- Years -Present
- Feature Masters of West Coast Modernism – 2017.09.12
Blair Macdonald graduated from the Faculty of Architecture at the University of British Columbia in 1955. As a student, he won a design award for which the prize was two monographs: Mysteries and Realities of the Site, by Richard Neutra, and California Houses of Gordon Drake, by Douglas Baylis and Joan Parry. These books made an impression on the future architect: Neutra’s projects taught him about placing a home in its context, while it was the indoor/outdoor LA lifestyle of Drake’s work that stuck in his mind. These influences firmly squared Macdonald’s architectural philosophy and approach among the region’s emerging West Coast Modernist practitioners.
Blair’s interest in residential architecture started young: the architect’s grade one notebook features one of his earliest house drawings, complete with landscaping (cherry trees were of special interest to the young boy). He cites his own residence, the Macdonald House, as one of his favourite projects. He recalls purchasing what might have been the only site in West Vancouver without a view, and after completing a careful survey of trees, the house was carefully inserted into its landscape and oriented towards a reflective pool. A quiet, rectilinear L-form plan arranges intimately scaled living spaces around a central hearth, full-frame glazing orients towards the lush exterior gardens (designed by Don Vaughan), and an open-raftered ceiling and skylights offer bright, dynamic plays of light and shadow. The result is both modest and poetic, with a blurred sense of indoor and outdoor spaces, demonstrating a clear appreciation for – and studied understanding of – context.
Blair met lifelong friend and colleague, Barry Downs, while attending Lord Bing High School. Their friendship would continue on into his architectural career, with Macdonald and Downs completing several notable projects together, including the Japanese-inspired Chow Residence (1960), and the Ladner Pioneer Library (with Richard Archambault, 1963).
Blair’s architectural career included tenures with two of the city’s top firms, Thompson Berwick & Pratt; and McCarter Nairne and Partners, where he was a partner from 1965 to 1977. In 1970, both firms collaborated on an ambitious project; Blair worked closely with Paul Merrick and Ron Thom to develop a downtown tower and courthouse complex that would exceed fifty stories. A shift in politics brought an unexpected end to the work, with a new government stopping the project before construction, hiring another architect to design the Law Courts Building at Robson Square.
Blair also oversaw the design and construction of the Clifton Brown Memorial Pool (1964 winner of the Governor General’s Medal in Architecture), the Moore Business Forms Building (design 1968, demolished 2012), and the Shaughnessy Place Terrace Apartments near VanDusen Gardens. In the late 1970s, with Waisman Dewar Macdonald (in collaboration with John Perkins and Associates), Blair was instrumental in the development and planning of Whistler Town Centre, and designed several buildings in the resort village.
Chow Residence, 1960
Ladner Pioneer Library, 1963
Clifton Brown Memorial Pool, 1964
Moore Business Forms Building, 1968 (Demolished, 2012)
Shaughnessy Place Terrace Apartments
Whistler Town Centre Planning
more to come…
Thompson Berwick & Pratt
McCarter Nairne and Partners
Waisman Dewar Macdonald
Blair Macdonald (August 2017). Interview with Chelsea Louise Grant, Steve Gairns and Kiriko Watanabe
Blair Macdonald Personal Archives