Presentation of the Governor General’s Medals in Architecture
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Rideau Hall, Monday, January 31, 2011
Good afternoon. I am delighted to welcome you to Rideau Hall for the presentation of the 2010 Governor General’s Medals in Architecture.
Rideau Hall is such an appropriate setting for this medal, since for more than 170 years, architects have been leaving their own marks on this historic building. As you probably noticed on your way in, the facade is currently undergoing some reconstruction work. I know the National Capital Commission takes great pride in keeping the original look and feel of the building, as it was when it was first erected. To them, and to us, it is vital to maintain the conceptions of Rideau Hall’s architects.
By conserving Rideau Hall, not only do we preserve a part of our history, but we also ensure that we continue the traditions that have been handed down from past governors general.
This medal continues the practice initiated by the Massey Medals in 1950. The Right Honourable Vincent Massey—a resident of Rideau Hall and the very first Canadian-born governor general—inaugurated this award, and since that time, every subsequent governor general has been fortunate enough to recognize the immense talent, ingenuity and creativity of Canadian architects.
All of you being honoured here today have added to Canadian culture, art and history through your works. And although today you join a long list of luminaries, know that your legacy is not in this award, but in the buildings you have designed. They stand across Canada as monuments to your hard work, to what can be accomplished with vision and with determination.
Architecture can be seen as an art form, but it goes deeper than that. As Canadian architect Arthur Erikson said: “The real purpose of architecture, I think, as with any art, is to somehow interpret our environment to us.”
I know this to be true because of my own experiences with our home on Chatterbox Farm. My wife, Sharon, and I have enjoyed many years on that farm. One reason we enjoy it so much is the structures—the house or the barn for example—each one is simple, yet elegant. It is a place where people can come together and share a common bond.
Most importantly, the Farm is a place where memories with our grandchildren are created, where we spend time together with family and friends. It is a special place that blends our environment, our needs and our desires into a home.
And that is what you are creating. You build form and function, but when the finished product looms over a skyline or is recessed in nature, it is a construct that someone will find special, as well as one that can be called uniquely Canadian.
Of course, there is much debate over what characterizes Canadian architecture.
Educator Andrew Gruft says that “Canadian architecture...favours substance over spectacle, distinguishing itself from the work of many other nations.”
I have seen many parts of Canada that hold true to Mr. Gruft’s words. And I have also seen the variety of neighbourhoods and even the contrasting styles to be found on a single street.
Sussex Drive, the street Rideau Hall sits on, is a perfect example of this.
Historic buildings sit next to modern constructions. The embassies of France and the United States, among others, are not that far from the sleek Aga Khan Foundation. The beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, a national historic site, sits across the street from the National Gallery of Canada, which was designed by a previous winner of this medal, Moshe Safdie.
The street is a contrast in styles, old mingling with new and each structure especially suited to a specific purpose.
Across Canada, this formula is working successfully, mixing our forward thinking with our heritage honouring, sometimes side by side, and sometimes even within the same building.
And although Canadian architects eschew spectacle for substance, that does not mean that their designs are not infused with a little pageantry and panache. You, the award winners here today, have poured your hearts into these buildings, you have included a little of yourself into every one of these designs, just as past winners have done.
You, like all the others, have helped to define Canada’s landscape. I would find it a fascinating project to map the contributions that winners of this medal have made over the years, to see how they have served Canada with bricks and mortar and steel and wood. I have no doubt that the map would stretch across the country, an eclectic gathering of homes, studios, concert halls, museums and more. And each building would be uniquely different, uniquely functional and uniquely Canadian.
I congratulate you on receiving this prestigious medal, and I congratulate the teams who worked with you on bringing your vision to fruition.