Heritage Vancouver
PO Box 3336 Main Post Office
V6B 3Y3

August 04, ‘03

Dear Sirs,

Heritage Vancouver Vol. 11 No. 9 Nov. 2002

Good heavens, you can imagine my surprise as I inadvertently stumbled across Robert Moffert's Roger Kemble's colourful iconoclasm. I thought all that had been forgotten. I certainly have forgotten!

I suppose I should be flattered that a protean historian had resurrected my 'Coloured Box Imperium' of thirty years gone: and in a way I am.

He calls me a counter-culture radical. That I find extremely hard to square with my circumstances at the time: four kids, two cars and a house in West Van. Some radical!

To peruse all the architectural trade magazines one must conclude my coloured boxes where a truly original, autochthonous Canadian architecture. In contrast the woodsie post-and-beam idiom was being built everywhere: same could be said for planting bland, gray concrete stumps in the ground, or piling rough-cut lumber on a West Van mountain side, calling it West Coast architecture!

Radical! Iconoclast! Pul-e-e-e-e-ze!

In fact there was nothing radical about those shockingly bold plywood-box houses which I prefer, more benignly, to refer to as my coloured boxes. They followed good West Coast stick-built frame construction using local materials, taking advantage of every hidden strength. Indeed my purpose was to intrude gently on nature, enclosing the most livable space by economically disposing materials.

The bright colours where textbook: Chevreul: 'De la loi du contraste simultane des couleurs' (1839) to be precise. The idea was to complement, with smooth surface colours, Vancouver ubiquitous natural greenery and textures.

As for the geometry, . . . a sculptural triangle . . . that was structural. I tried, wherever possible, to float my designs above the site so as not to intrude upon the natural surfaces and contours: inflicting minimal scars on mother earth.

Just an elementary approach. I learned it all in design school and did not forget.

He won two Massey medals in 1964 . . . Not so. I won one Massey silver medal in 1964 for the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory on Little Saanich Mountain, Victoria, my first coloured box. But I won dozens of other awards as I contemplated the Napoleonic quip referring to the French Le Legion de Honneur: it is with such baubles men are led!

Again, to quote from the article, To copy from Japan seems incongruous, he wrote in 1972 . . . While Japanese architecture stands immaculate, full of grace and beauty, it is still the product of a very brutal and structured regime. What I did not understand then, but do now: we emulate that which reflects ourselves.

Oh yes, we are told the Culhane House, . . . was an immediate sensation . . . Ummmm, tell me again. I must have missed that. Most of the time I felt I was working in a vacuum!

Time has not been kind to Kemble creations, says the author, and that is just as well. What I had in mind then was for a different people, in a different place at a different time.

Anyway Robert thanqu for re-kindling some memories.

Best wishes,

Roger Kemble