Tracey Lindeman over at the Walrus recently asked: Why is Canadian architecture so bad? Is it because Canadians are too passive and apathetic when it comes to good design? Or is it because we’re too cheap and don’t like our tax dollars being spent on unnecessarily lavish public buildings?
Whatever the case, there is an argument out there that we maybe had this wonderful period between the 50s and 70s where we really excelled in modern architecture and design (including graphic design), but that we kind of stopped caring and have built mostly banal stuff since then.
Part of Tracey’s argument is simply that we’re cowards. We’re more interested in “checking boxes instead of taking chances.” We’ve become too bureaucratic when it comes to procuring new public architecture. And she’s not wrong.
Why we accept it is a patently Canadian phenomenon: our national psyche has us much more interested in checking boxes than in taking chances. Our standard process for contracting buildings often gives projects to the lowest bidders, even if a vastly more beautiful design is just a little bit more expensive. We have become so devoted to frugality and bureaucracy, and are so readily appeased by basic functionality, that we have lost the fortitude to take and demand risks, even if the outcome could be the most beautiful thing we’ve ever seen.
Great architecture requires not only great architects, but also great patrons of architecture. That has generally been the way all throughout history. But here’s the fortunate thing. We have lots of wonderfully talented architects in this country and lots of people who see the value in architecture.
In fact, I think you could argue that over the last 5-10 years we have seen the quality of architecture in our cities step up dramatically. Some of these projects have been designed by top Canadian architects and some have been designed by leading international architects.
In both cases it’s because we see the value proposition and have decided to invest in architecture and design. Now we just need to be bolder across the board and get bureaucracy and checkboxes out of the way of Canadian creativity.