March 12, 1998
Interview by Jim Donaldson
[Missing words] I was born with a t-square in my hand, but that wasn’t the case. As a matter of fact, when I graduated from high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do career-wise. I even went so far as applying to military college and was accepted and when I finally declined that, ‘cause I didn’t figure that it was the right place to find out what I wanted to do in life, they were astounded. But I actually entered McGill in first-year Science. I was very interested in many subjects, including Chemistry and Geography and History and that sort of thing and I had done well at high school. But I didn’ t really know what I wanted to do as a career and I had no great aspirations to become an architect immediately upon entering university. But during the course of the first year, I started to gel in my mind what I wanted to do as a career. And I was sort of leaning towards Engineering, but then I had to acknowledge the fact that I was always very strong in Art. I was quite good at drawing and painting and that sort of thing, cartooning. And while I was working on a boat during the summer, my father went traipsing down to McGill with some examples of my artwork and on my behalf asked that I be switched from first-year Science into second-year Architecture, which, of course was part of the Faculty of Engineering. So I rationalized it at the time by saying, “Well, Architecture is a little more glamorous than Engineering”. But also, it gave me an opportunity to perhaps make use of my drawing skills. And I was accepted, and then the rest is sort of history. I came into Architecture in a somewhat apprehensive way, but that was my choice and I just stayed with it.
What year was that now?
Oh, I always have trouble remembering years and chronology, but I think it was around ’58, ’59, something like that. Remember, in those days, they didn’ t have CEGEP, I went right from grade11 right into first year McGill, as many of the people you’ll be talking to will recall. So we were fairly young in those days, and it was a six-year course then, not like I believe it is today. First year was Engineering if you went directly in. And you may recall that the School of Architecture at McGill was unique in North America in that it was part of the Faculty of Engineering and shared many of the same subjects. I remember, for example, writing exams next to Engineering students and driving them crazy while we were pouring concrete [knocks on table], you know, and they were using their slide-rules. But there was a lot of Engineering emphasis, as opposed to the Fine Arts arrangements that you found in a lot of the U.S. universities, that sort of thing. The emphasis in McGill, I would dare say, is largely an Engineering emphasis as opposed to a Fine Arts emphasis. At least it was in those days.
So you really, your second year there, you switched into Architecture, it became more of an architectural stream after the first year you were there.
Oh, yeah, then I was fully committed to the architecture stream, as you put it. And I remember being exposed for the first time to courses in Architecture. Although they were a little minor compared to the heavy emphasis on Engineering in second year. We were slowly getting exposed to Architecture through architectural drawing, and that sort of thing. I don’t recall when Architectural History commenced. It might have been second, but certainly in third year. The third year is where I felt that the schooling in Architecture really began. It was John Schreiber who taught us how to do architectural rendering, you know, shading, shadow and that sort of thing. And I enjoyed second year. At the end of second year, I wrote one of those mandatory summer reports, technical reports, and Stu Wilson was the judge of that, and I won the award for- sponsored by one of the elevator companies, Dover or some kind of thing. Yeah, so I got after second year for doing a report on the boat that I worked on during the summer, the Tadoussac. And I did a lot of research and found out, you know, how it was built and that sort of thing. So as I was saying, I was delighted to be awarded this small acknowledgement for a technical report that I did during the summer.
The following year, well, then we went into grade- third year, sorry. And, of course, third year is synonymous with Stuart Wilson. And as you know, he was somewhat controversial. And Stuart was very outspoken and let his feelings be known rather profoundly. And I think he acknowledged, if I dare say, talent where he saw it and encouraged those students who he thought were worthy of encouragement. Suffice it to say that I really enjoyed his tutorship. I thought he was himself rather creative, he was nervous and high-strung, but he was a communicator. And I was inspired by him. Actually, I found architecture became a more broad experience for me than what it might have been in working with Stuart. And of course in those early years, a lot of emphasis was placed on your drawing skills and here I was already fairly strong and I was commented favourably on. And you could see some of the students starting to sort of be, sort of coalesce into a group that Stuart was encouraging. And, I’m happy to say, I think I was among them.
