five faculty members here who have quit, there has been a big revolution in this place”, and he said, “Why don’t you come down? We need someone to teach drawing, and you are just the right person”. So, I thought, well, that’s rather novel, but I haven’t got any - I told him I didn’ t have any credentials at all. And he said, “Well, come on down, just have a talk. Talk to the dean”. And so I did go down, and we had a great talk. In the process, I explained my whole predicament and he said “well, come on in, you can work part-time, and you can go on with your schooling part-time and catch up, but we do need somebody in the area you are capable of so, let’s try it out” . And I ended up teaching drawing and design, and at the same time, doing some studies. But I made an arrangement with him to see if I could get the whole thing finished in two years so that I would get a degree at the end of the two years. And it turned out that the necessary courses could be covered in that time and in this case, I was able to deal with all that on a half-time basis.
What was so good for me at McGill when I first went there was the class. It was a very fortunate class, the Class of ’47. And I think it was a larger class than John and others had had before and were expecting, but it went up to, I’ve forgotten exactly, but it’s over twenty, I think, the enrollment in that class. And for me, the thing that was –I have taken away as being most important and the most wonderful thing about it, is the mix of people that were at that class. I mean, first of all, if you took the sort of ethnic formation of the city of Montreal, you have every group possible represented in that class. And it was fascinating that way to me, it was new to me, I had never been in a city the size of Montreal and with the diversity. And for that it was – you got to know these people extremely well. We were all very close and everybody was very eager. You had, I think- the funniest story I know about this, or remember about this is simply about one of our design problems which we were given to do a little summer house, it was something on the beach. Watson Balharrie had just arrived at the school at that time, as well, and he was teaching this course and he gave us this assignment to design this simple little, almost beach shacks kind of idea that was the idea. And everybody tackled it a different way. I’ve never seen anything like it, to see the products, because you had – when you looked at this unfiled thing, I couldn’t believe the results! I mean, the ones that stick in my mind is on one end, you had a building that was from Pat McGillicutty… what’s his last name? Big [undecipherable]
No, I wouldn’t know him.
You wouldn’t know him. Very important Montrealer these days!
Oh. Patrick Stoker?
Stoker! Pat Stoker, yeah, Patrick McGillicutty Stoker. And he, the thing he had put up was three circles. And there were two large ones and one small one. And asked what it was, he said, “Well that’s the living room and the dining room and that one is the sleeping room and, you know, the proper facilities”, and so on. And then there was this other one on the side of it, which was a very small one. And he said, “What’s that?” And he said, “Well, that’s the kitchen and all that stuff”. And I thought, wow! I mean, I’d never seen anybody that understood buildings that way, and it was really interesting! So then we went on to some of the others and there was another one in there that was – it was literally a building kit almost. It was done on some kind of modular pattern; it was done on post and beam kind of thing and so on and so on. We got to talking to this and it was, I can’t remember his name, but one of the fellows that was being recruited to go to Israel at the same time in a Kibbutz and these fellows were being treated as a group in Montreal and they could have a whole second life in Montreal in their training programmes and things like this. Well, everything to him had to be done with – you do with a platoon formation. Twenty-four people or something, you had twenty-four people to work on something. So if you were going to have a summerhouse, fine. We’ll take it up one weekend and put it up and bam! It’s done. You know, it was like an exercise for them in this idea. It’ s just in the design side of this idea. Imagine what would be his contribution to this particular project! You know, these two ends were just absolutely mind-boggling to me to see the comparison and what the implications were of that. And I’ve thought about that range so much and I thought of that so much as a strength of the McGill School, that I really believe that is a tremendous –
Do remember those days, did Arthur Erickson sort of manifest his sort of design talent that eventually showed?
Yes. Arthur, you know, had never started into this at all. I mean, these were his very first shots at it. But, I mean, he - I think he had – it took him awhile to sort of get into it in the sense of feeling his way with the – just the business of the kind of drawing you do. I mean, he drew. He could make himself understood, certainly. And in fact, when he did start in, I mean, he right away was doing very sophisticated things. His little summer cottage was almost an exercise in Richard Neutra. It was straight out of the Vancouver thing. We had been meeting Neutra out here and so on and Bert Bidding was talking about him all the time, and these were the people who were influential to us out here. So it was fascinating to get this kind of initiation into the McGill School but just to do it with this tremendous diversity.
