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Vancouver architect Bing Thom dead at age 75

Prominent Vancouver architect Bing Thom has died of a brain aneurysm. He was 75 years old.

Thom's career was launched by his design for UBC's Chan Centre for the Performing Arts

One of Canada's most prominent architects, Bing Thom, died Tuesday in Hong Kong from a brain aneurysm at the age of 75. (Bing Thom Architects/Wikipedia)

Prominent Vancouver architect Bing Thom has died of a brain aneurysm. He was 75 years old.

Thom was on a trip to Hong Kong when he passed away Tuesday afternoon, according to the statement issued by his firm this morning. His wife, Bonnie Thom, who shared his life for over 50 years, was by his side, said the statement.

Thom was born in Hong Kong, studied architecture at UBC and UC Berkeley, and worked in the offices of Fumihiko Maki and Arthur Erickson before opening his own firm in Vancouver.

Since it opened in the spring of 1997 Thom's design for the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at UBC has earned an international reputation for its striking design and stellar acoustics. (Chan Centre for the Performing Arts/UBC )

Fellow Vancouver architect James Cheng said he was shocked to hear of Thom's death.

"I was floored because I was sitting next to Bing two weeks ago at a wedding and we were talking about Bing working so hard and the stress of him flying to Hong Kong and doing work there," said Cheng.

Thom is remembered as one of Canada's leading architects and urban visionaries — both at home and abroad — by those who knew him.

"He really was the last of the 'starchitects' like Erickson," said Cheng on Tuesday shortly after learning about Thom's death.

Chan Centre launched

Cheng, who also immigrated from Hong Kong and worked under Thom years ago on the Robson Square design for Arthur Erikson, said Thom was a ground-breaking architect for his generation of Chinese-Canadians.

"He really was a role model. He was the first early success to be a professional in the community."

It was Thom's design for the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at UBC in the late 90s that launched his international career, according to Cheng.

"The Chans donated the funds and then handpicked Bing to be the architect. That project actually launched Bing onto the world stage because of the success it has been and because musicians who played there raved about it."

Thom's design for the Surrey City Centre Library was a key part of the transformation of the city's downtown core. (Bing Thom Architects)

Former Vancouver city planner Brent Toderian said Thom's vision transcended architecture.

"Bing was one of those true giants of not just architecture but urbanism ... He was driven by pure passion and vision," said Toderian."

"He was one of the people who was a key input into this thing we call the Vancouver model or 'Vancouverism'... I work all over the world and I am constantly running into his legacy.... It is amazing how far his vision has travelled."

Toderian points to Thom's design for the redevelopment of Central City in Surrey as one example of how he helped redefine the whole idea of a 'suburban downtown.'

"He was one of these people who challenged the idea that only Vancouver would be an urban place... and he was quite right about that."

More than a style

Cheng said Thom's architecture went deeper than simply following a style.

"He had more of a commitment to a philosophy than an artificial style. His buildings were always very warm. He used a lot of wood ... and that's partly his roots in B.C. and the West Coast."

Thom's award winning design for the Arena Stage at the Mead Centre for American Theatre in Washington, DC, was one his international successes. (Bing Thom Architects)

Thom's colleague at the firm he founded echoed that sentiment.

"He really understood the power of creating beautiful architecture that actually served the community," said Michael Heeney, a principal at Bing Thom Architects.

Thom saw himself first as a public servant and believed in the transformative power of great architecture to uplift not only the physical, but also the economic and social conditions of a community, he said.

"He always said that when people come into my buildings, I want them to feel taller and it makes them feel proud of where they are," said Heeney.

Some of his other local projects include the Sunset Community Centre, Surrey City Centre Library and the Guildford Aquatic Centre.

Other international projects of note include the Xiqu theatre in Hong Kong and the Arena Stage at the Mead Centre for American Theatre in Washington DC.

Thom's design for the Xiqu Centre in the West Kowloon Cultural District in Hong Kong’s new cultural precinct, is scheduled to open in 2017 as a modern home for Chinese Opera. (Bing Thom Architects)