Remembering Barry Griblin, 1941–2023
VANCOUVER: We are grieved to announce the passing of our friend, architect Barry Griblin, who died on September 18th following a battle with cancer. Barry, much like his architecture, was a kind and gentle soul, understated with a contemplative demeanour, yet spirited and invigorating. His body of work, usually done on a tight budget, is characterized by a deep, intimate love for the land that it’s on, with a spatial inventiveness and material play making his designs some of the most unique living spaces across the region. His legacy is an inspiration to current and future generations and a testament to west coast design ingenuity. The West Coast Modern League is grateful for his contributions to our built environment and for the time that he so generously afforded our organization.
Born in Saskatchewan in 1941, Barry Griblin spent much of his youth living in Alberta. In the early 1960s, at the height of Vancouver’s mid-century modern boom, Barry moved to the west coast to study architecture at the University of British Columbia. During his studies, he was recognized for his outstanding ability in architectural design with an AIBC Award and the McCarter, Nairne & Partners Scholarship. Upon graduation, Barry packed his bags and headed to Toronto to work with renowned Canadian architect Ron Thom, who by then had relocated from Vancouver to his eastern-based practice. After a period working on Thom’s commissions for Trent University as well as various single-family homes, Barry returned to the coast, joining fellow UBC alum Robert Hassell to form Hassell/Griblin Associates.
Hassell/Griblin Associates was a boutique design/build firm focused on experimental single-family dwellings. The practice was rooted in the designers’ shared interest in B.C.’s wooden industrial buildings and in the connection between architecture and its place. The firm designed the kinds of spaces that you think of when dreaming of a home in the woods amongst towering cedars. Many of their modernist structures, often referred to as early mineshaft modern, were constructed on what was considered unbuildable land. Their designs would climb up the sides of mountains with a spatial interplay paradoxically voluminous and yet intimate, exemplary of indoor-outdoor living. With an organically meandering procession, expansive skylights, and the ubiquitous aroma of cedar, their works took their homeowners as sensorially close to living in nature as you could get without living in nature in a literal sense. Although the partnership eventually dissolved, Barry continued his domestic experimentation on his own.
Architect and League Chair Steve Gairns recalls a recent visit with Barry to one of his early projects, since modified, along the Sea-to-Sky corridor. “In his characteristically quiet demeanour,” recalls Gairns, “we walked through the spaces still filled with the scent of cedar, even fifty years on, and Barry was equal parts thrilled to see the home in near original condition yet taking on a renewed purpose. He even quipped at times that he was amazed to see some of the experimental details that they were able to get away with back then.”
Barry will be greatly missed.
October 28, 1941 – September 18, 2023