Do you mind if we just continue because you mentioned after you were in Oregon, you graduated, I guess, then you somehow or other came back to McGill.
Oh, a long way round! Yeah.
A long way round!
There was a lot of things in my personal life had to be sorted out, I missed all that. But it was, other than that, after I did graduate from Oregon and had – the work was done pretty well, and I just wanted to get as far away from the West Coast as I could and I headed back to East and I thought, well, this is the time, I’m going to take a try and see if I can get into the big offices in Boston. And I went directly to TAC. And I was very lucky. I had a very good portfolio by that time of work that was built but also drawings, particularly, and also all kinds of drawings, things like this. I showed all this stuff to them and – no, I’m sorry, I made that wrong. I didn’t go to TAC; I went next door to TAC. It was Carl Coke, who was a man that I had – whose work I had always admired anyhow for small, smaller houses and things like this and experimentation in building. And I didn’t want to try TAC right off the bat and so I went to him first. And they just said, “Fine, here’s a seat. Come in and start tomorrow.” It was fine and I put in six months there. But the one dull thing about it was that, where I sat up in the attic of this funny little building, a little cottage almost in –
In Harvard Square?
It’s just around the corner from Harvard Square. I’ve forgotten the street, but a marvelous street that’s there. And this tiny little house. And the house next to it was TAC, and they lived in that big house on the corner. And the only thing between them was a lawn so that as I sat there, and watched out, directly opposite to me was Gropius. So I thought, well, ok, one of these days I’ve got to try this out and sort of see what I can do. The work was changing a bit in the office and I didn’t like some of the things that were going on so I thought, well, now is the time. And I went over, and I took my portfolio again, and they put me on to one of the partners who is- I don’t know why but they picked one of them and put me in with him. And we had a very nice talk and in the long run, they gave me a job. So there I was. And the thing that was fascinating to me, and what I really had in mind by doing all of this, was that my thesis at Oregon had to do with education, I spent the whole time thinking about architectural education. And actually, the thesis was a written document on an idea about an architectural school and it was built around the Bauhaus, and both the European Bauhaus but also the group that came with Moholy-Nagy to Chicago and I was interested in that extremely, extremely interested in that both as a methodology and what, kind of what it stood for. So I was very happy to be there. And there’s the old boy downstairs, so I actually started working on a project that he had something to do with, so I got to know him in a little bit. And then one day, I just asked him point blank if he would spend some time with me and just go through this, and take a look at this project and so on, well, he did. Well he was really pleased with this because it was, of course, home ground and he was enormously helpful to me then and we just had a really good chat about this whole subject and observations on it and so on and so on. Very soon after that, I had to leave, I mean, my visa ran out. So at the end, I managed to get in six months there but this was in about the fifth month. And then what happened was – I was so pleased to be there, you know, it was such a wonderful office to be in that – When I left, it turned out they were just on the verge of expanding. They had about fifty people in the place when I was there. And they’d gotten this job to do this whole university in the Far East and it – it slips my mind the exact name of the place. At any rate, this university was going to be a really major undertaking and so they needed, they figured they needed another hundred people coming in. When you think of the wonderful organization that was there and how beautiful it was, basically the friendliness and all the rest of it and you start to talk about another hundred people in there…ooh! I practically weep! You know!
So I was so concerned about it that for the last week or ten days I was there, I wrote them a whole paper on how to reorganize their office to deal with this particular problem, which, of course, was a little audacious and really quite stupid when I look at it now. But nevertheless, it was a gesture and I left it with them. And I got the most wonderful letter back from Gropius and from the others. And it was really quite interesting because, just what I had thought would happen happened. And it was a complete disaster, [undecipherable] place. But it was interesting to see how they went at it when I went down to see the men later.
Well, after leaving TAC, as I say, I had to get back across the border pretty quickly and I did a quick run up to have a look and see what was going on, and I went to Montreal first, of course, because I knew everybody there at McGill, and also since then, of course, during my time at McGill, Guy Desbarats and Affleck and all those people, that whole group became very good friends. And so I went directly to Guy to find out what was going on. And that point was the time that they had, in turn, just gotten the commission, I think, to get involved with the… big tower, the big tower just –
Place Ville Marie.
Place Ville Marie.
