Eric Majer

B.Arch. 1996
February 18, 1998
Interview by Jim Donaldson

[Note: The sound quality on the tape is very poor and therefore, some parts of the interview are indecipherable, including most questions and comments by the interviewer.]

Well, I was one of these kids that always liked to draw, so I think I actually remember one day when we were in elementary school, maybe grade 2 or something, we were asked what we wanted to do. And I think I asked my mother what kind of profession draws a lot. And she said, “Well, you want to be an architect”. And so I kept saying architect. So I have friends who have known me for fifteen years and they say, “Oh, you always wanted to be an architect” . And, in fact, I always say, “Well, no because I actually didn’t know at the time what an architect really was. And even when I was applying then for university when I was in high school I was still thinking about being an architect but I wasn’t sure if it was something that I’d gradually do well or- yeah, if I even was going to do it or not. And then so the thing is in the west, all these schools are graduate programmes, like UBC. So that would give me some four years to do my Bachelor’s degree in general science or arts or whatever and then I’d go to architecture. And so I went into general science at UBC and I did two years there. In between these two years I took one summer to go to the University of Oregon where they had the introductory architecture programme. And that was a very, very good experience. I’m very glad I did that. I had an excellent time and I think it was a real, in retrospect now I think it was a real advantage to have done a programme like that before going into architecture because the first few months of studying architecture really can be very intense and you can develop very quickly. So that was a very good experience and I was very excited because I thought yes, this is something I can do. And so then coming back, this was after my first year at UBC, and after that summer it was too late to apply to another school of architecture that you can go after a year of university or even right out from high school. So- well at first there was this question of whether I wanted to still get my degree and then go into architecture, but I thought that’s a waste of time. So, yeah, I applied to McGill and the Technical University of Nova Scotia, which I hear is kind of [unclear]. And in fact I was leaning towards TUNS because they have this co-op programme and I thought that was a good idea. But my parents were very pro-McGill because McGill [unclear] University kind of, so whatever. But it actually turned out I didn’t have a choice because at TUNS they screwed my application up, so whatever. But actually, I’m very glad though because [unclear] a very important awareness of [unclear]. And I think Montreal is a very urban city [unclear]. So [unclear].


[Interviewer’s comments unintelligible]

Well, it was a little bit funny in first year because you have all these people who- well, this gets back to that experience at U of Oregon because I had been introduced into the studio life and what it is to be in a school of architecture, I wasn’t- well, this is funny because there were all these students around me who didn’t know what it was going to be like. And that was kind of interesting to see things kind of fall into place, because for the most part I think all schools of architecture have the same sort of studio life at least. And, I don’t know, I think it was hard to adjust to the intensity of being at McGill in particular. It was just a difficult load, the load of work you have to do.


[Interviewer’s comments unintelligible]

Yeah, yeah, but it’s also difficult because it’s hard to gauge the amount of time you should be spending doing studio work and balancing that with your other courses because it’s not a normal kind of course.

[Interviewer’s comments unintelligible]

Yeah, I had David Covo and Howard Davies and Lea Zeppetelli was there and Gavin Affleck and Marie-Eve- Marie- Now I can’t remember her name. It was Marie-Something!

[Interviewer’s comments unintelligible]

Well, I think it would have actually benefited if they had all sort of played a more equal role I think in that, for instance, every week, we had a seminar or lecture, every Monday or Tuesday. And it was David Covo who would always present slides. And that was very interesting just to be exposed to a lot of pictures. That was very inspiring. However, I think Howard did one lecture or two and the other professors, the other assistants, did one lecture or two. And they were all very good at these individual lectures. And I think it just would have been more interesting if they had presented more often because they really have a different approach and a different area of experience.


[Interviewer’s comments unintelligible]

Well, in first year actually, it was funny because we started- there were six of us who [unclear] because we had had– well, I had had the two years at McGill- or at UBC so I had some of my electives [unclear] taken care of. So we weren’t satisfied with the electives we had to choose from in first year. So we started a photography course with Rick Kerrigan on our own. And now I think it’ s- well, [unclear]. But it became a normal course. And that was very fun because it was just the six of us and we were- you know it was very new for us to learn how to change the lens of the cameras to take proper photos. So that was very interesting. And then another course I was thinking about is Historic Preservation, which was a very interesting course too. And that was taught by Julia Gersovitz. And she’s great. She’s very-


[Interviewer’s comments unintelligible]

Yeah, that’s what she does for a living but her character is just [unclear]. Also as a course, it’s a little bit strange because you’re taught about the classical orders in a very efficient manner and then methods of preservation but then it’s also very essential in that she talks about different construction methods, which is very basic. And also what I liked about this course is that we had to do this historic structures analysis, which was sixty percent of our mark. And, yeah, we had to pick a historic building in Montreal, a group of us- or it was mostly in pairs. We had to do this complete rundown of the history of the building, its-

Which building did you pick?

We picked the- it’s actually- it became a McGill building but it used to be an old- it was called the Gertrude Joslin houses on Pine.

[Interviewer’s comments unintelligible]

Yeah, no top of University. And it became the department of some very strange radi- it was some medical thing but a bit strange. And it wasn’t in use anymore. But it was very enjoyable to do this thing and also because it was this big presentation, it was this huge component of our mark. It was-

[Interviewer’s comments unintelligible]

Yeah and it was like, I don’t know, it was an accomplishment to go up there and do this thing. And we did well. It was very enjoyable. But I think a lot of these things, a lot of these experiences that we had are not even course-planned. I mean it’s not sort of the McGill intention to say, “Well, we’ re offering this course because it’s going to help you [unclear] when you’ re out of school [unclear].


[Interviewer’s comments unintelligible]

Well, I’d taken quite a bit of art history. [Unclear] at UBC, too. And it always depends of the professor because now art history is becoming very self-analytical, just how it is being taught and so it’s interesting. And again I think when you see the professor that you have, when you see, when you’re introduced to their actual, specific area of interest, it becomes a lot more interesting. I mean I imagine that our different history- the whole- from Rome ‘til now, as it was taught to us is sort of a formula for teaching it. It has to be followed in a certain way. But what I remember with Annmarie is that she did two other lectures. There was one on the influence of the sitcom. She talked a little bit about the sitcom and television and things like how- yeah, I remember she had a slide with the cast of Bewitched and how that was indicative of the whole suburban way at the time. And it was very interesting to see- not only is it interesting because it’s a fresh view of the world, you know, put together in a way that you haven’t heard before but also because when it is the professor’s passion, it comes through in the way it’s taught, in their enthusiasm.


[Section of interview unintelligible]

It’s one of those courses that I think is very- again, inspired by the sheer quantity of images that you see. It is a difficult course to teach because there are principles of- it’s just a lot of principles. And so I think it’s one of those things again that it’s just the more the better. You know, the most inspiring part of it is to look at the images. It’s kind of like this: there’s this book on [unclear], right. It’s a [unclear] book. It’s a thick book and it’ s full of principles, how [unclear] make you [unclear]. But, in fact, I think just looking at the pictures is the best part of the book. I don’t remember why [unclear].


[Interviewer’s comments unintelligible]

What about- I’m just trying to think of some of the others. Was Bruce teaching you at this time?

Yeah, yeah. I had him for- he was my thesis advisor and I had him for third-year design. And that was funny too because he’s interested in sort of classical architecture. And it was funny how everyone tried to fight that subject. Yeah, I think maybe the problem is that a little bit- in third year in a four-year programme it’s a little bit late to be introduced to classical architecture. But it was just funny because I remember hearing everyone’s excuses: “This is classical because it is symmetrical. This is classical because this is [unclear] or something”. It was just an indirect way of making your designs somehow fit the mandate. But I enjoyed that studio [unclear].


[Interviewer’s comments unintelligible]

Yeah, yeah.

Well tell us your experience.

Well, Sketching School was very nice. Well I paint or I – yeah, I paint quite a- well, quite regularly. Not so much but I make a point of doing it every now and then. And so I think about it a lot. When I was away too in Europe I was constantly thinking about doing something outside of work just to keep satisfied because work is work. It’s not always so interesting. But Sketching School was very memorable and it’s a really good idea. One thing too, I think it could be a little bit more analytical of not so much- well, I think it is very easy to get caught up on making very beautiful paintings. And in fact I remember myself thinking that I wanted everything I draw to be a piece, you know, a frameable thing. And I think that puts a lot of pressure on. I mean Sketching School you could describe as being almost enjoyable because it’s so, you know, perfect [unclear].