‘Cause he was also very intimidating for some of the students.
Well, he would be very stern and very harsh on students that he obviously did not have high regard for. And he could be devastating. I remember one student whose name I won’t mention, who was so proud of this model he had made and said “but you can see right through it”. And Stuart was walking on after giving him a lousy mark and he kept saying, “but you can see right through it” . So Stuart finally, you know, bent down, looked through the model and says, “I’ll be damned! You can see right through it!” And that was just the end of him for the day. I don’t think he went far beyond third year. But Stuart was great. We all remember, of course, Sketching School where he was prominent. I never did take him up on one technique, though, which I always wondered about. He would brag about the fact that you can take a watercolour like he would often do, and look at it after the fact and say, “I don’t like this” and stick it in a bathtub and get all of the paint wet and moving around again and then take it out and sort of rearrange the watercolour, but I’ve never really used that technique. Third year, I think, was a good year, and I felt like I was in the School of Architecture. I can’t say the same thing about fourth year. Not meaning to malign anyone, but, My God, that Jonas Lehrman character, he was just a depressing individual and he went very far in letting those who he, you know, liked be known that they were his favourites. But he came to me at the beginning of the year and said in his whispery little voice, he said, “I noticed that you won the Turnbull Elevator Prize last year. I am very much looking forward to your submission for this year”. Well, I let him down. I mean, I did what I thought was a stupendous report on the Manoir Richelieu Hotel, which was built in twelve months over a winter period. It had all kinds of interesting architectural things to talk about. And he thought it was a miserable report. He wanted to see something on one of the famous architects ‘cause he was really sort of steeped in who’s who in architecture and the trendy architects of the day, and everything else. So I let him down and I let him down fiercely all though fourth year. And at one point in fourth year, I came to Jonas Lehrman and sort of, speaking very personally here, and I said, “You know, the way things are going, I’m not sure if I am cut out for architecture, or to be an architect”. And it was a heartfelt thing and he said, “So now you are thinking these things?” It’s like: “Get out of here if that’s the way you feel!” you know! Anyway, I stuck it through and I’m happy to say I’ m here today.
Who else did you encounter? Jonas- was Nor- Not Norbert but…
Norbert was fifth year. And Norbert was a great relief after going through fourth year.
Did you encounter John Schreiber in third year as well?
No, I don’t remember John Schreiber. Of course, he’s a landscape architect. I remember him only from second year. And we seem to have always one studio ahead, you know. And I neglected to mention one of my favourite characters of all, of course, was Peter Collins. Now, Peter felt that History of Architecture was the only course in the school, and if you didn’t have time for his course, too bad about the rest. But he was very demanding. He expected a lot of scholarship back from his students, a lot of original research. He decimated me once when I had the temerity to refer to the Encyclopedia Britannica for an essay. But I learned my lesson and, you know, we all became familiar with his favourite tones. But he was an engaging, colourful, warm, a good teacher. And it’s hard to say how much of his teachings affected me in design or what have you. But it certainly made me feel more like a scholar.
Yeah and it raised your level of interest in architecture, too, and the old buildings, which you might not have had to the same degree….
