Posts tagged with "Bing Thom":

Bing Thom, 1940-2016

Because we live and practice in New York and travel extensively we consider ourselves highly cultured and knowledgeable. But actually we are quite parochial, a fact that sadly struck a chord when Bing Thom passed away. He would serve on our juries and our boards, revered and consulted for his opinion. However, despite the fact that his firm received the Canadian Architect Firm Award in 2010 and he won the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Gold Medal in 2016, he was off our radar. Even when he was recently invited to compete for a design at Lincoln Center, he was very excited about the potential project and actually started looking for an office in New York. But he may have been too much of a “dark horse” and didn’t get the commission. 

This is unfortunate. One need only look at the skyline of Vancouver to see solid evidence of his talent. From the moment he cut his teeth with Arthur Erickson on the Robson Square Courthouse Complex to his most recently completed Guilford Aquatic Center in Surrey, his sculpted roof forms shaped the city’s civic and cultural spaces. He was gifted at taking disparate functions and resonantly melding them in a way that was creative and technologically innovative without appearing so. Next door to the Aquatic Centre, for instance, is the Surrey City Centre Library, probably one of the earliest buildings programmed through social media primarily to speed up the normal process, so that the library would not lose its public funding. 

Because we are a small profession, there are often clear lines of succession. Bing was no exception. Even though he was born in Hong Kong and fled to Canada as a child in 1949 when the Communists took over, once he landed in Vancouver and decided to become an architect, it didn’t take long for him to become noticed by Erickson, his professor at the University of British Columbia. He went on to receive his Masters of Architecture from Berkeley in 1969. Then he moved to Japan to work for Fumihiko Maki, returning to Toronto to join Erickson on Roy Thomson Hall. The studio he opened in 1982 was very much in the spirit of the work of his two mentors as Bing took on large public projects and became known for his approachable, open creative style. 

His portfolio is extensive and global; it includes many theaters and The Chan Centre for the Performing Arts in Vancouver was one of his earliest. The concert hall is reputed to sound magnificent, owing to a large concrete acoustical canopy, making it tower over every other building on campus. He artfully camouflaged this by a stand of cedars. For Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage, the roof became his medium, defining and enveloping the two existing theaters and the experimental one he added. Currently under construction is the Xiqu Centre in Hong Kong, which will house the Chinese Opera.

A laundry list of his other major buildings would surely include the Canadian Pavilion for the 1992 Expo in Seville, Spain, which was entirely clad in zinc and featured a naturally cooled entertainment area. It would also include the master plan and subsequent commission for the Tarrant County College Downtown Campus in Fort Worth,Texas. And it would definitely feature the University of Chicago Campus in Hong Kong, slated to open next year. 

I knew Bing very briefly and very recently. He came to New York and spoke at the Center for Architecture last spring. He was a lovely man in person, full of passion, thoughtfulness, intelligence, generosity of spirit, and a belief in the power of architecture to transform. I am grateful that we filmed the evening and very sorry that that will be all we have.

Architect Bing Thom passes away at age 75

Vancouver-based architect Bing Thom died today. According to CBC News, he was traveling in Hong Kong and suffered a brain aneurysm. Born in Hong Kong, he immigrated to Vancouver in 1950, according to Historica Canada. He studied architecture at the University of British Columbia and the University of California, Berkeley. Before opening his own Vancouver firm (Bing Thom Architects, in 1981), Thom worked in the offices of Arthur Erickson and Fumihiko Maki. As CBC News reports, it was his Chan Centre for the Performing Arts that helped put his practice on the map. Bing Thom Architects' accolades include the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada's Architectural Firm of the Year (2010) and Gold Medal (2011). His firm issued a statement, which included: "Bing Thom was one of Canada’s most admired and accomplished architects, a dedicated and artful city builder whose global reputation was closely tied to Metro Vancouver, a region he cared for deeply and did much to protect and to improve.... Bing Thom was a mentor to so many architects young and old, sharing his values and passion for creating beautiful spaces and places that better communities." According to the statement, his wife, Bonnie Thom, was at his side when he passed. The firm also writes: "Messages of condolences sent to office[at] will be shared with family and staff."

Photographer Wayne Thom captured Late Modernism like no one else, and now his archive is looking for a home

As 1970s and 1980s architecture returns to vogue, a new recognition of those associated with its making and documentation also arises. So it is with Wayne Thom, long the preeminent architectural photographer of the large, Late Modern building by the large firm. Thom began photographing in the late 1960s and his work in Los Angeles, the Western U.S. and beyond to the Pacific Rim documented changing tastes and approaches toward the architectural subject. Hundreds of images are on view on his website. It’s a distinctive and significant body of work, but one without a home. Presently Thom is looking for an organization or institution to take on his sizeable and meticulously organized archive. As time goes on, Thom’s remarkable work seems increasingly ill-suited for sequestration within any one house, including his own. Born in Shanghai in 1933, Thom was raised in Hong Kong, and emigrated to Vancouver in 1949 with his family that includes brother Bing Thom who went on to become a highly noted Canadian architect. Arriving in the States in 1964, Wayne graduated from Brooks Institute of Photography in 1968. By the following year he was working with A. Quincy Jones (“A.Q.”) who gave him his big Los Angeles break. Jones, and others whom Jones later introduced on Thom’s behalf, were impressed with approaches that would over time become Wayne Thom hallmarks. These include the use of natural light only, no props whatsoever, and big buildings—particularly the high rise, as his subject. A breakthrough assignment, Wayne’s prominence further rose with his image of the 1971 CNA Park Place Tower in the Westlake section of Los Angeles. Completed by Langdon & Wilson, CNA Park Place was the first all-over smooth-grid mirror glass skin building—a soon to be corporate vernacular—completed in the Western United States, and likely the Country. Thom’s image of the building overlooking Lafayette Park and the people within it won the First Award of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass (PPG) Architectural Photographers Invitational in 1973. Among his clients through the 1970s, Thom frequently worked with the A.C. Martin office where he photographed a variety of projects including their various Downtown LA projects, the underrated (and unfortunately renovated) Sears West Coast headquarters, and even an A.C. Martin–designed jet interior. In that decade he also began steady, multi-year work as the primary photographer for William Pereira (“Bill”); San Francisco’s Transamerica Building was among his many Pereira assignments. Among other publications, Thom’s images were featured in Progressive Architecture, Architectural Record, Architectural Forum, and Domus—where he photographed for Gio Ponti, the magazine’s founder. His award-winning Bonaventure Hotel image is the February 1978 Progressive Architecture cover. Architect Arthur Erickson, whom Thom knew since his much earlier Vancouver years, tapped him to assist in assembling the team of associate architects, landscape architects and designers that ultimately won the 1980 competition to redevelop Bunker Hill sponsored by the City of Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency. In a highly publicized coup, they battled against the “All Stars” team, which included Barton Myers, Frank Gehry, Ricardo Legorreta, Charles Moore, Cesar Pelli and others under Maguire Partners Development. Yet says Thom, “We won the battle but lost the war;” aside from a single Erickson building and the hardscape (Two California Plaza was completed by A.C. Martin) the rest of Erickson’s winning scheme was never realized. Thom continued in full-time practice until 2013, when he curtailed his workload. Living in Rowland Heights, he maintains meticulous records for his thousands of negatives and slides plus hundreds and hundreds of proof books and presentation prints. Now, he’s interested in releasing all of it. In addition to his artifacts, the photographer’s memory is institutional and he seems to have known every single Los Angeles Late Modernist, with insightful if not funny tidbits on most of them. If it all possible, his basic hopes are that archive stay intact and be made available to the public.