The ArchitectFriday, October 22, 2010
On June 9th I boarded with my wife Rosemary, the Ocean Watch. She was docked at the Government Pier in Deep Cove. Sam Sullivan (below, left) and his wife Lynn had chartered the Ocean Watch and invited former friends of Abraham Rogatnick, including architects Geoff Massey (right) and Bruno Freschi) for the ceremony of spreading our friend’s (Rogatnick) ashes somewhere in Indian Arm. He had died August 29 of the previous year.
Lynn Zanatta had suggested that some beautiful falls would be an appropriate location. Two (Freschi and I) objected to the idea as we both had the opinion that Rogatnick was more a man of logic than of romance and a waterfall would have had no significance to the man’s life particularly in that he wanted no ceremony after his death, “After me, the deluge,” he often told me as he stressed his non belief in an afterlife.
It was obvious to me that the elaborate memorial service his friends (including this one) organized on September 2009 was for our benefit as it helped us cope with the loss of an admired and much loved man.
Freschi and I both convinced those on the Ocean Watch that a piece of architecture was the better choice and than no better would be the now retired (and ghostly) power station designed by British-born architect Francis Rattenbury who most know at the man who gave us the Provincial Legislature and the Empress Hotel in Victoria and Law Court in Vancouver that was adapted by Arthur Erickson to be our Vancouver Art Gallery.
Zanatta, the gracious Zanatta we all know, had brought along delicious munchies and wine for what was supposed to be the happy celebration of a man’s life. The day was cold, gray and gloomy. A biting wind sprayed us with a persistent drizzle. It was to me, not a happy time.
I kept looking at a man with a beautiful and imposing profile who was sitting sat a corner of the stern and staring impassively, with a touch of melancholy, into the water. He was architect Geoff Massey. I had first met him in the meetings we had at Sam Sullivan’s to organize Rogatnick’s memorial in September 2009. I had been first attracted by his imposing presence, every bit of it, 100% the vision we all have of “The Architect”. I was then warmed to his low key and intelligent conversation (with a voice that would have made him rich in radio had he forfeited his career as an architect).
Because of the vagueries of fortune I got to photograph Evelyn Hart but never Karen Kain. Through similar circumstances I had been fortunate to photograph architects Arthur Erickson, Ned Pratt, Ron Thom but not Geoff Massey who was from the same generation even though Pratt and Thom where somewhat older.
It was Abraham Rogatnick who had told me of Massey and of his influence in British Columbia. When Arthur Erickson died in May 2009; Rogatnick gave the keynote speech in Erickson’s memorial service in Simon Fraser University. I was not there as I was in Texas at the time, but Rogatnick read the speech to me in his home and then explained, “Alex I wanted to make sure that everybody knew that Simon Fraser University was designe not by one architect but by two. The other was Geoff Massey. I made sure to mention the man and to give credit where credit is due.” Rogatnick explained that Geoff Massey was a quiet and self-effacing man, a gentleman’s gentleman, not only an architect’s architect, who would never complain or demand credit for the work he did.
Around 1954 Rogatnick and his loving partner Alvin Balkind decided to travel a bit in their VW Beetle. Rogatnick told Massey of the trip so Massey indicated that he be looked up if he happened to pass by Vancouver.
When Rogatnick and Balkind arrived in Vancouver they instantly fell in love with our then provincial city, so provincial, it didn’t have a serious art gallery of any kind. Rogatnick rang the bell outside of Massey’s home in the West End. The door opened. The man facing them was not Massey. Massey was out of town on his honey moon. The man at the door was Massey’s architecture partner, Arthur Erickson. Erickson and Rogatnick became friends for life.
As I watched Massey on the Ocean Watch I wondered how much of the above story he was thinking about and how he had been the catalyst between Erickson and Rogatnick. I wondered what else Massey had contributed to our city’s well being. Will we ever know? Will anybody set the record straight?
As I watched Sullivan scoop the remnant’s of great man’s life from a plastic bag into a plastic cup and throw the ashes into the water I thought at first that it was obscene. I then immediately downgraded the act to that of inconsequential. It served nobody.
In this blog, that is my diary, I felt I could not write about the occasion with any kind of eloquence. I pretty well forgot of that gloomy day on Indian Arm.e A few days ago I found a roll of undeveloped Kodak Tri-X. I processed it and found some the pictures you see here. As gloom set in on today Sunday (as I write this Friday, October 22 blog) I have come to understand that the inconsequential act of spreading Rogatnick’s ashes in the shadow of the Rattenbury power station has suddenly pressed me with the writing of this account. Rogatnick is still around and teaching me more stuff about how important it is to live now.
That inconsequential act has helped me understand that I have been most lucky in having met and photographed (and in some cases befriended) the likes of Ned Pratt, Ron Thom, Abraham Rogatncik, Arthur Erickson and now through that single roll of Kodak Tri-X that other man of consequence, that architect, Geoffrey Massey.
In a February 17, 1998 interview with Arthur Erickson by author Jim Donaldson here I found this delightful information that links the three men I mention above:
No this was’53. And so, and also I had this terrible habit of not liking the kind of sandwiches that you had and then getting a loaf of bread and a piece of cheese, smelly cheese, and a little bottle of wine. And I put the bread uncovered in- you know, it wasn’t sliced, it wasn’t packaged bread, it was raw, baked bread, and I would put it in the drafting drawer and it was sticking out with the cheese in one hand and this was just not acceptable in that office where everyone had white shirts and steel armbands too to keep their cuffs off the drafting board. Terribly neat. So then I went with Chuck Thompson and Pratt, and I was equally useless there. I was working under Ron Thom, trying to sort of follow his Wrightian style, I mean, which, you know, I was sympathetic with and had some understanding, but the dynamics of architects as a business hadn’t gotten through to me and so I guess I didn’t accomplish very much there either. So then I was jobless and at this time, I had met Geoff Massey. He’d come out, ‘cause at that time, this was when Vancouver architecture had become known all over the Eastern States and Vancouver was considered one of the pioneers in modern architecture. And of course, so young students were coming from the Eastern universities to work in Vancouver and that’s how Geoff came out and several others came out from Harvard with him, Abe Rogatnik and Alvin Balkin and of course, Peter Oberlander, ex-McGill, from Harvard as well, because it seemed to be the promised land for new Urban Planning and Architecture. So I met Geoff at Bert Binnings’s and we became good friends and Geoff persuaded me to share a house with him, which we did for a couple of years and it was- at that time, we were both working with Sharp and Thompson, then I lost my job and that’s when Gordon Smith came to us and said, “Would you design a house for me?” So Geoff was still working at Thompson, Berwick, Pratt, and so I was left at the house working on Gordon’s new site, and so we did the house, the working drawings and everything else, and Geoff would work on it in the evening when he got back and it was built, Gordon got a carpenter and built it, and it was one of the first Massey Medals.