Absolutely, absolutely. And you know, he was- I was very high or strong on History in high school. So I enjoyed anything that had to do with history. And, of course, he would always talk about history in the context of the time and everything else that influenced design, rather than design, you know, being the be-all-and-end-all influencing other arts. But when he would come out with a theory that modern architecture began as early as 1750 and then support that with his, you know, the philosophy of the day and everything else. He was a philosopher’s historian and he’s also very amusing and a very dry sense of humour. I remember him once saying that he was so steeped in history that when World War II broke out, he joined the cavalry! And he wasn’ t even Polish, right! But I thought that was pretty good. And he did me a favour once. My biggest problem all through school, whether History or Design or what have you, was I was constantly running out of time. I could never really, you know, guide myself within a time limit. I had plenty of ideas in Design but couldn’t pin them down and say: “that’s it, I’m not going any further” and I was redesigning right up to the bitter end. And so I became a bit of a master at begging for and gaining extensions. Rather ironically, a few years ago, a friend of mine who is a professor at Ryerson asked me to deliver a speech to his students who weren’t meeting deadlines and he wanted me to tell them the importance of meeting deadlines in the real world. And I was one of the worst offenders when I was a student myself! But life teaches you a few lessons, of course; you can’ t do that in practice. But I remember I ran out of time on an exam. You remember how they were: five questions, twenty minutes each, or something, or twenty marks each in a three-hour exam, whatever. And I spit all my guts into the first question, went way over my time. By the time I got to question number five, the bell was going. So I quickly wrote “I disagree with this statement”! And Peter met me in the hall after with a big smile on his face and he looked at it and he said, “You’ll be happy to know that I gave you one mark for the shortest answer ever given to an exam question”. And actually, he passed me. So I was grateful to Peter for that. So I remember him fondly. Gordon Webber, I enjoyed his classes as well. Again, because I was always interested in art and drawing and the Bauhaus kind of exercises that we went through, even the simple-minded ones like, you know, do a composition out of lines of different lengths and widths and all that. Ink work, I enjoyed all of that.
It’s interesting because some people talk about the fact how immature, in retrospect, we all were…
…going through such a serious profession and, you know, the future of the country and so much at that time depended on architects. And we had a lot of fun. We worked long hours; everybody had a problem with deadlines. But I often question our own maturity, but, of course, I guess the way education is lined up, that’s what happens. And you always go- and I think everybody probably feels they are immature, but maybe that’s good for us.
I’d say that I matured and gained most of my influence, knowledge, what have you, as an architect after leaving school, not in school. I think working in the real world was a quick maturing process. And I was fortunate in that my work was appreciated so I was encouraged along the way. Maybe I will get to it later on, I want to stick with the school experience, but my years with Arcop working on Place Bonaventure were a real schooling for me. And I learned to appreciate very quickly the fact that I was gaining as much as I was just by being out there working as part of a team, working for someone, giving them the product that they were hoping to see, and being rewarded for it, and feeling that you are making a contribution.
Well when you were at McGill, were any of the Arcop people, or any other architects, did they come and do you remember any of them giving crits, any in particular that were-?
No, I don’t remember outsiders coming in for crits except for in my last year when our thesis projects were up on the wall and I had my half-completed drawings there. Prus? Victor Prus.
Victor Prus, yeah.
And I didn’t gain much out of that. When I was out searching for employment, as we all went through at various times in our career, and I went to his office and there was someone there who was very supportive, wanted me to join the firm. Victor Prus came in and, I had little to show other than my schoolwork in those days. And he remembered my thesis and all he said was, “ I couldn’t quite understand what you were getting at”. And then he left the room and I didn’t get a job offer! The thesis, by the way, that I tried to do was, I bit off more than I could chew, with the encouragement of Stu Wilson, because even in my sixth year, Stuart was still, you know, being there for me. And I might mention as an aside to all of this, there was one person who was very close to Stuart and I regarded myself as a friend of his, and that’s Bruce Anderson, of course. Stuart and Bruce were very close, and I think Bruce was highly influenced by Stuart. And Bruce, of course, was exceptionally productive all through his school years. And between trying to keep up with Bruce’s standards and trying to satisfy Stuart Wilson, I blew myself out of the water on my thesis!
What was the subject? I’m sorry, I didn’t…
I did an urban design planning study for the whole Carré Saint-Louis area, starting from Saint-Laurent all the way over to Saint-Denis. And I selected a definable six-block area including Laval, Drolet, I think it was called, I can’ t remember the names of them exactly, and from Pine all the way down to the Carré and over to Saint-Denis. And I was influence by a recent project at that time by Grossman, Irving Grossman here in Toronto, where he separated people and cars. So I cavalierly converted the city streets into underground parking streets and put a deck over and stacked town housing on either side. I thought it was brilliant, but you know, you can’t go around in the real world and close down municipal streets all that readily. And I didn’t have a chance to finish my presentation and do it justice. It was enough to show the theme but you know, some of the boards were, like I said, half-completed or half-drawn. The model, I started making, like Bruce always did, out of pieces of wood veneer, you know, painless, or painful, rather. I gave up on it! It was a bare minimum, you know, presentation. But it was ambitious. It didn’t really lead to anything later on; I didn’t do a hell of a lot of housing, although housing was what I was into as a last-year student. On that subject, I don’t know whether you are going to be interviewing Phil Beinharker or not, but that son of a gun stole one of my ideas for a thesis! At the beginning of the year, I had worked down in the Ports-Lands, right? I had worked on a boat for three summers as a musician. And I knew the Victoria Pier rather intimately. And it always felt, even in those early days, that the waterfront was not exploited enough, that there should be some hotels and some nice waterfront stuff, you know. And it wasn’t even being talked about at the city in those days. And I remember sharing a streetcar ride with Phil Beinhacker, and you know, at the beginning of sixth year, the question on everyone’s mind is well, what’s your thesis project going to be? And I told him about my thoughts to do this ports development and he said he was going to do a hotel development because Expo was coming, right? To be timed for Expo. This is around ’64. And next thing I know, he’s doing a ports scheme. So Phil, I gave you the idea!
Probably my most productive and interesting year, because we got into more design, I think, as I recall, was the fifth year with Norbert. And I had a healthy regard for Norbert Schoenauer. He was- I began to appreciate the fact that there are many types of personalities involved in the practice of architecture. He was a very mellow, genteel kind of person, very sharp wit and mind. And he paid me the supreme compliment one day. I was in the habit of sticking in my presentations little cartoons and things, little funny things going on, just to make sure that the observer was really catching it. And he went to a presentation of mine on the wall and he said, “One of the reasons I enjoy looking at Mel’s work is that he always has little cartoons hidden mixed in”. So you know, you look at a cross-section through a building and funny things are going on with little cartoon characters. Actually, I continued my cartooning as an amateur when I first left school. Working on Habitat ’67, Bruce Anderson and myself were the only ones picked up at that time after graduation. There was already an office in motion with a lot of young people, some of them hadn’t quite graduated, or had graduated from Vancouver, which to me, is the same thing! And some people came up from the States, from Louis Khan’ s office to work in that as well. And Bruce and I were sort of handpicked by- I think, you know, it was mostly Bruce and I was a friend of Bruce’s so I sort of came along by militia. And I used to put these cartoons on the wall all the time. And the people from Parkin’s office thought it was Bruce who was doing the cartoons. And they thought Bruce was just this wonderful Pilkington Scholarship winner who they must have in their office and not only that, but he cartoons! And then Bruce left after a couple of months to go travel on the scholarship, but the cartoons kept appearing! And they were driving themselves crazy, ‘cause they didn’t know who it was. And finally, you know, Parkin was fired off the job by Moshe and Colonel Churchill. And I can tell you that story in great detail; I was there when it happened. But as they were leaving, I drew a cartoon to say goodbye in some fashion, appropriate fashion. They were real characters, those Parkin guys. Really, you know, couldn’t believe what they were trying to do to this creative office. Like, all the desks had to line up and nothing on the walls and everyone had to wear white shirts. And one guy was an ex-army officer who kept straightening his tie like this, like he was still in uniform. And he’d come by everyday, you know, “What percent complete is that drawing?” And I’d say, “Thirty percent. Go away.” And he’d come back the next day, “What percent complete is that drawing?” I’d say “Twenty percent”. He’d say, “But yesterday it was thirty percent, how could that be?” You know, stuff like that. Anyway, suffice it to say that they were all shocked when they found out that I was the mystery cartoonist in the office.
But getting back to fifth year and Norbert, you know, I had a lot of respect for Norbert. It’s hard to describe in detail exactly what influence he had on me as an architect, but I certainly enjoyed fifth year and mellowed out and, you know had fun. Sixth year, of course, was turmoil. You know, you have exams plus your thesis. Did a lousy job on my final design exam. I think John Bland wanted to hold me back from graduation. When I did graduate, my parents came to the graduation, and Norbert Schoenauer came up and asked to see my onion skin and then said, “Oh there’s been a mistake made, Mel, you weren’t supposed to graduate” and started walking off! Anyway, so my first job after graduation was Expo, sorry Habitat ’67. And even though I’m not mentioned in Moshe’s book Beyond Habitat, I was going to write a correction called Behind Habitat! I was toiling away on the ten-storey section of Habitat while Moshe and his main gang were working on the twenty-six-storey A-frames, which were never meant to be. And when the scheme was drastically cut down by Expo and as an exhibition from the full McKay Pier to the three hundred-unit scheme, as opposed to a thousand units. At that time, they decided that they had too much staff, so I was let go. And I went to a firm called Drummond, Donaldson…
Something like that!
…Sankey? And along with Alan Thomas at the same time, who is now with Arcop.
He actually was with Donaldson, Drummond, Sankey. We hired him. He was hired- he was probably the better of the two applicants!
Yeah, that’s right, he was the better of the two, because I was told that I was too much of an empire builder after the fact! But I remember walking into your office and I was very impressed with all these portraits, full height faces of Drummond, Donaldson, Sankey! Who says architects have egos? Anyway…
That’s because the secretary, that was I remember on McGill College, couldn’t remember our names. So we put the big picture with- and she’d get on the phone and have to say, “This is Donaldson, Drummond, Sankey” and she had to read it! Anyhow…
Anyway, I ended up working for Arcop in their separate office devoted to Place Bonaventure. And I’m proud to say that I think I scored some pretty high marks there. Eva Vecsei, whom I admired greatly, was second in command as the associate to Ray Affleck on that project. The concept of the design had already been done. It was a massive urban design project and when I came in, they were into the real nitty-gritty design development. And I was one of several people initially. Eventually, I became more or less the head of the design development team. There were nine people all together, and eventually eight, seven, six, five, and I was finally, as the project completed, the last one to go. But I remember again my hand at drawing came to good effect in that I was asked to do some studies in all the public areas, in this case, the main exhibition hall. And so I had wall elevations on the walls and reflected ceiling plans on the ceiling. I actually stuck them on the ceiling with a lot of shade and shadow. Ray Affleck came along, sat at my desk, I had only been there a week, didn’t know me from Adam and said, “Whose desk is this? I like this place. This feels good!” You know what I mean? The next thing I know, I‘m put in charge of all of the exposed concrete everywhere in the building. I designed all the formwork and my handiwork is there in concrete for the world to see for a long time. That was an excellent experience. I learned a lot at Arcop. And I always- at that time, Arcop was well known as a great training ground, you know as a young-
Post-graduate [unclear] for all of us.
Yeah. And characters there, people there, all different. But I think I really learned more in two and a half years at Arcop than I did, to be honest, from a hands-on, practical nature than six years at McGill.
But you probably had to have the six years at McGill to appreciate what happened-
Yeah, it’s insidious, yeah. I mean, whatever you pick up as a student, you know, works its way into your approach to life. But from a hands-on experience, practical experience, Arcop was a great training ground. I really loved it and I had a lot of fun there and I was able to work with some good fellows and team members. A lot of people were afraid of Eva. Now, Eva really, you know, was responsible for me learning a lot of respect for women in architecture. I mean she impressed the hell out of me. She was tough, you know, single minded, got what she wanted, but she could do it in a very effective way. And she’s responsible for a lot of work that went into Place Bonaventure on behalf of Ray. But I like to say I had a major hand in it as well. And we had a good, fun relationship. A lot of people were hinting that maybe there was more going on than just the working relationship, because she’ d scare a lot of people who were intimidated by her, and then she’d come by my desk and her voice would soften and “Well, Mel, you know, what have you got to show me today?” And we got along famously. And then, you know, typically, work dropped out, and a big purge of forty people. And they actually made some of the decisions on who should go based on who had family. A lot of Australians had come over with wives or children. And I was single and dispensable. And at that time, I was working for Fred Lebensold and not making the same impact I had with Eva Vecsei and I was asked to leave Arcop.
So what happened after that?
Well, that was the beginning of my real career. That’s when I joined René Menkes and the Montreal office of what was then Webb Zarafa. Not Webb Zarafa, but Menkes and Webb, or Webb and Menkes. And, again, quickly had to come up to speed. ‘Learned a lot in the first few days I was there. ‘Started to put together buildings as buildings. Place Bonaventure, of course is one, single, big project where I was doing a lot of detail work. But then I had to do concept work and see it right through working drawings and very quickly grew within the practice. My first building was a tower for Aquitaine in Calgary. So just to précis my life after graduation was, you know, I was with Webb Zarafa from ‘67 ‘til ’74, became a partner, ’77, because of the PQ election and everything else, there was no work, I moved to Toronto, and that’s when things really took off. I just want to add one thing. My proudest achievement in architecture, where I can fully take responsibility for the design concept, was the National Bank of Paris, or Banque Nationale de Paris building on McGill College, which was also the first building to use titanium coating on clear glass to give that blue colour, which I researched and found hiding in the basement of a glass manufacturer. They didn’t think it was good enough for commercial use. And since then, that glass has been used everywhere. But I found a way to put two buildings on the site, which no one else could find a way to do. Before me, they were going to do a vertically-stacked tower, by simply doing side cores joined together. And the first phase was going up and then, when they went to the market, they found that linked floors gave 35,000 feet of space, perfect for a lawyer’s office, what have you, and then the second phase got commissioned six months after the first phase, and by the time that building was completed, it was ninety percent leased and at about $44.00 a foot. It was a whopping success and I’m very proud of that. I was actually in Toronto at that time and was going back to Montreal for project meetings. One other point is that I worked for Eva Vecsei, as I said, at Arcop. And many years later at Webb Zarafa, I hired her daughter. So it was kind of a fun irony there.
I was going comment about schools and how to go about teaching students and so on. And one of the things I’ve had to do, is actually, over time is interview and engage students again. And you’ll find offices like ours have a very high regard, not knowing much about McGill, ‘cause we don’t get many McGill graduates seeking employment. We have one now, Norm Landry, who’s fantastic. He’ s got a great future ahead of him. But most of the graduates that come here don’ t come from Quebec one way or the other. They all come from other universities. Waterloo has a work programme. What’s the correct term for a work programme? It’ s co-op.
Co-op. Yeah, that’s the only word for it.
And, you know, I can’t say enough about that kind of approach to student education. When you get a student here on a co-op programme, it’s a two-way benefit. They get the benefit of- in my days, you had to work two summers or you didn’t graduate. But with a co-op programme, it’s more guaranteed you’ll find the work in the first place. And secondly, they learn a lot and by the time they do come back, and usually they come back after being a student, you get to know them. You know the ones you want to keep on. They come back here and, you know, they just hit the ground running, ‘cause they already have that practical experience. I don’t know if McGill has co-op work programmes.
No they don’t.
It’s something I recommend that they look into because I think it provides for a much more well-rounded education. The problem in not having that is that you tend to encourage a more of a dilettante kind of attitude about architecture. And U of T, for example, some of the guys who come out of there feel the world owes them a living because here I am, you know, Mr. Architect. And I know all about life and philosophy and we’re going to influence everyone else’s life with the buildings we build and so on. And they’re just too, a little too esoteric or a little too philosophical.
Some other people have commented now about the lack- In the school, they have a course called Business Practice. And I think most students didn’t have very much time for even going and attend lectures. And the people have made the comment that Architecture, when you go through those five or six years, it doesn’t train you properly for a business sort of environment.
I think if part of your goal as a student is to come out as a marketable commodity, it’s to your benefit to have some hands-on, practical experience, something you can show for your five or whatever number of years at university. But, I agree that your student days are the chance to be the most idealistic. Because there are so many constraints in how you design, you know, once you get out into- you’ve got real clients with real money and codes and bylaws and God knows what other restrictions, which is more of a challenge to your creativity. You still have as much fun doing it, but as a student, I wouldn’t want to say that, you know, you should go all the other way and just create a product, you know, a skill that, you know, you can make use of as an employer. Yes, by all means, keep it idealized, but mix it. You know, have a little bit of a mix. And I think the co-op programme does that because, you know the students who come out of, and I’m using Waterloo as an example, the students who come out of Waterloo can talk until the cows come home about design and architecture and all of those fine things, philosophy. But at the same time, you can put them to work, you know, and they will be productive for what you are paying them. So that’s my two-cents-worth about schools of architecture. Knowing Bruce the way I do, I would think, he was always very hands-on and practical-minded, he might have some sort of agreement with that philosophy, I don’t know. I don’t know if there’s anything else that you’d like me to talk about. My career here at Webb Zarafa has been sublime, I just love it.
I enjoy architecture. I work with very fine designers, a number of whom could be a star in their own firm. We have design partners and we have project executives, which I am. We take the client by the hand through all phases of the work. The biggest thrill of all is landing new projects, you know, going out and competing and getting them. It’s a very competitive world out there.
Are you the sort of the key point person for most of the projects in terms of bringing them into the office?
Well, lately, I’ve had more success than some, but I mean everybody has their day in the sun. All of the partners here bring in work or land work one way or the other. The designers do winning designs that I can sell. Other partners keep clients happy through all phases and so the happy client comes back with another job. I guess what I’m good at is sort of ground up promotion, where there is no history with anyone, and government calls, that sort of thing. In one year, in the lean years when the recession hit, and all our private work went the way of the dodo, in those times, I brought in the Brampton Courthouse, which was a hundred million, and beat out people like Ziegler and Moriyama and all the big names, all through a selection process and interviews and so on. We also landed the Windsor Casino project, where you hoped to be on the coattails of the right proponent, but we were told in no uncertain terms that our design was instrumental in the selection of our client, who didn’t, in fact, have the winning proposal from a business perspective. We have been in other competitions where we did suffer because our proponent-client didn’t have the right business link. The City Hall in The Hague, for example, is one that we lost. But we’ve had great success, I’m proud to say I’ve been a part of it, and, well, here I am.
And recalling my days at McGill, of course, I remember quite vividly a number of my classmates. One of the things that did happen, I don’t know if it still goes on today, is the group of us tend to sort of coalesce into cliques. You know, there were those who always worked together on the same group projects or what have you and got friendlier with. But I recall fondly my life with certainly Bruce Anderson, Ron Williams, Phil Beinhaker was a fraternity brother of mine. We were inseparable. People used to ask if they saw me alone, “where’s Phil?” You know, but we went our separate ways after graduation. Ross Hayes is working for Phil now out in Calgary, George Challies, I don’t know where he is right now, worked for the Bank of Montreal for a long time. That’s a- Al Hopkins and DeWolfe, you know, DeWolfe I forget- Jim DeWolfe, I think it was. We were all very friendly and I enjoyed their company. One incident that I remember, of course, is I played Santa Claus at the traditional banquet, and I don’t know whether it’s something that I should be a proud of, but it was so controversial that the next year, John Bland cancelled the banquet because, it wasn’t my doing, apart from me playing a drunken and you know skinny Santa Claus, which people seemed to enjoy ‘cause I really was a little outrageous with my fellow students and some of the professors, but John Bland was I remember rather miffed because some other students had decided to present him with a live turkey. And the turkey flew around the room crapping on people and John felt that he was being called a turkey, you know symbolic. And he was so upset about it, the next year, he cancelled the Christmas banquet. Of course, they always chose someone to play Santa Claus who was getting out of the school. Otherwise, his days were numbered if he was too young. So, it sort of fell upon me because I was a bit of a ham and they knew I could- A lot of people thought I was drunk, but I wasn’t. I pretended to be drunk in order to loosen up ‘cause I needed to trip myself up and fell down. But I never drank.
