John Schreiber

Resolution on the death of Professor John Schreiber, 1921 - 2002

Professor John Schreiber died peacefully on the 21st of February, 2002, at Taybarn, the home he built in Perth, Ontario. He was born and raised in Poland, but at the start of the Second World War he escaped to England where he served in the Polish Navy under British Command. When he was discharged with the rank of Lieutenant in 1946, he traveled to Scotland to study architecture at the University of Glasgow, graduating in 1951 and emigrating to Canada soon after. He joined the staff of the School of Architecture at McGill in 1953 and although he retired officially from teaching in 1987, his relationship with the School never ended.

He was a regular lecturer and guest critic, and in the spring of 1996 he taught a special summer course that resulted in one of his most memorable and important legacies to the University - the Centennial Gardens of the School of Architecture, which he designed and built with a team of twenty-one students and a few volunteers, just a few months before his seventy-fifth birthday. Forty-eight trees were planted, earth was moved and retaining walls and stone furniture constructed in an exercise that demonstrated beautifully his vision of landscape design and his continuing commitment to the McGill campus.

The five decades of his life and work in Canada were rich and rewarding and punctuated in interesting ways: with a year at Harvard, where he studied landscape architecture, graduating with a Master of Landscape Architecture degree in 1964; with periods of intense professional activity in India and Pakistan in the late sixties and seventies; and with the development over fifty years of a body of work that is remarkable for its consistently high quality and for the subtlety with which it blurs conventional distinctions between architecture and landscape.. John was a Fellow of the RAIC, and a member of the OAQ, the RIBA, the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects, and L'association des architects-paysagistes de la Province du Québec.

John was a gifted architect and landscape architect, and a brilliant draftsman - his sketches and drawings were stunning for their clarity and eloquence, as both expressions of intention and instructions for building. His attitude to the place of buildings in the landscape - the environment - is legible in all of his work and was wonderfully expressed in a lecture to students just a few years ago, when he reminded them that "Buildings belong to land, not to people." The legendary magic with which he wove the most unlikely recycled materials into his houses and gardens fills the "space between the lines" in a terse 1987 note from Maureen Anderson to University Security: "This is to confirm that Professor John Schreiber has the permission of the Director of the School of Architecture to remove scrap lumber (bookshelves, used panels, etc.) from our former premises in the McConnell Engineering Building."

John leaves his wife Monika, the hundreds of friends and colleagues and former students whose lives and careers he changed in some way, and a long list of built - and planted - work that is beautiful and inspiring. The late Professor Norbert Schoenauer, one of his oldest and closest friends, once wrote that John's work was "characterized by inventiveness, charm and comfort, as well as a sense of play and surprise." This is as accurate a description of the man as it is of his work, and it is how many of us will remember him.

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