Bing Thom, outstanding local architect, passed away suddenly on October 4th while on a trip to Hong Kong. Bing was 75 when he left us – young by architect standards. Oscar Niemeyer, a major contributor to the modern movement in architecture, famously practised to the age of 104. Bing was a strong advocate for progressive urban policies, and a leader in the design of meaningful and empowering pieces of architecture within our public realm. Below are collected some memories of Bing from members of his community:
Bing was more than a father for me. I feel truly blessed to have been able to be part of his journey. His energy, tirelessness, and generosity have shaped me as a person and stimulated me as a designer. He taught me to never turn around from my dreams.
That journey was cut short but was rich and meaningful. Bing will always be with me. – Venelin Kokalov, Principal, Bing Thom Architects
I am grateful beyond measure to have worked closely with Bing for so many years. Bing and I had common values – of how to use the power of architecture to build community, to serve people, and to create beautiful spaces for all. Bing encouraged me to dream big and then actually realize those dreams. It was incredibly satisfying for me to bring our projects to fruition, to get so many complex, complicated, and substantive projects built. Our buildings inspire communities, give a stronger sense of confidence to all those who come in contact with them and as a result encourage everyone to dream and achieve more. – Michael Heeney, Principal, Bing Thom Architects
“Beyond his significant contribution as a talented architect, what will I will miss most with Bing’s passing is his courageous voice against a background of deafening silence on matters of great importance.” – Leslie Van Duzer, Professor of Architecture, School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, UBC
“Bing was 75 turning 55. He had another 15 years of great work in front of him and was at the peak of his career right now. We were working with Bing on four projects and now what we’re going to do is just double down and take the projects we were working on and make them as good as he ever could have imagined. That’s the best we could do to respect that legacy. Bing and I got close in the last few years and we often went out on his sail boat together. I would bring my youngest son and Bing would use the opportunity to pass down wisdom often using sailing as a metaphor for life. I will miss him terribly.” – Ian Gillespie, Westbank
“Bing’s vision encouraged us all to consider how buildings affect the world beyond their walls. He was an ambassador for this vision, as well as a true gentleman and generous mentor. He inspired many and his creativity challenged many others to be better at what we do. He will be deeply missed by the architectural community, especially in British Columbia.” – Darryl Condon, Managing Principal HCMA Architecture + Design, Architect AIBC
Two of my favourite Bing quotes:
“This town’s economy is supported by three things only – the sex trade, drugs and real estate.”
“Time for the grey hairs to get out of the way. The kids know what to do”.
So very sad for all of us. He showed the design profession how to practice generousity of spirit. A tough day today. – Scot Hein, Campus Urban Designer and Professor in the Master of Urban Design Program at UBC, previously Senior Urban Designer with the City of Vancouver
“The first time I met Bing Thom was in 1985. I was recently arrived in Vancouver and times were tough in the architectural world. I was trudging around offices with my portfolio and literally just sat in Bing’s lobby for a couple hours until he agreed to meet me. After an interesting few minutes of discussion, he decided to cut to the chase and said to me: “there is no work here for students – GO HOME” . I am sure Bing had many bits of great wisdom to share with young students but I am glad I ignored that particular advice!” – Bruce Haden, Principal Bruce Haden Architect, Architect AIBC
“If more people had Bing’s intelligently passionate engagement with the city they call home, we would live in a much better world.” – Matthew Soules, Architect AIBC, MRAIC
“One of my most intense memories of Bing Thom comes from one of our last visits. Bing toured me around the Xiqu Opera House construction site in Kowloon a few months ago. It took being there with him walking under its trusses to fully understand the brilliance of Xiqu’s design, its psychological importance to him, and the legacy he is shaping for his birthplace.
To return to Hong Kong and shape one of its most important public buildings at age 70 is a beautiful narrative arc. That the building is one of his best designs makes it even more powerful as a memorial: the technical bravado of suspending the hall above the ground plane; the care with which building skin and interior details are being developed; and most of all, the gift of views to residents to the harbour from the space underneath the hall and from Kowloon Park, a singular, and very Thomian public act.
A mentor to so many of us, Bing Thom lived an articulation of how innovative design can inspire individual and collective lives.” – Trevor Boddy FRAIC
“While many great architects are often difficult people to deal with, Bing was an exception to the rule. While strong-willed he was a considerate, caring, gentle man who cared not just about the design of buildings but also the design of the city.” – Michael Geller Architect AIBC, FCIP, RPP, President of The Geller Group and Adjunct Professor of the SFU Centre for Sustainable Community
“I remember him as the only architect who talked about the colour of light and tried to design buildings that complemented the light of their locales. Quite different from the beton brute of many of his contemporaries.” – Michael Kluckner, contemporary Vancouver-based artist and writer
“I didn’t personally know Bing, but I feel a connection with him and his work because we are both Hong Kong Chinese Canadians. He’s an inspiration to Asian immigrants and Asian architects in Canada who have followed, such as Bruce Kuwabara.” – Leon L.H. Lai, Designer/Founder of Sivisoko Inc.
“The Canadian architectural community has lost a leader, a dreamer, a visionary. Bing Thom has left behind a legacy that will continue to have an impact on our cultural and built environments for many years to come. My thoughts are with the Thom family today.” – Jeremy Stam, Intern Architect AIBC
“We are deeply saddened by the sudden and unexpected loss of our generous friend, alumnus, and award-winning colleague, Bing Thom. Vancouver and the global architecture and urban design community is a far lesser place today without him. We extend our sincere condolences to Bing’s wife Bonnie and family and to our many friends and colleagues at Bing Thom Architects.
Bing’s talent and contributions as an architect and urban placemaker are extraordinary. He leaves us with a rich and diverse portfolio of consistently distinctive buildings and public places born of his prolific creative mind and unwavering commitment to design and detail. These are truly exceptional places expressive of Bing’s indelible optimism and persistent confidence in the vitality of civic life, the dignity of people, and the intimacy of everyday experience. Every graduating UBC student directly engages that confluence as they cross the stage of the elegant auditorium of the magnificent Chan Centre for the Performing Arts before faculty, friends, and family to mark their passage to new lives with new degrees.
Bing was also much more than a very talented and civic minded architect. He was also a strategic systems thinker, courageous advocate, and outspoken provocateur fueled by a lively mind on constant alert for a greater good. His buildings, built and unbuilt, were consistently conceived as contributors to, and often catalysts of, larger ideas and discourse about architecture, urban life, cities, and even watersheds. We are grateful to have known and worked with Bing for many years. We are honoured to have been able to recognize his contributions to Canada with a prestigious Margolese National Design for Living Prize in 2013. The many other communities that he has touched will also sorely miss his art, humanity, and courage. May his values, work, and influence endure a very long time.” – School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture UBC