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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

“What you build relates to people” – Arthur Erickson’s addition to the Bank of Canada

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The architect Arthur Erickson died in 2009. Two years before his death, he gave an interview – excerpted in the video above – where he spoke frankly about how he won the commission to design his famous addition to the Bank of Canada building on Wellington Street. Rather than put forward ideas of his own, he told the Governor of the Bank what he didn’t like about the plans that had already been drawn up; his criticism was trenchant enough that the Bank asked him to take on the job instead.

His addition was completed in 1980, and in the 30 years since it’s doubtful Ottawa has built better public architecture. The interior features magnificent 180 degree views, bountiful natural light, and lush greenery throughout — watching the video, you can feel the affection the people who are lucky enough to work there have for the building.



  1. He built the exterior shell of steel, copper and one other metal … and all three metals touch each other, setting up electric currents that corrode the metal, and the building will be perpetually under renovation/reconstruction as the design is such that the metals cannot be separated by currently known techologies.

    Starchitecture is too often great looking, but lacking in practicality. In this case, the taxpayer is perpetually on the the hook for perpetual rebuilding as the structure corrodes away as fast as it is repaired.
    I love great buildings and architecture, but wish architects could also design them to be efficent, keep out the rain, be heatable …

  2. Erickson was brilliant, even if his visions weren’t always practical. He had a style that seemed to be between modernism and postmodernism. So many modernist architects would have suggested the demolition of the original bank building, or created some jarring addition. Erickson created a modern structure that seems very much in harmony with the old yet looking strongly into the future with its its transparency.

  3. Though I have always really liked Ericson’s addition, the original addition designs shown seen to be FAR superior.

  4. I’m sorry, but the addition to the Bank of Canada is god awful. It dwarfs the attract original Graeco-Roman designed Bank of Canada Building, offers no activity-generating opportunities to any street it faces, and is another amalgam of tired glass and steel. Well, except for those kind of nifty pillars on the Sparks Street side. Still, an example of how architecture can negatively impact on a street.

  5. It’s fairly obvious that the majority of these comments are either from non-architects, or from really poor ones.  To say that the original addition designs are FAR superior is nothing more than a mere demonstration of how this tired City of Ottawa is filled with too many tired thinkers.  Why is it FAR superior?  Because it would have continued the outdated, archaic neoclassical stylings of the original?  A better question would be, what business does a Greek Temple style have showing up anywhere other than Greece?  Or any other outdated, (mis)appropriated style, for that matter.  This notion that people feel better when institutions such as banks, life insurance agencies, funeral homes are copying the archetypes of the past needs to die a swift death.  Architects should design for their own time, and for their own context.  

    And, to say that the addition is “god awful”, simply because you are not excited by its exterior is really naive.  The real qualities of Erickson’s addition reveal themselves through a relationship with the interior more so than the exterior.  The people for whom the building is actually for seem to agree…  

    I wish that Ottawa would wake up… it seems that Andrew Cohen nailed it in his article, found here: