Raymond Moriyama, Designer of Humane Public Spaces, Dies at 93

Raymond Moriyama, an iconoclastic Japanese Canadian architect whose childhood experiences of racism and internment led him to design open and inviting civic spaces that shaped the city of Toronto, died there on Sept. 1. He was 93.

His firm, Moriyama Teshima Architects, announced the death. No cause was given.

Mr. Moriyama was 12 when he designed his first building — a treehouse constructed from scavenged lumber and branches near the Slocan River in British Columbia.

He built it on the outskirts of a camp where he and his mother and two sisters were interned during World War II. More than 22,000 Japanese Canadians were confined in their own country after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. His father, a schoolteacher and hardware store owner, had been thrown in prison for resisting an order to join a road camp, and it would be two years before the family was reunited.

In a documentary about his life, “Magical Imperfection” (2020), directed by Scott Calbeck, Mr. Moriyama recalled the slurs delivered by the Canadian Mounties who came to take his father away. “If you are called an enemy alien as a child of 12,” he said, “and to be called a goddamn Jap, it will never escape you.”

Yet as an architect, Mr. Moriyama made buildings designed for inclusion.

Mr. Moriyama designed the Scarborough Civic Centre, a shimmering municipal building completed in 1973, with open-plan offices, to make the government accessible to the people. Credit…Moriyama Teshima Architects

The Scarborough Civic Center — completed in 1973, for a district of Toronto — is a shimmering five-story building clad in aluminum and reflective glass, with an interior atrium ringed by open-plan office spaces that had vines hanging from their balconies. Mr. Moriyama’s idea was to make the government accessible to the people. What was originally the mayor’s office, on the ground floor, has a circular window, offering a metaphor for transparency and also, Mr. Moriyama joked, providing easy access to disgruntled citizens.

“If it’s a bad administration,” he said in the documentary, “you could throw a brick right through it.”

Mr. Moriyama came of age and began working in “the golden age of Canadian architecture,” Stefan Novakovic, a senior editor at Azure magazine, an architecture journal, told CBC News this month. “It was this time when we were transforming Canada from this sort of white colonial nation into the multicultural and diverse country that we know today.”

Mr. Moriyama, Mr. Novakovic said, was one of the greatest Canadian architects of the 20th and early 21st century.

It was Mr. Moriyama who was chosen to design the new home of the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, a $100 million project that opened in 2005; he collaborated on the project with Alex Rankin, a Canadian architect who had grown up in Belfast, its own kind of war zone.

“It’s a bit of an irony, but it’s appropriate that we got the job,” Mr. Moriyama told The New York Times. The museum, a low-slung 450,000-square-foot building, is flanked by a river and a meadow; its arching roofed is planted with grasses. Inside, there are all “the normal accouterments of any war museum,” Clifford Krauss, then The Times’s Toronto bureau chief, wrote: “vintage jeeps and tanks, war planes suspended from the ceiling, along with one of Hitler’s limousines and the obligatory collection of medals for valor.”

Mr. Moriyama designed the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa with Alex Rankin, a Canadian architect who had grown up in Belfast, its own kind of war zone. “It’s a bit of an irony, but it’s appropriate that we got the job,” Mr. Moriyama said.Credit…Ian Austen for The New York Times

But, he continued, “there will also be portrait paintings of a war bride and a shellshocked soldier, an audio re-creation of the writings of a Loyalist child refugee escaping the American Revolution, and a teddy bear once carried by a Canadian Army stretcher bearer killed in World War I, given to him by his daughter as a good-luck charm.”

In the museum’s Memorial Hall, Mr. Moriyama set the headstone of what had marked the original resting place of the Canadian Unknown Soldier in a French cemetery. He designed a window for the spartan hall and placed it strategically, so that every year at precisely 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, Veterans Day, if the day is bright, a ray of sunshine will illuminate the headstone.

The spare Memorial Hall ot the Canadian War Museum, which opened in 2005.Credit…Tom Arban, via Moriyama Teshima Architects

“What I discovered as a child was that, God, democracy is fragile,” he told The Calgary Herald in 1992. “I thought about it until I was going to university, and maybe even into university, that you’ve got to fight for the rights of everybody, not just for yourself.”

