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David Miller remembers Peter Cardew
Source: Canadian Architect
11-3-2020 | News
For good, and sometimes for ill, Vancouver’s Peter Cardew has become Canada’s definitive ‘architect’s architect’ over the past several decades. For good, he was chosen as the RAIC’s Gold Medal winner for 2012, despite then never having completed a building east of Calgary. Andrew Gruft’s award-linked tribute to him in this magazine was entitled “An Architect’s Architect.” He earned the broad respect of his peers for such meticulously detailed and spatially engaging buildings as UBC’s Belkin Art Gallery and the Stone Band School in BC’s Chilcotin.
As a project designer for Rhone and Iredale early in his career, Cardew shaped Vancouver’s definitive office tower of the 1970s, Crown Life Plaza—now called 1500 West Georgia. David Miller is founder of Rhone and Iredale’s Seattle spin-off (now called Miller Hull, and named AIA’s 2003 Firm of the Year), and says this of working on 1500 West Georgia under Cardew: “It is very hard to create buildings that blend humanity with crisp tectonic form. Peter made it an art. He was a big influence on my development as a designer.” Miller is not alone: ever since 1500 West Georgia opened, Vancouver design firms have voted with their square feet—by selecting this building as home for their studios.
But the discipline and focus needed to pull of being an architect’s architect also comes at a price. The total area of buildings that Cardew completed in the decade after the 1980 founding of his own firm barely exceeds that single half-block-filling earlier work. Canada’s chary procurement rules and often timid embrace of innovation and excellence meant that Cardew never broke through to the large urban commissions that the British-born architect clearly wanted. There is more at play than this standard list of impediments, however, because Cardew sometimes shared Arthur Erickson’s disdain for the money side of architecture. Calgary’s Marc Boutin—who began his career with four years in Cardew’s office (much of it working on the Belkin Gallery)—says Cardew’s disinterest in making a lot of money and his excellence as a designer stemmed from a common source, which he describes as “Peter’s ability to remove himself from minutia, balancing intensive timeframes of focus syncopated with noodling/lateral thinking.” Former Rhone and Iredale colleague Richard Henriquez says that from the beginning, he thought of Cardew as “One of the best designers in this country, with enormous potential,” but also adds, somewhat sternly, “He did not have the rigour to realize architecture was more than design.”