Place Ville Marie. That’s it! And so they were realizing that they had got this thing going, and this little – they had this arrangement where they were all the teachers at McGill, but they were all half-time McGill and half-time in private work. And they had begot enough name to get into this and they were sort of really anxious to now make this thing go and start to get this thing together. So they were wanting to leave and so suddenly, a number of vacancies there were coming up. And he said, “Just go see John Bland”. And he said – “I’d even say what I would like you to do, if you were interested in teaching…” Guy taught a particular lab at McGill. He had a particular approach he worked out with this fellow Fischer from Chicago in construction work and I knew something about what he was doing but I hadn’t really followed it right through. And he said that connection is there and then he said, “I would like to see it keep on going”. And there were some definite ideas in that. And he said, “Why don’t you take my position and go talk to John and see if he will take you on”. And then he said, “I may be available- I could be available for a small part of time, not a full-time, not even half-time but certainly, I would want to keep an interest in that particular project and I would like to work with you”. So that was essentially the beginnings of it. And I went to talk to John, and he went through all this stuff, we went through the story of this TAC business and he said, “Fine, come on in”. And there I was. So I was able then as a bachelor, I was at that point, and I came up and went directly to work.
That would have been in, what, in the late fifties, I guess.
’58. And then you stayed there –
’57,’58, I think it would be ’57.
And you stayed there, what, until 1963 then?
We left in 1960…’61. What was going on was – well, I just felt well, okay, I’m at McGill now and here, that’s permanent. And I never thought of it any other way, actually. So I just threw myself into it because I really was interested and I wanted to teach, for some reason, I don’t know quite know why. I thought I can explain things to people, I love to draw, and all these kinds of things. And I just like talking about it as well as working at it and working out ideas. It was fine for me. I just went straight in. And I also found myself in pretty heavy conflict, actually, when I got in there, from dear old Harold Spence-Sales, a good friend of mine now, and Peter Collins, who became a good friend after great difficulty quite a bit later on. At any rate, we ran into Peter rather hard. And the school seemed to me, at that point, to be completely tied up in a kind of semi-classicism that was going on, and it was not only at this school, it was other schools who were doing this too. And for me, this was absolutely the worst, I mean, that could happen to any school. And so I just took the bull by the horns and didn’t agree with it and I’m afraid I made quite a lot of noise about it. And it turned out that there was quite a fair support for alternatives. And I was particularly concerned about seeing what was going on in the graduate class and so on. So, at any rate, what happened was, that I mean you just- I guess I got everybody so agitated in the first year I was there that Peter came in and told John that something should be done, rather drastically and so on. And it ended up with John doing his marvelous job of saying “I’m determined to live with both of you. Now you do that and you do that!” And that was the thing. I don’t think Peter taught anymore in the design area. So that’s what happened, really. Essentially, he retired to his History. But that’s just the way things go. By that time as well, you see, Erickson- well Erickson wasn’t there at that time. No that was another –
Could you talk about Gordon Webber and Stuart Wilson?
Oh yeah. I had Gordon there as a teacher during the time we were there, so I got to know all these people then. And that was the nice thing about it, because it wasn’t like going into a strange place, I mean I knew everybody. And when I went back in again, I became very close friends with Stuart Wilson and we got along, he was usually a crazy nut but he was a marvelous guy in his own way. And he was always – It seemed to me he was a man who was - always saw himself as a kind of outcast in some way. I had that feeling. I mean, you know he was there and he certainly was there in a certain way, but you know, he didn’ t get the attention that I thought he should at all because of his ideas. And, you know, on the other hand, he was – it all had to do with his, I think, the way he organized his life and the rest of it and he was difficult for the people, somehow. But, at any rate, I, you know, every opportunity I got I tried to get him to make more time and so on, and then, you know, just get into it a different way, I think.
The one other thing I mentioned earlier about the class that we had there, that sort of tremendous differentiation, or not differentiation but I mean, range of cultural backgrounds that are coming in to McGill, turns up in the teaching lot as well, which I thought was, again, another tremendous advantage, the fact that it was bilingual, that there were opportunities in there for all kinds of people to work and to get on. And I thought that that was another one of its great strengths. I was pleased later as well to see some of the students that we had worked with, Arthur and I particularly, Arthur and I became very close during this process, at the time I was then coming back to finish my degree and so we had a couple of years there of very close interaction and when he came back to Vancouver in these interval periods and when I went down to Oregon to teach, Arthur came with me. And that was terrific because the two of us were a pretty powerful team in a sense. And we had a – this time we actually boarded together and so we were – we got really involved in understanding each other’s ideas and so on and so forth. Later on it was interesting to come back and see him teaching here at this school, or at least at UBC months later.
