Celebrated Toronto architect Jack Diamond, whose vision shaped some of Toronto’s most notable spaces, has died just shy of his 90th birthday, his firm announced Tuesday.
Diamond, whose projects included the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Museum Station, Corus Quay, Richmond Hill Central Library, and the Holy Blossom Temple, died Sunday afternoon, the firm Diamond Schmitt said in a statement.
Born in South Africa, Diamond studied architecture, before going to Oxford University, where he studied politics and philosophy and economics. From there, he went to Philadelphia in the early 1960s and then to Toronto. He began practicing architecture in 1968, but his experience in apartheid South Africa left an indelible mark, his business partner Don Schmitt told CBC Radio’s Here and Now.
There’s a mentality now that goes on simple slogans or a kind of negativity rather than looking at what the evidence is.– Jack Diamond
Diamond’s experience in South Africa ultimately drove him to leave, but played a key role in shaping him as an “activist,” Schmitt said.
“That sense of inequity and racism in society was something that he fought heavily against,” said Schmitt.
“He was always an activist in the sense of looking for solutions which had a community benefit,” Schmitt said. “All of those issues, his interest in human rights, all those commitments, I think, were part of what made him an architect but something much more.”
On his firm’s website, Schmitt wrote that Diamond’s contribution to urban reform “was profound.”
LISTEN | Remembering Jack Diamond and his contribution:
7:46Remembering Toronto architect Jack Diamond and his contribution to Toronto’s cityscape
One of Toronto’s leading architects has died. Jack Diamond passed away, just a week before his 90th birthday. Jack was the mastermind behind Toronto buildings like, The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. St. Michael’s Hospital, Museum subway station and more. Gill Deacon spoke with Diamond’s friend and business partner, Don Schmitt.
Diamond, it says, led Toronto’s implementation of infill housing to help strengthen neighbourhoods at risk.
“He demonstrated the economic and societal benefits of transforming heritage for new uses,” the statement said. “He articulated the negative impacts of low density suburban sprawl on public transit, servicing costs, social cohesion and the environment.”
‘A teacher, collaborator and mentor’
But Diamond’s contributions went far beyond Toronto.
Also on his list of architectural successes are Israel’s foreign ministry and city hall, The Mariinsky II Opera and Ballet Hall in St. Petersburg in Russia, and the University of British Columbia’s medical school.
“Jack was a teacher, collaborator and mentor who shaped an exhilarating studio culture,” his firm said in its statement.
WATCH | Mariinsky Theatre the ‘crown’ in Diamond’s career:
Mariinsky’s Canadian connection
Canadian architect Jack Diamond is designing a new opera house for Russia’s venerable Mariinsky Theatre. CBC’s Jean-François Bélanger reports.
Along the way, Diamond became a Gold Medalist of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, a member of the Order of Ontario and and officer of the Order of Canada. He was also one of five commissioners appointed by Ontario’s premier to review land use, transportation, taxation and governance in the Greater Toronto Area, the statement says.
Among his final projects was the design of the U.K. Holocaust Memorial in London — a design that the firm says “fused his passion for human rights, social inclusion, equity and a just society with a powerful architecture that engaged the landscape and shaped a visitor’s journey from darkness towards light.”
‘Good policies must be based on good evidence’
In 2014, Diamond delivered the William Kilbourn Memorial Lecture at the Heritage Toronto Awards.
In it, he spoke about the need for Toronto and Canada as a whole to invest in a “long-range” vision for public infrastructure, including but not limited to public housing and transit. The city, he said, needed to recommit to investing in its future and building capacity.
“Our leadership hasn’t understood that and in fact they go on about cutting taxes. I think that what we need is tax value, not tax cuts.”
“There’s a mentality now that goes on simple slogans or a kind of negativity rather than looking at what the evidence is,” he said.
“I have a long list of where we have lost our way in Canada over the past eight years,” he said, pointing to cuts to Health Canada, Environment Canada among other examples.
“Good policies must be based on good evidence. Democracy requires an informed electorate.”