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Arthur Erickson, shown in an undated photo, was known for his ground-breaking designs in concrete and glass. ((Chris Buck/CBC))

Arthur Erickson, the Vancouver-born architect known for his ground-breaking designs in concrete and glass, has died at age 84, his family said Wednesday.

Erickson's nephew, Geoff, said he died in hospital Wednesday afternoon in Vancouver. He had been in declining health for some time.

"He died in peace of old age, surrounded by loving family and fantastic friends from all over the world who've been coming and going, sending cards and letters," he said. "[They've] been phoning from all over the world. It's quite extraordinary."

His friend and fellow architect Bing Thom said it's a huge loss for Canada.

"I think we've lost a great Canadian, one of the greatest Canadians of all time. I think as an architect, certainly there is no, no Canadian architect has achieved what he has from international recognition and accolades from all over, because he has just done so much to put Canadian architecture on the map," said Thom.

Every building Erickson designed had a common element: an inherent humanity, said Thom.

"His buildings were always very much embracing peoples' aspiration, but always allowed them to see themselves bigger than they think they are. You know you walk out of one of Arthur's buildings, you walk out a little taller than when you came in," said Thom.

Vancouver's architect

Born in 1924, Erickson joined the Canadian Army in 1943 and served in India, Ceylon and Malaysia. In 1945, he became a captain in the Canadian Intelligence Corps. He graduated from Montreal's McGill University in 1950 and worked as an associate professor at the University of British Columbia from 1957 to 1963.

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Arthur Erickson's design for the Vancouver Law Courts has been described as a skyscraper laid on its side. The court building was intended as a kind of monument to the 'transparency' of the Canadian legal system. In Erickson's vision, a passerby outside is meant to be able to see justice at work. ((Ricardo L. Castro, courtesy of the Vancouver Art Gallery))

He first achieved international acclaim soon after for his award-winning design for Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. Later he designed many significant buildings that made up the urban landscape of Vancouver, including the Vancouver Law Courts and Robson Square and UBC's Museum of Anthropology.

Erickson's success in Vancouver soon spread around the globe. His noted designs included Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto, the Canadian Embassy in Washington, California Plaza in Los Angeles, Napp Laboratories in Cambridge, England, Kuwait Oil Sector Complex in Kuwait City and Kunlun Apartment Hotel Development in Beijing.

Architecture critic Trevor Boddy recently curated an exhibit about Vancouver that prominently featured Erickson's work, and said the distinctive stamp Erikson left on the young West Coast city would be his most enduring legacy.

'Pushing it on to the next stage'

"You can look at his career as being one phase ahead of the city he loved so much, and not afraid of pushing it on to the next stage," said Boddy.

Erickson was the first to believe Vancouver could be a world-class city, Boddy said.

"The way that he prodded and primed and hoped that Vancouver would become a better place, more diverse, more dense, more visually engaging, more beautiful, the notion that this geographically-isolated city could be a global contender."

Erickson's career had its troubles too, most notably, leaving creditors in the lurch after declaring bankruptcy in 1992, but Thom said his drive and vision were undeniable.

With files from The Canadian Press