Saskatchewan

Sask. architect Clifford Wiens dies at 93

Clifford Wiens is regarded for a number of his designs in the province, including the University of Regina Heating and Cooling Plant and the CBC building in Regina.

'He's the greatest architect ever to come from Saskatchewan,' says architecture critic and curator

Clifford Wiens received acclaim for how he designed the heating and cooling plant at the University of Regina. (Raphele Frigon/Radio-Canada)

A talented architect from Saskatchewan has died at the age of 93. 

Clifford Wiens was a distinguished architect born in the Glen Kerr area of Saskatchewan in 1926. 

"By almost universal opinion he's the greatest architect ever to come from Saskatchewan," said architecture critic and curator Trevor Boddy.

Boddy said Wiens was raised on a Mennonite farm.

There's almost no debate that Clifford Wiens is the finest architect ever to practice in Saskatchewan- Trevor Boddy

"[He] was very much shaped by his Mennonite family and growing up on the farm," Boddy said. "He learned all the building skills you could imagine, metalworking, carpentry and so on."

Wiens was immersed in the landscape, which made his choice to practice in urban neighbourhoods a surprise, Boddy said. 

"He understood the prairie landscape and how important the skies are and the horizon and constantly worked with those," Boddy said.

Wiens started out by studying painting with A. Y. Jackson — a founder of the Group of Seven — and graduated with a degree in architecture and design.

Wiens is best known for a number of his designs in Saskatchewan including: the University of Regina Heating and Cooling Plant; the CBC building on Broad Street; the Outdoor chapel at Silton, Sask.; the City Hall in Prince Albert, Sask.; The Royal Bank tower in Regina; St. Joseph's Church in Whitewood, Sask.; and, John Nugent Studio near Lumsden. 

Clifford Wiens was born in 1926. He died in 2020. (Clifford Wiens/University of Regina Website)

"There's almost no debate that Clifford Wiens is the finest architect ever to practice in Saskatchewan," Boddy said. 

Wiens is one of the most nationally and internationally recognized designers from the prairie province, he said. A simple power plant commission designed by Wiens caught national attention because it was unique but also functional. 

"That power plant, it's got a glass end of the building which could be taken down to allow new equipment to be taken in or out. It's a concrete cast concrete frame structure, very simple conception but powerful," he said. 

His modern architecture forms really are pointing at a more perfect world.- Trevor Boddy

As well, Wiens designed the John Nugent studio that was a surprising and unusual building, while the Silton Chapel was sort of just a roof. 

"I think Clifford Wiens' brilliance is that he could take a commission that is basically a roof and nothing else and turn it into really quite an amazing piece of work. It has all of the functional areas of a Roman Catholic church — baptismal font and an altar and so on but it is powerful in its simplicity as well," he said. 

In his past work as a curator, Boddy took an exhibit of Wiens' work to Saskatoon, Regina, Vancouver, Ontario and more because of the interest in his work. 

Clifford Wiens designed the CBC building during his career. (CBC)

In his 60s, Wiens moved to Arizona and taught for awhile until moving to Vancouver. He died on Jan. 25. 

"He had a very interesting self-estimation," Boddy said. "Clifford once told me that he thought of himself as being a perfectionist in an imperfect world and I think that's a pretty good summary."

"His modern architecture forms really are pointing at a more perfect world." 

Corrections

  • A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Wiens had died on Jan. 26. In fact, it was Jan. 25.
    Feb 04, 2020 5:20 PM CT

With files from Raphaële Frigon

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