Visiting the Canadian Center for Architecture (CCA)

Visiting the Canadian Center for Architecture (CCA)

The monumental limestone building of the Canadian Center for Architecture (CCA) is a Montreal landmark. Combining classical modernism with minimal post-modern elements, it is integrated with the Shaughnessy House, the former residence of three members of the senior management of The Canadian Pacific Railway. This intriguing building and its surrounding sculpture garden are often the first things visitors see when arriving into the city from the Ville Marie Expressway.

The CCA was founded by architect Phyllis Lambert, Founding Director Emeritus, in 1979 as an effort to promote public education of the role of architecture and the built environment in society and to support scholarly research in the field. The Centre features acclaimed exhibitions and houses an extensive research collection of publications, drawings, plans and architectural archives, making it one of the leading architecture institutions in the world.

I traveled to the CCA at the end of August to consult their collections and to select drawings and plans from the Cornelia Oberlander Archive for our upcoming online exhibition New Ways of Living: Jewish Architects in Vancouver, 1955-1975. The galleries were quiet on my first day at the CCA as they served as a set for an interview with Phyllis Lambert. The staff of the Library Reading Room carefully assembled the primary source material I requested and I received a brief introduction to the Cornelia Oberlander Archive which documents landscape designs for private residences, urban parks, playgrounds and other public spaces. I viewed the files highlighting Cornelia’s designs for several widely publicized mid-century modern homes such as the Oberlander “Tick-Tack-Toe” House and the Eppich Residence, recently featured in the exhibition From the Inside Out: Integrating Art and Architecture on the West Coast at the West Vancouver Museum.

It was fascinating to trace the evolution of Oberlander’s projects from the early sketches and presentation drawings to the final plans. The material was visually compelling and included gems such as the minutes from a meeting with Oberlander, Hugo Eppich, Stan Burton and Inara Kendrins from May ’89 at Arthur Erickson Architects about the Eppich Residence landscape. The files provided a glimpse into Oberlander’s research-intensive approach to design projects and featured several publications that she studied. For instance, a zealously annotated article from 1987 in The Vancouver Sun previewing a “masterpiece in the making”, the Eppich Residence. Oberlander’s notes, sketches and preliminary plans were often personalized with marginalia including reminders for “lunch with Eva [Matsuzaki]” and drawings of flowers and foliage.

The primary source material in the Cornelia Oberlander Archive reveals important insight into Oberlander’s design process. It allowed me to visualize the themes and key features of her work such as her dedication to ecologically sensitive design, attention to site specificity and use of local plant material. Oberlander’s captivating plans and drawings will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of New Ways of Living: Jewish Architects in Vancouver, 1955-1975.

Chanel Blouin is the 2015 Museum Assistant at the JMABC, where she is developing the exhibit, New Ways of Living: Jewish Architects in Vancouver, 1955-1975. This position has been made possible through the generous support of the Government of Canada’s Young Canada Works Program.