Hamilton-schooled Ontario Science Centre architect and Japanese culture champion dies at 93

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Published September 5, 2023 at 8:45 am

The man responsible for designing some of the most iconic buildings in Canada drew his first inspiration from an illegal tree fort in an internment camp in the B.C. mountains.

The experience of being one of 22,000 people of Japanese descent – most were Canadian citizens – yanked from their Vancouver homes and sent to internment camps, helped shape architect Raymond Moriyama, who died Friday at the age of 93.

The camps lasted from 1942 and 1949, though Moriyama’s family managed to get out shortly after the war and make it to Hamilton, where the budding architect  graduated top of his class at Westdale High School before getting his education at the other end of the QEW at the University of Toronto.

His only major project to that point was the tree fort, which he told McLeans magazine in 2016 was built behind the backs of the watchful RCMP in the camp with axe as a hammer and “an old borrowed saw, six spikes, some nails, a rope, and mostly branches and scraps from the lumberyard.”

“That tree house, when finished, was beautiful. It was my university, my place of solace, a place to think and learn.”

Moriyama’s breakthrough came when his young firm got tapped to design the now iconic Ontario Science Centre in Toronto – now in danger of a premature end over an Ontario Place makeover in the works – in 1964.

Since then Moriyama had a hand in the creation of numerous venerable landmarks both in Canada and abroad, with a special place in Ottawa – where he co-designed the National War Museum and Ottawa’s City Hall – and Toronto, where the  striking Toronto Reference Library and its 119-foot ceiling and the the Bata Shoe Museum bear his handiwork.

A highly accomplished architect who won numerous professional honours in the field over his career, he was named to the Order of Canada, received honorary degrees from 10 Canadian universities, and served as Chancellor of Brock University in St. Catharines from 2001 to 2007, a school already home to several of his creations.

Moriyama, who is part of the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun and won the 2010 Sakura Award for his impact and dedication in promoting Japanese culture worldwide, has also been heavily involved in bringing a Japanese cultural influence to Western society.

One of his most famous projects is the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo (1991) where visitors enter via two outside escalators that take them to the tree tops, a theme carried over from that very first tree house in the internment camp in Slocan, B.C. during the war.

Many of Moriyama’s architectural awards recognize his excellency in materiality, landscape, and urban design. Some of his core values as an architect, according to Canadian Encyclopedia,  involve the principles of designing for human scale and human functionality.

Other designs include the Scarborough Civic Centre (which won a Governor Generals Award), Science North in Sudbury and the Gordie Howe International Bridge, now under construction in Windsor and Detroit.

He was honoured on a stamp from Canada Post in 2007.

Moriyama and his wife Sachi  – the Dr. Raymond and Mrs. Sachi Moriyama Graduate Fellowship at Brock University bears their name – had five children, two of whom went on to become architects themselves.

Moriyama Teshima Architects, the company initially founded by Moriyama in 1958, said “the world has lost a visionary architect,” adding that their thoughts were with Moriyama’s family and loved ones and asked for privacy to grieve the profound loss.

With files from Canadian Press

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