Do you still see Arthur, occasionally? He’s still here, I guess.
Yeah, he’s back here, yeah. And we see him occasionally, not much though. He’ s hard to find.
I’m just thinking of some of the other people you worked with at McGill. Do you ever talk to them?
I keep pretty close touch through Norbert Schoenauer, mostly. And I just was down there for three or four days just a month ago. It was – But, yeah, I like to. And I’ve worked on some committee stuff with Derek Drummond, who was in my class who I remember extremely well there, I mean, then I didn’t have much to do with him when he was in this process in which he was in a partnership. But he was [undecipherable] later. Certainly, he’s on the faculty and there he is.
I remember when you were teaching our class, which graduated in ’62 and Derek probably personified or epitomized what you were trying to do in his approach to design at that time. He was considered one of your better students because, I think, he understood exactly what you were getting at. And he certainly wasn’ t a classicist, or not classicist, but not so much as a Beaux-Arts-type of architect.
Well I think my interest in teaching is just more to do with – certainly, I was interested in all those things, I mean, in the actual business of getting the programme right, of knowing who you are working for, what it’s for and what it’ s about, the nature of the building. I thought that was extremely important and the other part of it is the expression of it, I thought was wide open. It was really something – In teaching, you can’t throttle, you’ve got to, in fact, encourage so that diversity is everything. The last thing you want is to have twelve solutions all the same. And so, for me, that was a kind of doctrine that I’ve always maintained through – a long time now, I’ve had in the architectural world and teaching and also there’s running schools and things like that, that side of it. Derek is – I’ve met with him now, I’ve done quite a lot of work on committees with him and on one consulting contract together. And he’s enormously strong and, I think, a very clear-headed person.
Did you know Gordon Webber very well when you were at McGill?
Yeah, I got to know him pretty well, I think. We got to know him extremely well right at the beginning, when we first went there, Arthur and I. And then just working with him in the school, I had considerable difficulty with his work, in a sense, in that the abstraction thing is something for me- I was all practical in those days. I mean, I didn’t understand it particularly directly and it didn’ t catch me quite in the same way that it did some of the others. But on the other hand, I mean, had enormous respect for it and I always enjoyed working and talking with Gordon. And later on in particular, when he came out West, and we got to know him better out here, and – he was visiting, and so on. I always had tremendous admiration for his spunk, you know, just the whole business and I think the most wonderful one was – well, I knew the background, you know. He was found, in fact, in the school courses by Arthur Lismer. He came in his teaching – in his children’s classes, which were outside all of the institutions. And he thought he had great talent but he was a very shy person and he had no real prompting or anything. And he brought him to John Bland’s attention, and John, this is what I understand, at any rate, John made a connection to Chicago, to Moholy-Nagy, Mrs. Moholy-Nagy and persuaded them to take him on as a student and the [indecipherable] from there. And that’s the thing that created Gordon Webber, I mean, was that school. And in particular, the most successful teacher there which, from Gordon’s terms, was the man, and I can’t remember his name, but there was a man who made clothes.
Yeah, clothes. Clothes as design, you see.
Oh, okay, yeah.
And really was a terrific guy, you know it was one of these Bauhaus people. But he was just a wonderful man with this stuff of just what you do with clothes and so on. And between him and Mrs. Moholy-Nagy, they seem to have got into his head, which is an idea that, you know, “You can’t think of yourself as being handicapped in anyway. You are not handicapped at all. You are standing here, you’ve got two legs to stand on, you’ve got your two legs, one artificial leg, and one, and a cane and things. But you can maneuver; you can get around. You can speak. You are strong, and so on”. And he said, “What you’ve got to forget is that there’s anything wrong with you. You know, you just use what you’ve got and make it into something”. And this idea-
Which he did.
Which he did in spades. And where it really showed was in the clothes. And when he first came up to McGill, ah! I’ll never forget, it was just absolutely wonderful, I mean, it was so amazing that first year he was there, because that’ s the year that Arthur and I came. And it was so fantastic to go places with him, you know because he had these marvelous little tailored outfits. He didn’t like collars so he had no collars and then he had – with his overcoat and everything else and he had a wonderful walk with his cane, of course, and he has a large head relative to the rest of him.
