Iconic Canadian Architect Arthur Erickson Is Having a Major Moment

Robson Square is located roughly 900 feet southeast of the Mac Blo / Arthur Erickson Square complex. The three-block expanse encompasses new law courts, offices, and public space that culminates in the Vancouver Art Gallery, which was adapted from Francis Rattenbury’s 1911 Neoclassical courthouse in 1981. Now, almost four decades later, Erickson’s original vision of pedestrianizing the Robson Street entrance of the VAG and joining it to the larger complex has materialized.

The Catton House, now available for purchase.

The City of Vancouver-funded project began in Fall 2019 and comprised work on the north and south sides of the VAG. The North Plaza, newly renamed šxʷƛ̓ənəq Xwtl’e7énḵ Square, (which roughly translates in local First Nations language as “a cultural and ceremonial gathering place,”) symbolically shed its colonial skin by reframing the plaza as an open space.

The plaza is still a popular place for public gatherings and protests, but new seating and landscaping also encourage more casual urban hang outs. A sculptural bus stop at the plaza’s eastern side offers stylish shelter, and breaks down the scale of the massive, black glass office tower across the street, entering into a dialogue with trees planted along Hornby Street to the west.

Vancouver Art Gallery surrounded by high-rises in Robson Square.Jon Hicks

The South Plaza, completed at the end of March, is a more intimate space than the larger one to the north, and it contains everything from small social gatherings to jazz festivals. Erickson’s original idea of paving Robson Square was literally stretched across Robson Street. Its seamless integration was achieved by using concrete pavers with articulated granite patterns that blend with the complex’s original paving.

While Erickson’s classically proportioned Simon Fraser University Campus on the eastern edge of greater Vancouver has enjoyed recent updates, his stunning Museum of Anthropology at the far western edge of the city on UBC campus, is currently undergoing a major renovation. The great hall, with its soaring glass sea views framed by Northwest Coast totem poles, is being seismically upgraded by Nick Milkovich—his long-time collaborator—and his architectural team.  

Erickson’s hand-sketched masterplan for Vancouver as envisioned back in 1955.

It was there that Erickson’s 80th birthday was celebrated, complete with local indigenous honor songs and dances, but sadly his original vision for a reflecting pool was not realized until the year after his death, in 2010. With any luck, the museum’s upgrade will be finished in time to celebrate Erickson’s centenary in 2024, in a city that has now matured enough to appreciate one of its greatest architects and his significant civic legacy.

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