A couple of weeks ago the Laurentian
School of Architecture held an auction; for fish huts.
I can’t tell
you much about it because as of this writing it hasn’t actually
happened. As I don’t fish and have cut back on the amount of
liquor I consume at any one time, on ice or anywhere else, I don’t
believe I will buy one. That doesn’t mean they aren’t important
I got my first view of these Northern
icons at the school’s open house in December. They were models of
what was to come. I was astonished at how creative one can be with a
The one I liked best had a revolving roof that could open
up on a sunny day. A poor man’s Rogers Skydome. I don’t know if
it eventually got made.
Often what looks great in theory is
impossible to build or to build in time for an auction much less for
the money contemplated. I call those dreamy beautiful white elephants
MOS’s for Montreal Olympic Stadium.
The Montreal Olympic Stadium
was built not far from where I was born in the east end of Montreal.
I used to go in soapbox derby races as a seven-year-old crashing down
the hill from Sherbrooke to Hochelaga right where the MOS was built.
The original budget for the stadium was
$134 million. It topped out at $1.6 billion, requiring a special
Quebec cigarette tax for 30 years to pay for it. For many years,
whether you were attending the annual auto show or a Montreal Expos
baseball game, you had to dodge falling cement from the stadium’s
unique Montreal Tower (the tallest inclined tower in the world at 175
metres) or avoid snow falling through the ripped roof (it rips
between 50 and 60 times a year).
It can now only be used in the
winter if there is less than eight centimetres of snow which is still
out of reach in Montreal, notwithstanding global warming. The truth
is it looked beautiful on paper and even better as a model.
importantly, it connected with Montreal’s famous mayor, Jean
Drapeau, who was looking for something to top his 1967 World Expo
extravaganza which had taken the world by storm. It arrived 11 years
It is one of the worst architectural
disasters in history. What if Roger Taillibert, the Parisbased
architect who imagined this boondoggle, had started with a fish hut?
He might have been rooted not only in grandeur and ego but
practicality and reality. In another part of the forest, many of you
who have travelled to Europe will know of Sagrada Familia, the famous
Roman Catholic church in Barcelona.
It springs from the imagination of
architect Antoni Gaudi. The project was begun in 1882 and the hope is
to finish it by 2026, the centenary of Gaudi’s death.
It is an extraordinary undertaking and
perhaps one of the most wonderful examples of the journey and not the
destination being the point. Can you imagine anything in North
America taking 100 years to build? It is spectacular, absurd and
The seeds for the Laurentian School of
Architecture were sown in Chapleau. David Robinson, our colleague at
Northern Ontario Business and a professor of economics at Laurentian,
was asked by six small municipalities to consider the plight of the
collapse of the forestry industry in their communities.
He did so and
produced a detailed report. In part, it suggested a school of
industrial design so that Northern Ontario could focus on looking at
wood as something more than board feet and pulp.
Soon enough that morphed into a plan
for a school of architecture and the community willed it to be so.
You cannot control your future if you cannot imagine it. Our new
school is going to have an extraordinary impact on the future of
If you would like to see the influences
Terrance Galvin, the founding director of the school, is bringing to
Northern Ontario, Google Laurentian School of Architecture (it has
its own website) and do two things. First, watch the video of the
lecture series of architects coming to the school to impart their
wisdom. Second, read the bios of the professors.
This is how you build a proactive
culture. This is how you build a fish hut.