Interviewer: Are you angry?
Interviewer: Is there a pride in the city?
AE: No . . . I don’t think people take pride in this city. I think this is one of the reasons people don’t give money to the city or to the university beyond a token few, who do more than their share.
Interviewer: Do you think that people live here purely because of the easier climate, being more or less opportunists — not putting anything back into the city?
AE: Yes. I think this still persists.
Interviewer: Is this then a reason for a sense of moral laxity in politics, a sense of letting things slide by just because we haven’t much interest and are only using the place to live nicely?
AE: Yes. And I think this is the reason why we can’t have a well-run Grey Cup parade without hoodlums and that sort of thing — because if you have a shoddy place it is treated shabbily and if you have a good-looking place it is treated well. This has been proven time and time again.
Interviewer: There was a news story on that. There were one-hundred thousand people who attended the Rose Bowl Parade, New Year’s Day, in Pasadena. They milled all over the downtown for two nights. The police reported not one case of hoodlumism.
AE: People expect something that is beautiful. For instance, you don’t have a defacement of Stanley Park.
Interviewer: What are some of the problems of building in B.C.?
AE: Unskilled labour. You just can’t get skilled labour to do anything. I don’t think there is a climatic problem whatsoever. But I think there is in aesthetic terms. The main problem is light. Natural light. With the overcast skies. It has not been answered in architectural terms. It needs a rich profile and this has not been answered. And also, we need to get light into our buildings, both light and shadow. It is a drab, depressing light. The main problem is to use the rain, and take advantage of it as is done in Japan. Japanese architecture makes the rain beautiful. But no one else’s solution is adequate for this. An architect always imagines his building in sunlight and casting shadows, but here there aren’t strong shadows, no highlights. In a sunny climate you are dealing with a white ground and a dark sky. It is the reverse here. You have a dark ground and a white sky. This means you see things in silhouette, without highlight, and psychologically it can be unpleasant. One is in a dark area and the light is above as at sunset — a melancholy feeling. This is the situation we live in most of the time. Somehow we have to overcome this. Somehow we have to replace it not with lamps and artificial sunlight. The problem is to try to live with it. The Filberg House was the one where I did try to experiment with the problem of light.
The most important thing is the creation of harmony. The role of the architect is to bring the human into harmony with the environment. You have to work with the idea of harmony right from the beginning. If you have a depressing outlook, sky, etc. how do you make this pleasant. This is a very real thing we have to do. How to let one enjoy this landscape. I think B.C. is one of the blackest places on earth. Black trees. Black mountains. The minute you go to California, they are not black. The redwoods are bright green. Other countries are a different green entirely. Black-grey and black-green — how to make one see the softness and subtlety of the colour. I remember when I flew back from Japan — Japan makes you very conscious of colour, because it never uses colour — they use it only for festivals and things like that — and somehow you become conscious of all the subtle gradations in colours. In a garden, there will be no flowers and you see all the differences of green and how they have been used. Very often in their gardens they cut them off because it is jarring. The flowers they treat as a kind of festival event. For instance, they will have in a garden, which is all green, one pool of iris which come out only once a year. Or perhaps an area of cherry trees which are out once a year. Everything is kept in harmony. And I noticed when I returned here and I was flying over the country, it was a beautiful day of sunlight — and then for a week afterwards when I was driving up-Island, how brilliant the greens are in Japan and what a rich and splendid variety they have of greens in their foliage and how very different our greens are. But how beautiful they were in a different way, in a soft way. They are all greyed here. Everything is greyed.
Now, if we could build so that people began to see these lights and colours and the softness of them, and understand their own response to them, they would realize the marvels of the environment we live in. This question of environment . . . people hate to walk out of doors and be spat on by rain. It is a kind of affront. I think there is an antagonism to the environment. I know a psychiatrist who felt in B.C. that there was a real, deep-seated hate of nature and therefore we treat it violently in the way we clear and the way we build. We go out of our way not to create this harmony.
The Indian village is a wonderful example of adaptation to an environment. Their livelihood came from the sea and the forest. They had plenty to eat and therefore didn’t have to organize into any greater cultural unit than the village. The village was placed on the dividing line between the forest and the sea. Nothing was done to the forest. They built along the beach. The village was strung in perfect juxtaposition between these two environments which gave them their livelihood. This is harmonious positioning in the strongest sense. The beach gave a shape to the village. On it they built their magnificent houses . . . I must say the Haida House at UBC is the one great piece of architecture in B.C. A copy built by Bill Reid. It has everything that great architecture has — that is, it takes common material at hand and fuses it with spirit and uses it with skill and inspires you. How simple the idea of the house is . . . the size of the great timbers and how beautifully they are put together. Then, for the special things, because they were involved with the animals and fish, the other animate creatures become deified. They decorated the poles with these, and the pole was nothing but a cedar tree raised on the beach. It stood just as a cedar tree against the backdrop of cedars, but painted in the colours that they saw on the backs of the sea ducks or the whales — the dark browns, the brilliant whites. The cedar tree decorated this way was a harmonizing of the forest and the sea. Everything that was in the forest, everything that was in the sea, became part of the village. This was a primitive village and a simple society — but our job of much greater complexity is eventually to do this.
We have to come to terms with our environment. In the meantime we are destroying it. We have no respect for it. And this is the tragic thing. The fact that we are creating parking lots in Stanley Park when really what we should be doing is taking the cars out altogether and using some kind of public transport or horse and buggy and not allowing people to drive through — letting it become more primitive.
I think the climate has a tremendous influence on our minds. You can almost pinpoint the different characteristics of the peoples of the world by the kind of climate they live in and I find I respond very quickly to a climate change. My whole attitude changes. I remember when I was in Syria in the desert, finding that this whole country was so completely different and I changed. I became conscious of attitudes within me I never knew before. I became suddenly more sensitive to my senses there — odours, colours, stimulated my senses. Here there is the smell of wetness and it is hard to differentiate between odours. And this is the same in Japan. The main odour in Japan is sour — almost like sewage, but not quite the same. In the desert you begin to see forms very clearly and your mind becomes sharper to form. The sunlight plays on shapes and you become more conscious of form. There is a more heightened sense of life. It is more stimulating and it is celebrated. Here the greyness penetrates right through our lives. The people are rather lethargic, spiritless. But where there is a lack of spirit, there is a great sense of poetry. In painting, architecture and literature the poetic sense is stronger. The forms and structures are not as important as the moods and the poetic inference of the forms.