Bing Wing Thom, CM, architect (born 8 December 1940 in Hong Kong; died 4 October 2016 in Hong Kong). A Member of the Order of Canada and a winner of the Governor General’s Award, Bing Thom’s strong design values and holistic approach in practice made him one of Canada’s top architects.

Early Life and Education

Thom and his family immigrated to Canada in 1950. He studied architecture at the University of British Columbia (1966) and the University of California, Berkeley (1969) before moving to Tokyo in 1971 to work for Japanese architect-urbanist Fumihiko Maki. A year later, Thom returned to Canada and became project director for Arthur Erickson Architects. In this capacity, he oversaw such notable projects as Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto (1977), the Robson Square/Courthouse Complex in Vancouver (1973–79), and the Saudi Arabian Government's Air Defence Ministry Building in Jeddah.

Bing Thom Architects

In 1982, Thom established his own firm, Vancouver-based Bing Thom Architects, with offices now in Washington DC, Hong Kong and Beijing. Thom's work encompassed a wide range of projects from residential to hospitality, institutional and cultural. The firm grew to include a research studio as well as a planning practice. The largest master plan completed by the firm was for the Dalian New Town in Dalian, China. Located on the coast of China near the North Korean border, Dalian is one of the largest ports in the world.

Thom's design strength was evident early on in his career with projects that explore community and place-making through innovative means of space-making and use of materials. He created unique design solutions that look and feel appropriate in their context by addressing both economic and social needs. As such, each building conveys a concern for the citizen and questions the purpose of each project. One of his early projects, the False Creek Yacht Club in Vancouver, uses structural pilings that extend through the building and transform into "masts" complete with cables, docking the building along Granville Street and tying it into its context. This private club, with its combination of nautical elements and industrial aesthetics, sits embedded along the creek’s edge. The predominant materials of choice — glass, steel and corrugated metal — relate to the surrounding bridges, buildings, boats and urban environment.

Major Projects

One of Thom’s best-known projects is the zinc-clad Canada Pavilion at Expo 92 in Seville, Spain. Of the 110 international pavilions erected, it was the only one retained as a legacy of the fair, and continues to be used as a technical training school. Thom was selected as the winner of the national competition to design the Canadian pavilion. This project is innovative aesthetically, technically (with the use of zinc panels on the exterior) and spatially. The pavilion is centred around a courtyard or glass stage, with the plan laid out in a manner that resembles a garden, where the public can easily meander from one space to another. This sort of careful spatial orchestration is was explored by Thom in many of his projects.

Likewise, the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at the University of British Columbia (1997) is sited in such a manner that the threshold between interior and exterior becomes blurred. The Centre is a music hall, complete with an experimental theatre and a cinema. The project is gorgeously detailed in wood and features an innovative acoustical canopy that has become a precedent around the world. When seen in plan, it resembles a musical instrument such as a cello or piano; to some, images of drums may also arise. This reference to a familiar form reveals the kind of intimacy that can be seen throughout the project. Its simple material palette (of wood and concrete), and the landscaping of the building and site, make the Chan Centre a unique and world-renowned concert hall.

The first phase of the Alberta master plan for the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) campus, the SAIT Polytechnic Parkade, is a cleverly planned massive parking lot. By keeping the existing playing field atop the structure, the banal program of the parkade is hidden, turning the project into a masterful show of art (with its graphic mural metal screens) and greenery, further emphasizing the strong visual connection between campus and city.

Among Thom’s cultural projects, the Arena Stage at Mead Center for American Theatre in Washington, DC (2010) is celebrated for bringing a new image to the community and serving as a catalyst for further development of the area. It is characterized by a dramatic roof and a central oval form, one of whose functions is to tie the main features of the project together. The building is planned with useful spaces both within and outside, making it a locus of activity.

Thom’s Surrey City Centre Library (2011) in Surrey B.C. earned sustainable certification (a gold rating in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council). The building responds to its context by way of sloped walls for solar shading and large windows that maintain the connection to the surroundings, allowing the visitor to feel connected to the site and testing the threshold from the interior to the exterior. Predominantly designed to serve the community by providing gathering spaces, the project questions the role of a library in a time of easily accessible electronic information. The building’s merit can further be attributed to the use of building software that assisted the design team with the concrete formwork and allowed for an efficient and easily constructible solution to arise. This type of fine tuning is a common part of the design process for Thom.

At the heart of Thom’s practice were his fundamental beliefs in community, innovation, landscape and the human experience. His practice had a strong national and international presence, as evidenced by having been awarded the Excellence in Planning Award from the Canadian Institute of Planners for the Development Plan for the City Center of Yuxi, China in 2001.

Honours

Interior Design Institute of BC Award, 1990 (New World Harbourside Hotel)

Governor General’s Award, 1990 (False Creek Yacht Club)

Architectural Institute of British Columbia Lieutenant Governor of BC Award, 1992 (False Creek Yacht Club)

Member, Order of Canada, 1995

Excellence in Planning, Canadian Institute of Planners, 2001 (Development Plan for the City Center of Yuxi, China)

Merit Award, Royal Architectural Institute of Canada – Governor, BC, 2009 (Alberta Master Plan for the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology campus)

Architectural Firm Award, Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, 2010

Surrey NewCity Award for Excellence, 2011 (Surrey City Centre Library)