A very handsome face, too.
A very handsome face and the rest of him didn’t – So he was just [undecipherable]. But we were at a party with him on one of those school events. And for some reason this was a two-storey space. And we were on the top floor and it was the end of the evening and people had to leave. Well, when they left, there was this procession. It was a formal thing. It was one of the proms of some kind, I think. And the people were pretty dressed up; the girls were all dressed up and [undecipherable] were in tails, some people, not me and this kind of stuff. And Gordon got really hyped up by this whole business of all these people and this flashing colour and the rest of it and he was suddenly jumping up and down and he suddenly said, “I haven’t got enough colour on”. And before you knew it, I mean, he ripped off his coat, turned it inside out, and it was lined with two colours of satin. It was sort of, the arms and the chest and the top were in brilliant gold colour and the bottom part was sort of flaming red. He just looked magnificent! He put this thing back on again, and he went down there, a big grin on his face, and he was just absolutely king of the castle. He was just terrific!
When you think of it, at that time, in that short period that you were at McGill there were some interesting people there, including yourself. I mean you’ ve got Gordon, Stuart Wilson, of course, John Bland and Peter Collins. And then Norbert came in and I guess there was John Schreiber. Was John Schreiber there when you were-?
Oh yes! He was there. He had an office next to me.
The time at McGill, teaching at McGill, was enormously exhilarating for me and it was really a real fulfillment of a lot of my own really deep down interests. And for that, I really appreciate the opportunity that I got at McGill from John, John Bland, and enjoyed it tremendously when I was there. What happened then right at that particular point was a note was passed around by a secretary to say that there was a gentleman coming to visit McGill, because he was looking for somebody to head up a school, a new school that was going to be founded and so on. Not much information about it. I just thought, well it sounds interesting, and I didn’t think anything about it at all that I would be wanting to do it, and so, I just incidentally stuck my name on it and was reminded again that the guy was coming in that particular day, and there he was. And it turned out, that the only two people who were interested were Peter and I. And it turned out that Peter wasn’t interested in the school either, really, you know, in the sense that he had heard who this man was and so he thought there was something that he wanted to ask him, a question he wanted to ask him. So he was there for that. So it ended up with me being like - not really thinking twice about it on one hand, and on the other, meeting this man to talk about the school. And I think, no in fact, there were two other people that did come for part of it, at any rate. Well, what happened was, that this man was from the Royal Military College in Ontario. And he was an engineer and he was also a paratrooper. So he was a really well put-together guy who was an interesting person to talk to about all kinds of thing. But he was very British in his outward presentation and various other things. But a very charming man and he said, “Well, I’ve been made president of this university down in Halifax and they want to examine and start the idea of a new School of Architecture there which would serve this- right through all the maritime universities. We would recruit from that whole bowl and so on. So we are out to make an architecture school”. And he said, “And I don’t know the first thing about it. So I want you guys to come down, somebody to take this on. So I need somebody who is a really strong person to start this thing and all the rest of it. So whatever. This long conversation started and there were some comments by the people that were there and Peter asked his question and so on, and it was all very smooth, very interesting. And it ended up with all off us sort of saying, “Well, good luck”. You know, sort of thing, without really giving him any sense that anybody was interested. And I wasn’t interested at that point either. And then this – sometime after he had left, this thing as you do, I mean, you think over these conversations that you’ ve had. And so it occurred to me, “Gee, that sounds like an interesting proposition, maybe I should just talk a little bit more about it, find out a bit more about it. By that time, he was gone out of town. He was back in Peterborough, or wherever that place is, where the school was.
Kingston, that’s it. And then by chance Peter was talking to me and he said, “I’ ve got to…” Part of his question had to do with some book or something or other that was in their library down there, something about Peter wanted to see about the college and things like that. And so he had made an arrangement with this fellow to go down and that he’d be given some [undecipherable] down there and that would be that, thank you. And so he was going to drive down. Well, he told me this and I said, “As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t mind going down and talking to him again just for the hell of it”. There were some things in there – I was interested about the whole process of how you start a school, I mean, you know, this opportunity to see it live. I wasn’t thinking going away from McGill at all. But at any rate, all these things come together. And I went down and I had a terrific day with him. And we hit it off very, you know, straight away. And he was, you know, one of these really clean, straight people that just sort of says what he says and he speaks his mind, you know, and on the other hand, he sits and listens. And that’s a really - You couldn’t really ask for anything better than that kind of thing! You know where you stand with him. So that was one big thing that got me going again. The other thing was that, by that time, just at that time, this was, I had been there now about– this is getting into 1960, I had married for the second time and inherited three teenage kids. And so I was interested, we had just sort of got ourselves settled in McGill and got these people down there and we had an apartment and we were sort of set up there. And then I asked my wife whether she would like to go to the Maritimes or not. She said, “Oh yes! [Undecipherable]. I’ve always loved the idea of that and never been there”. You know, and so on. That was a sort of a slip! And in the meantime, we were having some problems with the kids who were all teenagers and –
You were just talking about just prior to going to make a decision to go down to Halifax.
