Vancouver’s most prolific architect and his impact on the city
By Greg Waldock, Staff Writer
Metro Vancouver has something pretty special in its distinct architectural style. Smooth curves, blue-green glass, and tan wood are the centerpieces of our aesthetic. One of the most perfect examples of this is the Surrey Central tower, a gorgeous spire in a city that has struggled with poverty and crime for decades—that imagery, using architecture to uplift the city around it, was typical of the man who designed it and gave Vancouver an iconic panache. That man was Bing Thom, world-famous architect and dedicated Vancouverite.
Bing Thom got his start in architecture after graduating from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Architecture, and later a Master’s from Berkley in California. After returning to Vancouver, he trained under master architect Arthur Charles Erickson, who was most notable for designing UBC’s Museum of Anthropology and creating the design for Simon Fraser University. Thom would later launch into international fame after completing the Chan Centre in 1997. Hand-picked by the philanthropic Chan brothers to oversee construction on the lavish performing arts mecca, Thom threw himself into the work over the next two years and the result speaks for itself. The critical success of the design led him to work on other projects in Vancouver and abroad, allowing him to found his own firm, Bing Thom Architects, now known as Revery Architecture.
His career afterward was extremely diverse. From the Surrey Public Library to entire city masterplans in China, Thom found success after success. His preferred style was to be generous with open space where possible, with large open courtyards and natural light. Where wide space wasn’t available, he used slow sweeping curves and clear glass to give the appearance of openness. This has since become an iconic Vancouver look, embodied by the Surrey Central tower, Robson Square, Aberdeen Centre, the Chan Centre, and many others. It also found its way into Hong Kong and America through his work as his popularity and fame grew.
Bing Thom worked hard right up until his sudden death of a brain aneurism on October 4, 2016 at the age of 75. He was in Hong Kong on a business trip at the time. His final project was the Guildford Aquatic Centre, which his firm dutifully completed after he passed. Bing Thom left behind his wife of 50 years, two brothers, his flourishing architectural firm, and a legacy of Vancouver design that continues to spread around the world.