Exhibit examines Jewish architectural influence in the postwar years

Oberlander Residence I – Peter Oberlander and Leon Dirasser Architects,Landscape design Cornelia Oberlander, 1956. | Photo courtesy of West Vancouver Museum

Oberlander Residence I – Peter Oberlander and Leon Dirasser Architects,Landscape design Cornelia Oberlander, 1956. | Photo courtesy of West Vancouver Museum

Chanel Blouin, museum assistant at the Jewish Museum & Archives of British Columbia, is launching the online exhibit, New Ways of Living: Jewish Architects in Vancouver, 1955–1975. The exhibit features Vancouver residential landmarks designed and built by Jewish architects in the postwar years in order to recognize their work and pay tribute to those architects who have contributed to the architectural character of the city.

Blouin, who developed and curated the exhibit, will also host the opening lecture and discussion with several guests, including architect Judah Shumiatcher and architectural historian Rhodri Windsor-Liscombe, at Inform Interiors in Gastown on Jan. 28.

“A lot of the architects are still around and I thought it would be really interesting to get the design and architecture communities involved in this project. It seemed very timely as well, with the [Museum of Vancouver: Your Future Home] urban area exhibition, on the future of Vancouver, coming up soon,” says Blouin.

Form follows function

As part of the 45th anniversary year of the Jewish Museum & Archives of B.C.’s founding, Blouin’s exhibit is part of an online series profiling different facets of local Jewish history in Vancouver. Her exhibit examines the ways Jewish architects who immigrated to Vancouver brought their skills, education and experiences to help develop the region’s housing in the years following World War II. With veterans returning from the war, there was an increased need for housing and Vancouver’s civic leaders felt the region needed a conscious civic renewal.

“The 1950s to 1970s was a remarkable time in Vancouver, marked by transformation and modernization. This is similar to what we’re experiencing now at the crossroads, where city planning could go one way or another, similar to the postwar years,” says Blouin.

The West Coast architectural style was the response. Popular until around the mid-70s, the housing style emphasized post and beam construction, the integration of interior and exterior spaces, larger open room spaces and landscape specificity, such houses built along cliffs overlooking the water and mountains, which made full use of the unique landscape of Metro Vancouver has to offer.

“In contrast to today, where prime real estates in Point Grey and West Vancouver, are built on cliffs, back then architects didn’t know how to build on those landscapes, lacking the engineering know-how,” Blouin says. “The Jewish architects were some of the first to experiment on these lots, and they used their homes as a laboratory test-bed for these different ideas.”

Blouin notes the Jewish architects designed housing, which served the needs of the family living there. For instance, Wolfgang Gerson, who is best known for Vancouver’s Unitarian Church, adapted his home to suit his needs as a musician. He designed and built a floor around his piano so his family and guests could enjoy the music, which Blouin says wasn’t conventional at the time.

“There were more partitions in homes at the time. Gerson’s home was a prime example of doing something different and adapting architecture to serve the needs of families,” she says.

Understanding the ideas behind spaces

The exhibit will consist of architectural plans, oral interviews with living architects or their relatives, landscape images, and other primary source materials documenting these historical residential architectures Blouin has collected in the course of her research. The talk on Jan. 28 will feature some of these materials.

Blouin, who came to Vancouver to study at UBC for her MA in art history, says this is her first curatorial work and exhibition, and since working on this exhibit, architecture and design has become an important part of her life.

“It’s been wonderful,” Blouin says. “It’s interesting to pay tribute to the work of these architects that have helped make this city the way it is.”

Being from Montreal, Blouin was used to seeing older architecture. She says coming to Vancouver and seeing the newer and myriad architectural styles was a bit of shock at first, but she’s grown to love the way architecture serves the city they are located in.

“Buildings are built for a reason and there are ideas behind them. You feel a certain way in certain spaces, and you may not be fully aware of it, but it’s important to pay attention to that,” says Blouin.

Visit the online exhibit at www.jewishmuseum.ca.