PHOTO ESSAY

Concrete Poet

The bold lines of architect Arthur Erickson

By Greg Buium
May 2006
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Photo by Ricardo L. Castro, 2005. Courtesy of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Photo by Ricardo L. Castro, 2005. Courtesy of the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Canadian Embassy (1983-89)
Washington, D.C.

Not every project in Critical Works is considered an unqualified success. Take the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. “I think Arthur sort of betrayed a couple of his own principles in that building,” Olsberg says, emphasizing the dearth of a repetitive framework. “I think he was trying to do too many things at once. But what an awesome responsibility, to stick a building on Pennsylvania Avenue to represent your country.”

The embassy is a postmodern collage. Echoing Washington’s neo-classical motifs and the National Gallery across the street, the embassy is filled with all kinds of odd angles — a way, perhaps, to show off the property’s stunning sightlines, which point straight towards the Capitol.

Olsberg relates the story of an official who recently attended a reception at the embassy. “‘Now I don’t know anything about architecture,’” the person said, after walking around the ambassador’s quarters on the roof, “‘but nothing ever showed me how imperial Washington was before this.’”

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