Melvin Charney

1935 - 2012

We write with the sad news that our friend and colleague Melvin Charney, legendary teacher and theorist and McGill graduate, died on Monday, September 17, 2012.

Charney entered the School of Architecture at McGill in 1952. He was awarded the A. F. Dunlop Travelling Scholarship when he graduated with his B.Arch. in 1958, but completed his Master of Architecture degree at Yale before combining the Dunlop with a grant from the Canada Council to travel in Europe, North Africa and Asia Minor. In his application for the Dunlop to Director John Bland, he wrote “To transport buildings, as one does paintings, to a given place in order to exhibit them, is physically impossible. Then without travel, the study of significant architecture is a study of diagrams.”

Following his travels and some time in Paris and New York, Charney returned to Montreal where he established the critical practice and studio that he maintained for almost fifty years. The breadth of his accomplishments is extraordinary:  architecture, urban landscapes, art, photography, writing, and teaching.  He is especially significant as a Canadian- and Montreal-based artist/architect and critic in the 1970s-80s.  His three most important works are likely his proposal for the Canadian pavilion at Osaka (1970), Montreal’s Corridart project done for the 1976 Olympics, and the CCA Garden from 1987.  Charney’s writings appeared mostly as short articles in a wide variety of journals and showcase his embrace of everyday architecture, his compelling positions on place and displacement, his implicit critique of the profession’s elitism, his progressive politics, and his wide-ranging interests in psychology and history.

Charney taught architecture at l’Université de Montréal, where he inspired generations of students. In an interview done for our School’s Centennial in 1996, however, Charney pointed to his own experience as a student at McGill and, in particular, to the studio taught by Stuart Wilson as a landmark time in his development:  “And it was that studio course that introduced one in a very direct way, and a very profound way into what architecture could be about.…..McGill to me was a magical moment.”

His many honours include the Prix Paul-Émile Borduas, the Prix Lynch Staunton, fellowship in the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, membership in the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts, appointment as Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Québec and Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres (France), and an Honorary Doctorate from McGill University.

The funeral service is at Paperman & Sons, 3888 Jean Talon St. West on September 20 at 2:00 pm.

Annmarie Adams and David Covo
19 September 2012