- Years 1924-Present
- Feature Masters of West Coast Modernism – 2017.09.12
Zoltan Kiss studied architecture at the Technical University in Budapest during the Second World War. In his third year, he and the other students were forced to escape to Denmark. He would meet his future wife, Jytte. while living as a refugee in this foreign country. Zoltan’s memoire, Without a Blueprint: Surviving in a Changing World, chronicles this time in incredible – and illustrated – detail.
An adept artist, once described as a “young fellow with a quick pencil,” Zoltan worked in a Danish factory learning the craft of ceramics. In 1949, he was able to immigrate to Canada as a trained potter, and arrived by boat to Halifax a year later. His six-day journey by train to Vancouver cemented the scale of the country in his mind, and he settled on the region’s North Shore. Shortly after, Zoltan enrolled at the UBC’s school of architecture, graduating a year later among the school’s inaugural class.
In the early 1950s, Zoltan joined the venerable Vancouver firm Thompson Berwick & Pratt. His capacity to illustrate and design quickly and with clarity allowed him to progress quickly within the firm. He oversaw the design and construction of many projects, including UBC’s first modernist building, the Buchanan Building (1956-1958), and the Vancouver International Airport (1962-1968).
When Erickson/Massey Architects won the competition to oversee the master plan of Simon Fraser University, Zoltan Kiss was awarded the coveted contract to design the now iconic Academic Quadrangle (1965-1967). This commission allowed Zoltan to kick-start his own independent practice.
Zoltan continued to develop his interests in art, painting, and ceramics throughout his architectural career. He is an industrious maker, once building himself a kiln from an old refrigerator, and a potter’s wheel from driftwood and other found materials. A passion for making has a clear influence on his thinking, and one can see this intimate understanding of materiality in his architecture. He often worked in concrete and masonry to render bold, yet thoughtful, buildings in the modernist tradition. And Zoltan’ drawings, paintings, and sketches, demonstrate an astute ability not only to capture the tectonics of a place, but also effectively communicate their character and spirit.
Buchanan Building, 1956-1958
Vancouver International Airport, 1962-1968
Simon Fraser University, Academic Quadrangle, 1965-1967
more to come…
Thompson Berwick & Pratt
Zoltan Kiss Architects
Zoltan Kiss (August 2017). Interview with Steve Gairns and Chelsea Louise Grant
Zoltan Kiss Personal Archives