Because you can’t perform that way if you drink and you’re drunk because it doesn’t come out funny to everybody else. Maybe to you it is. It’s like making a speech after dinner, you’ve had a lot to drink, you get loose and you think you’re doing a great job, but everybody’s falling asleep!
One other incident I wouldn’t mind recounting is that I was always supremely jealous of the married students because they were getting it regular, and those of us, when they were home. And those of us who had no social life were pretty resentful. But, I don’t know if you recall the old engineering building where we had our studio, but the payphones were in the hall and the studio was behind some doors. And we’re working, three o’clock in the morning, and the damn phone starts to ring and we all know it’s some wife wondering when her husband is going to come home. Who else would be calling at three in the morning? But none of the married students would ever get out of their stools and go and answer the phone. So one day, I was fed up, I went and answered the phone and some wife said, “Is so and so there?” and I said, “No, he just left with his wife”! After that, all the married students ran for the phone! And I even added, “and she had a suitcase with her”!
Any other memories like that?
Oh, I remember, this is- I got to tell you this story. We were doing our final exam. You know how it works, you come into the studio everyday and then you leave everyday, and you are not allowed to take your work home and you work for a week on a project. And Ross Hayes was one of the more talented guys. And he was working today and Herb Feifer, I’m sorry to say wasn’t that very talented. I think he did the right thing and became a developer. Anyway, everyone, you’d wander around, take a break and look at what people were doing. And about three days into this thing, somebody said to Ross Hayes, “Why don’t you go see what Herb Pfeiffer is doing”. So he went around this partition. Now Ross Hayes has a very high voice, and what I heard coming over the partition what hilarious. ‘Cause Herb Feifer had copied Ross Hayes’s design, but without knowing what the towers were for, which were stair towers and at the presentation eventually, he got caught up on it and said they were exhaust towers for some mechanical system, but they were stair towers in a housing project. And over this partition, I could hear Ross’s high voice [high-pitched rant] and then Herb going [low grumble]. And then Ross came around, red in the face, he started throwing things over the partition at Herb Pfeiffer. He literally copied his design! I mean there were guys in our class who, you’d give them a design problem, beat it like hell over to the Blackader Library, look up the magazines, find a design that was appropriate, finish it before any of us who were trying to design from first principles and from the ground up, and then went off to score high in Calculus and all those other damn Mechanics and all those Engineering courses, they had more time to study. I think we all failed Calculus.
I passed it. I was one of the unusual ones!
Well, you know, there’s another complaint I have about schools, by the way. They send in these teaching assistants, some of whose first language is far from English.
Far from English, that’s right.
Yeah, and they’re up there in their theory and everything else and they’re supposed to help you learn minimal Calculus and get by. They should stop teaching Calculus to architects.
They probably have. And also, there was a fellow, a professor by the name of David Selby who used to talk- I guess Structural- he probably gave you a course. Remember Professor Selby?
Oh yeah, Selby, sure, yeah. Bending moments.
Bending moments! Not that we thought of bending moments!
Yeah, right, whatever!
Well, thank you very much. It’s very much appreciated.