Raymond Junichi Moriyama was born in Vancouver on Oct. 11, 1929. His parents had immigrated from Japan when his father’s brother asked for help with the hardware store he had opened in Vancouver.

Mr. Moriyama often said that a childhood accident determined his career: When he was 4, a model airplane he had built flew over a stove with a pot of bubbling stew on top of it. When he tried to retrieve the plane, the pot toppled over and he suffered terrible burns.

He was confined to bed for eight months and spent the time looking out the window at the construction going on outside. He was impressed by a man in a suit who showed up every day brandishing sheaves of paper, and who seemed to be in charge. When Raymond’s father told him that the man was an architect, Raymond declared that that would be his profession, too.

After the war, the family moved to Hamilton, on Lake Ontario, where his father worked as a dishwasher and his mother cleaned houses. Raymond studied architecture at the University of Toronto on a scholarship and then at McGill, in Montreal.

Mr. Moriyama in 1973. A childhood accident led to his inspiration to be an architect. Credit…Reg Innell/Toronto Star, via Getty Images

After earning his master’s degree there in 1957, he settled in Toronto with his wife, Sachiko (Miyauchi) Moriyama, known as Sachi, who had been his childhood sweetheart — they grew up on the same block in Vancouver. He opened his own firm in 1958 with $392, the extent of his savings.

His first commission was a golf course. His first significant commission was the Japanese Canadian Cultural Center, which opened in 1963. A gutsy Brutalist structure, it was designed to invoke a Japanese temple and to serve as a gathering place for the Japanese Canadian community. The firm was not exactly flush with cash in the postwar years, and the center was built with a mortgage taken out by 70 Japanese Canadians.

It was the Ontario Science Center, designed to celebrate Canada’s centennial in 1967 — the building was completed two years later — that made Mr. Moriyama’s name. It is a modernist 500,000-square feet assemblage of concrete shapes linked by bridges and escalators and filled with interactive exhibits, a revolutionary concept at the time.

Critics jeered, he recalled, likening its participatory features — including a planetarium and an amateur radio station — to a carnival and judging them unsuitable for a museum. But the public loved it, and in 2007 it was memorialized on a postage stamp.

In 1970, Mr. Moriyama formed a partnership with the architect Ted Teshima. In 1975, The National Post reported, their staff of 11 included a political scientist and an architect whose background was in philosophy.

Mr. Moriyama was responsible for building many of Toronto’s landmarks. The Toronto Reference Library was completed in 1977.Credit…Shai Gil, via Moriyama Teshima Architects

One of the firm’s standout works was the Toronto Reference Library, a generous glass and brick structure, completed in 1977. But their projects were not confined to Canada. They designed a transit mall in Buffalo to revitalize the city’s main street; the National Museum of Saudi Arabia, in Riyadh; and the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, a glass and aluminum trapezoid that hovers above an open garden and plaza built on the fourth story of a commercial building.

And then there’s the Bata Shoe Museum, a whimsical limestone-clad “shoebox” — or Mr. Moriyama’s interpretation of one — in downtown Toronto. It was the passion project of Sonja Bata, whose husband, Thomas Bata, was the heir to the Bata Shoe Company. Ms. Bata, who died in 2018, wanted a home to exhibit her 13,000 pairs of shoes — a historically important collection representing 4,500 years of shoe artistry, from sealskin Inuit boots to 18th-century heels and chopines from the Italian Renaissance.

Mr. Moriyama is survived by his wife; three daughters, Michi, Midori, Murina; two sons, Jason and Ajon, and 10 grandchildren.

In 1985, Mr. Moriyama was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 1997, he received the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada’s Gold Medal, Canadian architecture’s highest honor. He retired in 2003.

Mr. Moriyama was noted for his ability to listen to his clients. He often described himself as “a professional dumdum” — a dogged interlocutor whose questions led to some extraordinary structures and, at least once, to no structure at all.

When a prominent lawyer and his wife asked Mr. Moriyama to design a house for them, he recalled to The National Post in 1975, “I listened for 40 minutes and found out they had nice homes and many, many cars and a cottage and boats and all the rest. So I told them, OK, you don’t need an architect, you need family counseling, because an architect can’t fuse you together.”

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