Bing Thom, who died Tuesday at age 75, is being remembered as a city builder and mentor who believed in “the transformative power of great architecture.”
VANCOUVER—Bing Thom, a Vancouver-based architect whose unique work transformed communities around the world, died Tuesday at the age of 75.
A statement from his wife, Bonnie, said Thom was in robust health but died of a brain aneurysm in a hospital in Hong Kong.
A news release from Bing Thom Architects said Thom was one of Canada’s most admired and accomplished architects and a dedicated city builder whose global reputation was closely tied to Metro Vancouver, “a region he cared for deeply and did much to protect and to improve.”
Thom was never afraid to speak his mind, was a mentor to many and shared his passion for creating beautiful spaces, the statement said.
“He saw himself first as a public servant and held a fundamental belief in the transformative power of great architecture to uplift not only the physical, but also the economic and social conditions of a community.”
Bonnie Thom said her husband’s life’s work culminated in the Xiqu Centre in Hong Kong, a modern home for Chinese opera.
Thom was also behind the Central City project with Simon Fraser University that transformed the downtown core in Surrey, B.C.; the Mead Center for American Theater in Washington, D.C.; and the Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, Texas.
He designed the Expo 92 Canada Pavilion in Seville, Spain; the University of Chicago Center in Hong Kong; and the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at the University of British Columbia.
UBC architecture professor Leslie Van Duzer said Thom was a very private person, but at the same time very direct.
“It’s the thing I will miss most about his public voice in the city, that we don’t have Bing to call it like it is. There are not very many people in the city who feel secure enough to speak out strongly on issues related to the development of the city.”
Van Duzer called him an activist architect, who will be remembered for being able to build a community around his buildings.
His projects were extremely site-specific, warm, colourful, and both grand and intimate at the same time, she said.
Van Duzer noted that Thom was able to export his talent around the world.
Thom was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to Canada as a child. He received a bachelor’s degree in architecture at UBC and a master’s of architecture from the University of California at Berkeley.
At UBC, he studied under the noted architect Arthur Erickson and later worked for Erickson as a project manager on the Robson Square Courthouse in Vancouver and Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto.
He spent the early 1970s in Tokyo working for Japanese modernist architect Fumihiko Maki, who later won the profession’s highest honour, the Pritzker Prize. Thom went into business for himself in 1981, opening an office in Vancouver.
His wife said Thom believed architecture transcends a building to shine its light onto its surroundings.
“He was so happy his architects also pursue this adventure of ‘building beyond buildings,’” she said.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark issued a statement calling Thom a man with a passion for innovation and a limitless imagination for the possible.
“His legacy and his positive impact on the world around him will stand the test of time,” she said.
Thom was a member of the Order of Canada and a recipient of the Golden Jubilee Medal, the Margolese Prize and the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Gold Medal, the highest honour given to a Canadian architect.
The institute issued a statement Tuesday saying Thom leaves a legacy of buildings that bring grace to cities and campuses in Canada, the United States and Hong Kong.
“In his buildings, swooping forms, the warmth of wood and play of light are brought together with deft skill and a touch of drama,” the statement said.
With files from the Washington Post