It’s a great time of year. You’re with friends and there’s no great pressure.


[Interviewer’s comments unintelligible]

But there is this burden hanging over your head over the twenty pieces that you have to submit. And that’s it. It’s just that, I don’t know, we should have maybe talked about more like why we’re here and [unclear]. And we’re looking at buildings that follow a certain tradition that’s typical for the area and we should have talked maybe more of why it is what it is instead of picturesque paintings.


[Interviewer’s comments unintelligible]

Yeah, it was Ricardo Castro and I think he’s a very inspirational person too because the way he works is-

[Interviewer’s comments unintelligible]

He’s a nice person and he keeps very busy and if you talk to him I think you would- if someone were to come with another responsibility for him to do he would do it even though his life is already really packed as it is.


[Unclear]. How about Norbert?

I never had him as a professor.

[Interviewer’s comments unintelligible]

Yeah, yeah. And he spent a lot of time I think in Copenhagen too so I’ve had him in mind. And I’ve seen slides of his [unclear] too. It’s very nice. But it’ s a shame because I never have- well, it’s one of those things you don’t have enough time to do it really.

Your memories of McGill are all pretty positive, I guess? Even though [unclear]?

Well one thing is surveying. Did you ever take that class?


Yeah, that’s- I could start on a whole discussion about it.


[Section of interview unintelligible]

But in terms of just being in Montreal in the springtime, I remember we were sitting there on this hill and you have to imagine all these people in this field with their little [unclear].

[Section of interview unintelligible]

So we’re on the hill and [unclear] at a certain point just over the hill you could see the skyline of Montreal emerging and [unclear] and bongos were being played. And it was very weird but quite a wonderful moment. And then another surveying moment that I have stuck in my head is when we were, well, we were surveying and we had our metal poles with the measuring tapes on them. And thunderclouds are approaching and we see lightening and I said- and it really was like boot camp. I don’t know if it was when you went.

Oh yeah.

Yeah, so again, it’s this question of what’s the intention because yes, we bonded out of this experience but it was mostly out of defiance rather than-.


[Interviewer’s comments unintelligible]

Yeah. So yeah, I say to the- one of the supervisor people, “I don’t feel comfortable with this metal rod because lightening is approaching”. And he said, “No, no. It’s not a threat”. And I was like, “Okay”. And then the lightening came closer and the skies just burst and it was raining like you wouldn’t believe. And we were all running. And, of course, there is a proper way to hold your instrument, which they taught us and we just grabbed any way we could our things and we’re running and laughing. That was a nice moment.


So if you had to sum up your years at McGill, what would you [unclear]?

It’s little things.

[Interviewer’s comments unintelligible]

Well Copenhagen when I got there it was the place where I wanted to stay because there were a lot of places in Europe that are beautiful cities but what mattered to me was that it was also a livable place but also that it- that there’s new projects, new architecture was of a certain quality. And that was very [unclear] that very good architecture was still being produced. And the difference [unclear] between Denmark and Sweden, for instance, is I think it’s more than anything how the architect or the profession is [unclear] the society. And everybody has a lot of respect for architects. And that makes such a big difference. So working for [unclear], I mean, I got into it for something like three weeks or something, because I was really working- I wanted to stay. It was intense and everything but I just imagine it won’t be as easy to work with him because there are a lot of things I saw [unclear] this is rather inefficient. It just wouldn’t go down.


[Interviewer’s comments unintelligible]

Well, I just want to have a good job and- No but I think nowadays, for instance, I’ve established that I have to maintain a certain standard in my life. And also being- I think the biggest lesson being away and working with people who are at least twelve years older than me is you see what it is going to be like to be an architect. And you have forty and fifty year old architects that come into the firm and are fired two months later and go from job to job to job, not necessarily because they’re bad architects but because of all sorts of social complexities that happen in a [unclear] group. Those kinds of things just make me want to- I don’t know, I somehow feel like I can’ t actually lead my life a certain way [unclear] going from job to job to job, I think that means, I don’t know how exactly, but just-


[Section of interview unintelligible]

So did you enjoy the interview?


Strange circumstances but thank you very much.

Well, thank you.