RAIC Gold Medal to Shim-Sutcliffe

John Hill
30. March 2021
Integral House, Toronto, 2009 (Photo: James Dow; all images courtesy of v2com)

The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) has announced that architects Brigitte Shim and A. Howard Sutcliffe are recipients of the 2021 RAIC Gold Medal, "the highest distinction the Institute can bestow in recognition of a significant and lasting contribution to Canadian architecture."

In yesterday's announcement, the RAIC says the work of Brigitte Shim and A. Howard Sutcliffe "expresses a deep concern for the cultural and spiritual significance of architecture, landscape, and design." The same announcement includes some words from historian Kenneth Frampton, who boasts, "Shim-Sutcliffe are among the top 20 architects practicing in the world today." In 2010, in a conference at Columbia University on the occasion of his 80th birthday, Frampton included Shim-Sutcliffe among five distinguished North American practices, singling out their Integral House as evidence of the duo's "brilliance." Although built as a private residence for a bachelor, "it is nothing less than an exceptional generous civic space for the public performance of chamber music and discreet theatrical pieces" that take place in the double-height living space seen above.

Shim and Sutcliffe established their eponymous practice in Toronto in 1994, though the two architects had collaborated since 1983 after meeting at the University of Waterloo; they both received environmental degrees in 1981 and architecture degrees in 1983. Shim, who emigrated from Jamaica in the mid-1960s, worked for Baird/Sampson Architects after college, while Sutcliffe, who had moved to Canada from England, worked in the offices of Ronald Thom, Barton Myers, and Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects before they partnered. One of their first projects after forming their practice was a truly public space: the transformation of Ledbury Park in north Toronto. They describe the award-winning project as "a new constructed topography linking the neighbourhood through the design of a new pedestrian bridge," where water is used year-round as "a summertime outdoor swimming pool and a winter skating canal."

Ledbury Park, Toronto, 1997 (Photo: James Dow)

Projects completed more recently include the Residence for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto (2013) and the Wong Dai Sin Temple (2015) in suburban Toronto. The latter won a Governor General’s Medal in 2016 — one of fifteen such medals given to Shim-Sutcliffe from the RAIC, "no small accomplishment!" in the words of former Gold Medal recipient John Patkau. According to yesterday's announcement, Shim and Sutcliffe "are currently realizing projects in North America, Russia, and Hong Kong."

Comments from the Gold Medal jury*:

By their relentless pursuit of excellence, Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe have produced a significant body of exceptional design works covering architecture, landscape, interior, furniture and hardware—all developed to an incredibly high standard, with craft, rigour, sense of place, and mastery of proportions. Their work demonstrates a dedication to material expression and exquisite detailing across multiple scales, in addition to creating an intimate connection with each site.

They continue to be an inspiration to other architects by demonstrating that exceptional projects are possible and by their tireless commitment to advocacy, teaching and mentoring.

We wish to recognize them as a powerful collaborative duo, whose commitment to craft, tectonics, site and ecology will have a lasting impact on Canadian architecture.

Corkin Gallery, Toronto, 2004 (Photo: James Dow)
*The 2021 Gold Medal jury:

  • Susan Ruptash, BDP Quadrangle
  • André Perrotte, Saucier+Perrotte Architectes
  • Drew Adams, LGA Architectural Partners Ltd.
  • Marie-Odile Marceau, McFarland Marceau Architects Ltd.
  • Susan Fitzgerald, Fowler Bauld & Mitchell Ltd.

Brigitte Shim and A. Howard Sutcliffe
Recent recipients of the RAIC Gold Medal:

  • 2020: Blanche Lemco van Ginkel
  • 2018: Gilles Saucier and André Perrotte
  • 2017: Roger Terence du Toit (Awarded posthumously)
  • 2015: Brian MacKay-Lyons
  • 2014: Peter Busby
  • 2013: His Highness the Aga Khan
  • 2012: Peter Cardew
  • 2011: Bing Thom
  • 2010: George Baird
  • 2009: John Patkau and Patricia Patkau

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