Winner of two Massey Awards, Clifford Wiens's distinguished body of work reflects both corporate modern architecture and a broader expressionist movement. Wiens’s distinctive approach to structure and form is shaped by his relationship with the abstract painters in the Regina Five and his background in industrial design.
Clifford Donald Wiens, architect (born 27 April 1926 in Glenn Kerr, SK). Winner of two Massey Awards, Clifford Wiens's distinguished body of work reflects both corporate modern architecture and a broader expressionist movement. Wiens’s distinctive approach to structure and form is shaped by his relationship with the abstract painters in the Regina Five and his background in industrial design.
Education and Early Career
Raised on a Mennonite farm, Wiens studied painting with A.Y. Jackson at the Banff Centre for Continuing Education, agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan and machine tooling at the Moose Jaw Technical School. He eventually graduated with a degree in architecture and industrial design from the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island in 1954 and founded his own architecture firm in Regina in 1957.
Clifford Wiens is among a group of Prairie-born architects, including Douglas Cardinal, Gordon Atkins, and Étienne Gaboury who were actively searching out new ideas and innovations in architecture during the 1960s and 1970s. They were specifically interested in developing a style that was responsive to the landscape and history of the prairies.
Wiens, known for his superb and inventive architectural and structural details and simple but strong forms, has produced a wide range of projects. Wiens’s work is in an experimental International Style of the kind introduced by an earlier generation of European Modernist architects like Le Corbusier, but with an expressive formal aesthetic and a respectful sensitivity to context and the surrounding landscape. Wiens's first important work was St Joseph's Church, Whitewood, SK (1959), a simple, triangular, wooden structure, its slanting shingled roof extending all the way to the ground as though protecting the congregation from prairie winds. The following year he produced another notable project, John Nugent Studio in Lumsden, SK (1960), a provincial heritage site, featuring a thin-shelled concrete conical roof that appears to float on a band of glass at its base, overlooking the Qu’Appelle Valley. A decade later, he built the rural, outdoor Chapel in Silton, SK (1969), choosing a massive pyramidal roof to hover above a congregational area, supported by glulam (glued laminated timber) beams; the project has been referred to as sublime in the way it pays particular attention to the landscape and reveals itself to the visitor.
Among his residential projects, Lakeshore Residence near Lebret, SK, celebrates the landscape with its angled roof and concrete and wood materials, attuning itself to the site with its feature louvred facade. The much-praised University of Regina Heating and Cooling Plant (1968), uses forms that recall images of prairie grain elevators, thus linking the project to its region. A concrete pyramid with descending struts and a triangle at its front, the building is striking in its expressiveness and dynamism for a purely functional, industrial structure. It is, as Wiens himself has remarked, “a concrete temple to technology.” Wiens has also undertaken smaller, more idiosyncratic projects. Located in provincial parks across Saskatchewan, the Spiral Teepee Picnic Shelters (1970) are just an upward whorl of wood open at one end; inside there is enough room for a family to sit and have lunch or wait out a downpour.
Of his later works, two of his finest are the 1983 CBC headquarters in Regina, which forms a galleria to view the dome of the legislative building, and the new Prince Albert City Hall (1984). The CBC building has a staggered, blunt shape, fashioned from cement, which seems to be hunkering down and leaning into the landscape. As is often the case with Wiens, the directness and rawness of the building reflects the aims of the institution it was designed to house. Prince Albert City Hall, on the other hand, with the nested stone rectangles of its central doorway and window, a clock tower rising from its mid-point, projects judiciousness and dignity.
In 2005, the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon, SK, organized a retrospective of Wiens’s work called Telling Details: The Architecture of Clifford Wiens. The show was produced by the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, SK, in 2007. Some of Wiens’s projects are in need of restoration and protection as they are slowly declining into disrepair.
Massey Award for the University of Regina Heating and Cooling Plant 1967)
Massey Award for the outdoor chapel at Silton (1969).
Prix du XXe siècle, Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (2011)