Yeah, and well, for one reason or another, we ended up making that decision. And it was just out of the blue and it was already time to go, I mean, there was no in-between time sort of thing. And some how, John recovered from the blow, John Bland and was really nice about letting me go, in a sense, I mean, he didn’t, needn’t have done. But he was very, very nice about that. And so off we went. And that of course started another thirty years of my life of just teaching, or of being involved in schools and as it happened too being involved as the head of the school most of that time so -
So you went from Halifax, then you went to Carleton and then after Carleton you went to the University of British Columbia?
So you’ve retired now from the University of British Columbia.
But you are probably doing – Are you still teaching at all now at-?
No, no. When I left, I got involved in this book and I think I’ve done nothing else!
Before we move on, would you just talk – hold on, just a second – I was going to ask you, would you mind talking about your writing, the way you write, is that a fair question? Do you have any disciplines; do you write all morning and drink all afternoon or-?
I don’t know that this is particularly relevant to the -!
Well, it’s relevant because a lot of architects like to write, and I’m one of them and I know others do to. And it’s [undecipherable] from that point of view because you are relevant and what you do is relevant to us.
Well, I mean, I mean to fit in a sequence, but that’s all right, if you want me to talk about it, I don’t mind.
Well, we can come back to – it’s just the discipline that – which is part of your life. I mean, we'll come back to the other subject in a minute.
Well, this is a separate piece that is related just to that problem. Books have a life of their own, I mean, this is the one thing I’ve discovered. And that’s all I can say really, in a sense, in that it takes a long while to get into a book. You think you’ve got it and you start messing around with it, and if you don’t have any experience with it, you flounder. You flounder for a considerable time. And you lose spirit and you do all kinds of things. But you end up, which I did, if it works, and you begin to think you have got an idea that is going, you start to get more and more volume. You keep- you just try writing or whatever you do. Or, certainly, you go out and you do some thinking about it. If it’s a subject that needs investigation, then you have to go out and start doing that, and that will, in turn, give you piles of material. And what is the key to it is piling up the material because really it’s the only way you can get into the book. Because you’ve got to find out – now you read a little bit there and you say, “Well, no, it’s not that”. So that’s put away. And that gives you some kind of way of looking at what you are looking at. The other thing is you can come at it with a strong idea, in terms of what you think is a good idea, and you test it, in a sense. I would say that anybody that gets into writing a book or is thinking about writing a book has to be prepared to go through what I am now calling a kind of-
No, well, it’s more than that. It’s a trial period, in a sense, that’s the wrong word. But a trial period where you have to test all kinds of ideas and it’ s just like architecture, I mean you test several designs for something. That’ s exactly what we do with a book. You try to set some kind of an outline for the thing and go charging away and then you realize when you start writing it that well, I mean, I don’t have the facts for this, this doesn’ t work, and da, da, da and before you’re finished it’s all, you know, this shouldn’t be there, it should be there [undecipherable] and you get into this kind of incredible process of- in the first instance trying to just validify your idea about the book that is in terms of its thematic content and what it is, and then satisfying yourself that you’ve got the materials you need to do it. And, if you are - I think by the time you are on your second book, at least, what happens is that you put up a series of trial balloons and you shoot them down way before you – you are much shorter for time periods and you almost stop yourself from doing anything, which is the position I am in right in the moment.
It was just the idea of talking about, tech- well, not technology but education.
