Agency left indelible mark on Winnipeg – Our Communities

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This article was published 04/12/2017 (1714 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The minds responsible for some of Winnipeg’s most iconic buildings of the 20th century are being honoured in a new book commissioned by the Winnipeg Architecture Foundation.

The WAF will launch Green Blankstein Russell and Associates: An Architectural Legacy — a 160-page book with over 300 illustrations and images — on Dec. 7 at McNally Robinson Booksellers (1120 Grant Ave.) at 7 p.m.

The book written by Jeffrey Thorsteinson and Brennan Smith chronicles the work of the multidisciplinary architecture firm Green Blankstein Russell and Associates (GBR) since the early 1930s and into the late 20th century through drawings, photos, and stories from some of the architects, designers and engineers behind buildings such as Winnipeg City Hall, the old Winnipeg International Airport, and the Elizabeth Dafoe Library.Supplied photo by Henry Kalen
The Norquay Building (401 York Ave.) is pictured in 1960. It was the tallest building in downtown Winnipeg at the time of its construction. It was designed by Gilbert Parfitt (advisory architect for the Government of Manitoba) and David Thordarson (GBR).

“GBR played a major role in shaping the way that Winnipeg developed over the 20th century,” Smith, a local art historian, explained. “And their work, we interact with it on a daily basis in Winnipeg, and is experienced by people across Canada.

“It’s important to reflect on it and understand it, and learn what the motivations were and what the ideas were behind the buildings that were created by the firm.”

The forward to the book is written by River Heights’ Easton Lexier. The 91-year-old worked for GBR for 50 years as a structural engineer, joining the firm as a student in his third year at the University of Manitoba. He became chief structural engineer in 1966 and a principal with the firm in 1973. Lexier retired in 1997, and the firm was later acquired by Stantec in 2004.Supplied photo
Jeffrey Thorsteinson and Brennan Smith are authors of Green Blankstein Russell and Associates: An Architectural Legacy, which launches at McNally Robinson Booksellers on Dec. 7 at 7 p.m.

“I loved going to work every single 50 years of my life, and I still do,” Lexier said.

“I physically left them, but not mentally, because I kept watching what they did; I would drop into the office to see them, and even though they are now Stantec I still do that.”

Lexier said he’s pleased to see something being done to recognize the firm, which he describes as unusual and innovative among agencies in operation at the time.Supplied cover art
The WAF will launch Green Blankstein Russell and Associates: An Architectural Legacy — a 160-page book with over 300 illustrations and images — on Dec. 7 at McNally Robinson Booksellers (1120 Grant Ave.) at 7 p.m.

GBR welcomed women and minorities into the firm, employed engineers, interior designers, and city planners under one roof, and led modernist design ideas in the country.

“They turned out to be more than just an architectural firm; they developed an all integrated firm,” he said.

Thorsteinson said the book will contribute to the larger Canadian architectural historical discussion but also document the culture at the firm and its impact on the built environment in Winnipeg and Canada.

“The firm started in the middle of the Depression, and in fact kind of started because of the Depression — there were five guys who were unemployed, looking for work and they dreamed up this idea: what if we built this project to house people and experiment with modern forms of architecture that could also build a better society,” Thorsteinson said. “It was probably a testament to social ethic that was very common in Winnipeg at that time.”  

While some of GBR’s most iconic works, such as the Winnipeg International Airport, have since been demolished (a fact Lexier says he laments every time he passes the airport), the firm’s legacy still stands.

“When I go through the streets of Winnipeg, I remember that job, and that problem, and having difficulty with the owner there,” Lexier said. “The result of any of our work, that comes from our hands, is standing out there for the people to see and use.”
Twitter: @SouwesterWPG

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