Thursday, September 2, 2010

Telling Details of Clifford Wiens

Just came across this volume on Clifford Wiens at the Charles H. Scott Gallery bookstore on Granville Island. It's the companion piece to an exhibition on Wiens that toured various galleries across the country in 2006-2007, including the Charles H. Scott.

I unfortunately missed the show on this important prairie modernist but the book covers his work from 1955-1995 and includes residences, offices and industrial and religious projects.

Wiens is perhaps best known for his Heating + Cooling Plant (1967, above) at the University of Regina and the Silton Summer Chapel (1969, below) in Saskatchewan. The former is an expressive work that goes well beyond the often perfunctory nature of industrial buildings and features board-marked concrete beams and a unique removable endwall glass curtain. As the architect himself comments, it is "a concrete temple to technology."

The chapel is a lesson in the strength of perceived simplicity: an open air structure, supported by glulams and tension rods that transfer forces up through the centre rather than at the corners. It's a beautiful re-imagining of religious space that maintains an essential connection to the natural world.

Telling Details is published by the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon (kudos for mounting an architectural-based exhibit) and was curated by Trevor Boddy. It includes essays by Mendel Director Vincent Varga and Clifford Wiens, who discusses the deep impact a prairie upbringing had on his architecture.

Though there are a surprising number of errata in the book, the photographs are lovely and it's nice to have something on Wiens; his work seems to have flown under the radar, likely because of its prairie setting. But it's important work and makes me wish for an expanded volume that more fully explores the subject, especially for those who missed the original exhibition.

Photographs: Clifford Wiens

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