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Wiens, Clifford (1926–)

Clifford Wiens is one of the most influential architects ever to call Saskatchewan home. In a forty-year career starting in 1956, his Regina office produced a bold range of buildings—large and small—that combine the pragmatism and romanticism that co-exist at the heart of prairie culture. Such buildings as the John Nugent Studio (St. Mark’s Shop) in Lumsden (1960), the University of Regina Heating and Cooling Plant (1968), the Silton Summer Chapel (1967) and the Regina CBC Broadcast Centre (1983) all possess his trademark: innovative structural problem-solving, along with deft artistic composition of powerful, simple tectonic forms set against broad plains landscapes. He is the winner of three Massey Medals, Canada’s top award for architecture—more than any other Saskatchewan architect. Wiens grew to prominence after EXPO 67, when a wave of nationalism led Canadians to demand more original and expressive architectural forms. His dialogue of built with natural form is comparable to the work of fellow westerners Arthur Erickson of Vancouver, Douglas Cardinal and Peter Hemingway of Edmonton, and Etienne Gaboury of Winnipeg. But Wiens stands out even among this distinguished company for the rigour and originality of his construction details, some of them born of his training and parallel career as an industrial designer.

Wiens was born on April 27, 1926, on his family farm near Glen Kerr, in the grain belt west of Regina. His Mennonite family put a strong emphasis on self-reliance, and while growing up he developed the wide range of wood frame construction, metalworking and mechanical skills needed for the operation of their farm. After several years of farming and studies in art at Banff and in agriculture at Saskatoon, he was accepted into the Rhode Island School of Design in 1949. He arrived on full scholarship, intending a career as an industrial designer—in particular, of farm equipment. He soon switched to the architecture program, which was then steeped in the high Modernism of the Bauhaus. Upon graduation, Wiens worked with Regina architects, notably Joseph Pettick, modestly contributing to the design of the breakthrough Saskatchewan Power Corporation building. At the same time, he developed close intellectual, artistic and friendship links with the Regina Five, some of Canada’s most acclaimed and advanced abstract painters of the period.

His Regina practice was unusual for its extremely wide range of clients and building types. Bold detailing and elegant spaces characterize even the most modest of his works, notably a trio of churches: Roman Catholic St. Joseph’s in Whitewood (1959); Mennonite Brethren in Regina (1961); and Roman Catholic Our Lady in Moose Jaw (1966). Some of his more prominent later works include Nakusp Hot Springs Spa in BC (1974), Prince Albert City Hall (1984), and Camrose Lutheran College (1986). In the mid-1990s, Wiens wound down his Regina practice and moved to Vancouver, where he continues to design and consult. He has also served as visiting professor at the University of Arizona and Arizona State University. Wiens is the first Saskatchewan architect to be given a career retrospective, in a major exhibition planned for the Mendel Art Gallery in October 2005.

Trevor Boddy

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