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Arthur Erickson’s legacy hits the silver screen in VIFF showcase

An architect who changed the look of Vancouver is being celebrated in a new medium. 

To mark the 100th anniversary of iconic Vancouver architect Arthur Erickson’s birth, the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) Centre will screen two Hollywood films highlighting his work along with two documentaries about his accomplishments.

Architect and critic Trevor Boddy is curating the film series and introducing each film, starting with the 1994 Richard Gere and Sharon Stone drama Intersection.

“The film is really Gere portraying Erickson, and there’s a model of the Museum of Anthropology in one of the scenes, built by architect Nick Milkovich who worked on the actual building.” Boddy said.

“That film is kind of eye candy, but what I’m after as the curator of the series is to get people to think of Erickson in fresh ways, stand back and see the buildings again.”

Boddy said film producer Christine Haebler, whose father founded Vancouver general contractors The Haebler Group, knew Erickson since she childhood and was hired by the Intersection producers to find Vancouver locations, including the Erickson-designed Waterfall Building in False Creek.

The Groundstar Conspiracy, a 1972 thriller, was filmed almost entirely on the then recently-built Simon Fraser University campus with the location playing the part of an “evil computer centre running the world.”

“The buildings were only a few years old when the film was shot and the filmmakers were allowed to run loose shooting in August with no students on campus,” Boddy said.

He added the film was chosen for the retrospective because “it’s a medium that comes to people broadly and emotionally.”

VIFF

“It’s one thing to show photos of the man or a slideshow of buildings, but film is more dynamic. Documentaries show him opening buildings, speaking with people and reveal the creative mind (at work) behind the building,” Boddy said.

Documentaries featured include 2002’s Concrete Poetry with the film’s director and Arthur Erickson’s Dyde House, a 2023 film by director Colin Waugh.

Boddy said Erickson’s design caught Hollywood’s eye because he was ahead of his time.

“He was way ahead of the curve in so many ways. When the Museum of Anthropology was designed in 1972, no contemporary architects were taking First Nations designs seriously at the time. Arthur had been to Haida Gwai, befriended Haida artist Bill Reid, and was interested in the legacy of the monuments and houses in the region,” he said.

“He wanted to take the idea of those wooden house fronts and transform it into concrete.”

Erickson also created passive solar structures decades before other designers, Boddy said.

“When Robson Square (in downtown Vancouver) opened in the 1970s it was a passive solar and unheated structure,” he said.

Though diplomatic, sometimes Erickson’s forward thinking pushed up against local planners and politicians, he added.

“He kept saying to Vancouver to ‘get your act together and plan for a city of 10 million people,’ and pointed out the city has to have public space and infrastructure (in order to) enter the world stage,” Boddy said.

Erickson faced backlash for his blunt assessment and saw fallow periods in his career but “what’s happened with time is that people realized he helped change our city for the better and his heart was in the right place.

“All of the events coming up this week are ways of saying we respect both his legacy and the gift given to Vancouver in terms of being ahead of the curve and designing for the city we want to be,” Boddy said.

More information on the Arthur Erickson on Film series is available here and a trailer for the series is below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMOi-6Lrm4c


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