Architect Arthur Erickson, Part 2

Erickson is better known for his urban work. While his most famous projects are public buildings, he designed not a few urban residential structures as well.

The eponymous The Erickson (co-designed with Nick Milkovich) adorns False Creek, providing shelter and unparalleled balcony views to 61 households.

The construction was completed in 2010, after Erickson's death. His parting gift continues to amaze and inspire:


photo courtesy of


The first thing I thought of when I saw this building was a fish. A big, shiny, lissom fish winding and leaping its way out of the water.

The nodal spine, complete with metallic vertebrae, takes you all the way up to the top, where the glass panels recall pectoral and pelvic fins (for the ichthyologists reading this blog).

The blue tint of the glass creates a seamless transition from penthouse to sky. And the full-length windows could be nothing but scales.


photo courtesy of: Jurgan Turner


It's a bit difficult to use open space and framing in highrise residential buildings, for which density is the name of the game. The Erickson still harmonises with its surroundings because of the predominant grey and blue (matching the sky, clouds, creek and likely nearby buildings) and the reflective windows. Those windows bring the intensity and joy of the sunlight closer to street level, while naturally creating a light-shadow gradient along the face of the building.

Unlike with most highrises, every single unit of The Erickson is an essential part of the structure. Take away a floor, and there's a rupture in the spiral. The integrality that the torsion creates distinguishes The Erickson from most residential highrises, which would be fundamentally the same even if you removed half of the floors. Perhaps Erickson (wow, I'm saying his name a lot now that he built a building that carries his name) was reclaiming the residential highrise from the banality that we've come to see as acceptable.

The inside is no less beautiful.


photographer unknown

The bedroom is just like Erickson's Baldwin House: windows for an outer wall, all the lines pointing outside and beams as picture frames. Except, this time, the view is the Vancouver skyline. A nice touch is the pillar in the corner, which keeps the occupants from feeling totally exposed to the elements. The whites and greys of the room lap up the natural sunlight. Perfect for a lazy Sunday, a busy Monday, a moderate Tuesday, a wacky get my drift.


photographer unknown

Erickson shows his mastery of private domestic space to be equal to that over public domestic space. All roads lead to outside: the long mirror, the long counter, the elegant bath. You can see in the picture the mirror beckoning you towards the window. I find the window cut to be quite intriguing. It looks almost misplaced, almost as though it shouldn't be there. Something which, of course, makes you want to go look out of it. Because the bathroom doesn't benefit so much from natural light, dark browns on the bottom provide a nice contrast with the airy greys of the walls and ceiling.

Erickson's Canadian work wasn't just in Vancouver. His designs grace the landscape countrywide. One of my personal favourites is Hillborn House, located near Waterloo, Ontario.


photo courtesy of: John Macdonald Architect

photo courtesy of: Subtilitas


The most striking part of this house is the brick walls that seem to cut right into the living space. It's fascinating how the home seems to be moving downhill while the walls seem to be moving sideways, like a horse champing at the bit to break free of its corral. I imagine that they're also there to create height commensurate with that of the surrounding trees. Whether it's an architectural apology to the trees that were cleared for the house, or simply an aesthetic decision, we'll never know.

Another great feature is the staircase effect of the roofs. It really makes the house a part of the hill, and keeps the front from looking too imposing. In this house, space is as important to the structure as the shape of the structure itself. In a way, having the walls come up above the roofs defines the house's 'airspace', making it look a lot bigger (and, of course, situating it within its environs).

Hilborn House is available for short-term rentals, so Ontarians as well as British Columbians can know what it's like to live in an Erickson.

A comprehensive account of Erickson's work is available at

Which Canadian architects have amazed you? We'd love to know!

Research and Written by Josh Patlik, Student of International Development & Political Science at the University of Toronto.

Posted In: Canada, British Columbia

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