Well, the one thing, you’re asking me to talk about education and what’s happened to schools and whatever, those kinds of issues and also the question of the continuity of it. I think the issue of it is continuity. And I think that the thing that you find yourself in, which is devastating, is that the world is changing so fast. I mean, we live in this accelerated pace of knowledge exchange and knowledge development and I think that is the thing that is really frightening. And in terms of what it suggests, because it’s just, of course, not only is it changing the subject area, but it is changing the profession itself and the way the profession operates. And it’s changing all of the standard tools. Everything is changing; they are changing at a phenomenally rapid rate. All of the materials are changing, everything you do and touch are changing. So the rate of change is really the killer. And the thing that has to be, then when you start thinking about programmes or talking about a school and changing its programme or dealing with its programme, I mean, the really huge problem you have is affected very strongly by that because it takes time. I mean, you can’t start a programme and have it on the deck tomorrow. What you do is, I mean, I’ve started three schools, two schools, well three because we did the Industrial Design programme as well, three different programmes. And in each case, we had what we thought was the really hot programme for that particular time. And I think it was. But in every case, it is not what you think it is. I mean, the external components suggest one thing, the response comes back from partly it’s used in response to that, but on the other hand it’ s within the resources and the situation of the administrative unit that is going to be looking after it. And that, I mean a whole university what that is, if it’s a university school. And so it depends then on what their concept is, as well, of these kinds of subjects. And, in particular, where they place Architecture in the realm of knowledge development. And that is a huge problem. I think that for the most part, you go into a university and you are bloody well left alone. And it is- that sounds like that’s great ‘cause now we can do anything we want. But it doesn’t work that way. It may work that way for the students for the first few years, but it doesn’t work that way for the staff, because the criteria that the staff are working to understand is they find themselves- most people that we want to have in teaching are people that the university doesn’t deal with, and so on. And particularly around subjects like design, which are immeasurable, and so on, I mean, are very difficult for a university to deal with. And when you have a faculty working on that, I mean, are in- have great difficulty with promotion, this is one of the elements of it, and those kinds of issues, you know. I think it seems to me that McGill has solved the problem beautifully in the thing that most of the other schools have rejected, which is to be around the engineers very closely. But on the other hand, I mean strategically, it seems now in retrospect, looking at it now and seeing it again, I mean, it’s probably a brilliant solution.
Did McGill have a choice at any one stage in history to sever their ties with the Engineering faculty?
I’m sure they could have if they had wanted to. But John had this commitment right from the beginning. His idea was, his programme was sound in its Sciences and free in its Arts! And that’s-
Could I ask you a question on your staff in various universities? You talked of- and I know the days in the early sixties and late fifties in Montreal where you had, you know, Guy Desbarats, Fred Lebensold… a lot of the practicing architects were working part-time. I know that was to supplement their income, but was that a good thing in education where you have practicing architects teaching part-time university? Is that a plus for the students?
Oh, I think it’s always a plus for the students if they are good teachers and they are fair about their time and all kinds of other things.
I understand what you are saying, because I remember talking to Jean-Louis Lalonde in Montreal, who you may recall. And he taught at one time, I don’t know whether it was at McGill or University of Montreal, and he said that- I was talking about the life of the teacher, of the professor as quite a good life and he said, “yes, but you have to like it”. He said, because he had done it for a short period of time and he couldn’t go from the one extreme of teaching and come back and run a practical aspect of architecture like doing, what, hardware lists and so forth. He said it was too much of an extreme. So he couldn’t deal with both.
Yeah, I’m not surprised at that at all. I don’t think that, you know, I think the role of the professionals, I mean, they are far better in terms of using them for very short-term visits, and things like that, you know, one, two or three days, that kind of thing.
For critiques and so forth.
For critiques, a lot of that, and lot of free time with them just chatting. That’s, I mean, to me that’s where you really learn from them, you know because they break down and talk about their real stuff, and so on, their real point of view.
Did you find generally that practicing architects were able to give their time on that basis; I mean come in and talk to the students?
Well, it depends. Certainly, they are sitting on a bag of knowledge, which could be useful. And the real question is, is can they organize it in a way that it fits, that it can be examined, that it can be doing all the things that you are required to do in the course of a university, to do that. And so it takes a person who has a particular mentality and a real– knows how to do that kind of stuff, and how to organize information. So it’s not a game for novices, you know, in a way. It takes awhile to devise and to get an acceptable kind of ability going in that particular area. I mean, imagination’ s got a lot to do with it. I mean, you certainly need people with new ideas, and so on, but they have got to be very organized and they have to be very good at explaining themselves and talking about what the subject is about.