Phyllis Lambert has been called the “Joan of Architecture” both for her fierce advocacy of the importance of architecture and for her insistence on the preservation of historically important architecture in Canada and internationally.
Phyllis Barbara Lambert, née Bronfman, CC, GOQ, architect, philanthropist, curator (born 24 January 1927 in Montréal, QC). A Companion of the Order of Canada and founder of the internationally renowned Centre for Canadian Architecture, Phyllis Lambert has been called the “Joan of Architecture” both for her fierce advocacy of the importance of architecture and for her insistence on the preservation of historically important architecture in Canada and internationally.
Education and Early Projects
The daughter of distilling industrialist Samuel Bronfman, Phyllis Lambert was educated at Vassar College, New York (BA, 1948). Knowing that she was not slated to run the family business, which was given to her two brothers, Edgar and Charles Bronfman, Lambert embarked on an architectural career when she passionately advised her father to reject the original designs for the Seagram Building in New York and seek out a significant modernist architect. After considering the work of major figures like French visionary Le Corbusier and Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, she implored her father to choose émigré Bauhaus master Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, one of the most influential modern architects of the 20th century, to design the building. After serving as director of planning (1954 to 1958) for this project, Lambert enrolled in the program Mies had established at the Illinois Institute of Technology. There she studied under Myron Goldsmith, receiving her masters in architecture in 1963. Henceforth, her work has predominantly been in advocating for the contemporary and avant-garde in architecture with a special interest in promoting the value of historic preservation for the benefit and improvement of the city.
During the 1960s, Lambert designed the Saidye-Bronfman Centre in Montréal, which was named after her mother, an International Style glass and steel pavilion in the manner of Mies, and served as consultant to the Toronto-Dominion Centre in Toronto, the last great project in which Mies participated before his death. With its black cladding and tinted glass-curtain walls, the Toronto-Dominion Centre is one of Toronto’s few architectural masterpieces. In the mid-1970s Lambert was architect-developer with Gene Summers for the Biltmore Hotel renovation in downtown Los Angeles, handsomely restoring this derelict landmark to vital use. For this project she won the National Honor Award of the American Institute of Architects.
Architecture Becomes Public
One of Phyllis Lambert's most important achievements has been as the founder and director of the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), a world-class museum and research centre in Montréal, which houses extensive collections of architectural drawings, books, photographs, and archival materials. The Centre’s top priority has been the preservation of architectural heritage. The CCA was completed in 1989 and designed by Peter Rose , with Lambert as consulting architect, preserved and incorporated Shaugnessy House, a historic Montréal mansion rescued by Lambert. Together with its gardens, the major one designed by Melvin Charney, the Canadian Centre for Architecture has helped to revive a decaying urban area. By promoting architecture as art, Lambert has changed the way architects are seen and the way that they work. By engaging architects and the public in conversations about the value of architecture, Lambert, a strong proponent for “conscious city building,” has made the subject of architecture an important civic concern. Other important initiatives for Lambert include Héritage Montréal and Société d’amélioration Milton-Parc (SAMP), a non-profit cooperative housing renovation project in Canada. On 1 March 1999 Lambert retired as director of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, but continues as chair of the board of trustees and as an active member of the acquisitions committee.
Advocacy and Publications
Over the course of her career, Lambert has initiated a number of architecture/preservation-related projects and publications including Court House: A Photographic Document; Photography and Architecture: 1839–1939; Opening the Gates of Eighteenth-Century Montréal; and Fortifications and the Synagogue: The Fortress of Babylon and the Ben Ezra Synagogue, Cairo (completed 1991). Lambert has been an advocate for urban renewal, urban conservation and the cultural importance of architecture. A significant architectural publication that Lambert authored, Mies in America (2001), came out of an important exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art, New York . The text brings to light the leadership required to create contextual and relevant architecture. In 1998 she announced the IFCCA (International Federation for the CCA) Prize, a $100,000 international prize to encourage new contributions to the design of cities.
Lambert’s philosophy and enduring passion for architecture led to a series of academic appointments at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Princeton University School of Architecture, Harvard University Graduate School of Design, University of Toronto Faculty of Architecture, McGill University School of Architecture, the Université de Montréal Faculté de l’aménagement, the Institue for Advanced Study at Princeton (1986), Edinburgh University Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (1991), New York University Institute of Fine Arts, and as chair of the Columbia University Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture .
A film about her life and work, Citizen Lambert: Joan of Architecture, directed by American documentary filmmaker Teri Wehn-Damisch, was released in 2007.
Member of the Order of Canada (1985)
Knight of the National Order of Quebec (1985)
Officer of the Order of Canada (1990)
Doctor of Fine Arts in Architecture, Pratt Institute (1990)
Companion of the Order of Canada (2001)
Gold Medal, Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (1991)
Officer of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres de France (1992).
Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec (2005)
Vincent Scully Prize, National Building Museum (2006)
Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, Venice Biennale for Architecture (2014)
Wolf Prize in Arts (2016)