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Glendon Professor Examines the Architecture of Canadian Embassies


History can be explored from many (almost any) different entry points. Glendon professor Marie-Josée Therrien’s (left) new book proves this once again through its review of the architecture of Canadian embassies in various parts of the world. Through this ‘prism’ we glimpse much more than an analysis of buildings and architecture; Therrien’s book is a thorough summary of political trends and events in our country between 1930 and 2005 – the book’s scope - as well as a source of information about the countries where these buildings were erected.

A recent review of Therrien’s book in Toronto’s French-language weekly,
L’Express (November 29, 2005), begins with a quote from Manitoban architect Étienne Gaboury, who designed the Canadian embassy in Mexico. Gaboury’s view is that an embassy is a strange creature: a building that symbolizes a country within another country. If it is to function well, it has to have relevance for the country it represents, as well as for the country where it is located. It is obvious that Therrien whole-heartedly agrees.

Canada is a relative newcomer to embassies and diplomacy, which validates the time frame chosen by the author – the period when diplomacy and embassies really became an important part of Canadian external affairs. Some of the buildings under the magnifying glass include the Canadian embassies in Tokyo (designed by Moriyama), Paris, Bonn, New Delhi, Warsaw, Mexico (designed by Étienne Gaboury) and Washington (designed by Arthur Erickson). Their architecture is placed in the context of the time and the place, forming a cohesive, informative and articulate historical picture.

Therrien’s book evolved from her PhD thesis, which has been significantly reworked into a highly readable book, accessible to the ordinary reader. Descriptions studded with historical notes are accompanied by photos of some of the exteriors, as well as architectural drawings and floor plans. A glossary of architectural terms, which includes explanations of individual features as well as stylistic trends, and an impressive and user-friendly bibliography organized by topic and geographic location make this a book that beckons to the reader to explore further.

Right: The "Pink Bunker", Canadian Embassy in Mexico (architect: Étienne Gaboury) used local stones to reflect the architecture of the ancient Mexican civilizations. (Photo: B. Morrissette, Le Soleil, July 25, 1981)

Therrien is a talented writer, and an enthusiastic and seasoned lecturer. With five years of teaching under her belt, she has joined the Glendon faculty this year in the Multidisciplinary Studies Department, bringing new topics and fields of study from which students can choose. She is currently teaching a third-year English-language course called “Ideas, Culture and Visual Arts”. Next year, she is slated to teach a course under the tantalizing title “Car Culture”. At the same time, she is also a professor at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD).

“My aim is to lead students to develop their understanding of images”, says Therrien. “I love teaching. On my first day in the classroom, I knew that it was for me”. Equally at home in French and English, Therrien brings a great deal of experience, having previously worked at institutions such as the National film Board and the Canadian Museum of Civilization. She is an art historian who declares herself conscious of all the players and influences in art: the patron, the artist, the moment in history, as well as the geographic location. Therrien also continues her work in Canadian heritage and museology, as well as her research on modern architecture in Canada.

“Au-delà des frontières. L’architecture des ambassades canadiennes, 1930-2005” (Beyond the borders. The Architecture of Canadian Embassies, 1930-2005), by Marie-Josée Therrien, was published in 2005 by Les Presses de l’Université Laval, Québec.

This article was submitted by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny

Published on December 8, 2005