Hanganu is RAIC's gold medal laureate

By Alidor Aucoin on June 12, 2008

Dan Hanganu, the Romanian-born architect widely acclaimed for this design of Montreal's  Musée d'archéologie et d'histoire de Pointe-à-Callière, believes that much of today's architecture is the work of what he calls "acrobats, who make noise for a period of time, then eventually lose their spark." Many computer designed buildings are, he believes, a "vulgar expression of advanced mediocrity," and lack depth of the art of architecture.

"They are beautiful, they stand out. They are impressive. But when it comes to the essentials of space building, there is not so much there.  Twenty years ago, when you looked at a drawing done by an architecture student, it would take you five seconds to know whether the guy was a good architect. Today, they turn out beautiful pictures on a computer screen. They are appealing. They are also a problem, because they have no knowledge of history or of construction. You need a classical knowledge to be a good architect."

Hanganu, 69, responsible for more than 50 major architectural projects, is the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada's 25th gold medal laureate. He will receive the profession¹s highest award at a ceremony in Fredericton on June 28.

Since he came to Canada from Romania in 1970, Hanganu has altered the face of the city with his award winning designs. Among his projects are the city hall annex, the Chaussegros-de-Léry,  the 19th century building housing the Centre d'Archives de Montréal, designed the Cirque du Soleil's head office as well as the renovations of the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde and the Hotel Godin.

Lisa Rochon, one of the country's leading design critics calls him "an architect of dark, edgy spaces." The RAIC's selection committee says Hanganu was chosen this year's gold medallist, for his exceptional skills. "His buildings are not showy, but significant," reads their citation. Hanganu, 69, completed his architectural studies in Bucharest in 1961. He practiced in Romania and France before immigrating to Toronto. After first working in Toronto, He began teaching at McGill University, Montréal then opened his own office in Montréal in 1978 and became one of the first architects to incorporate  existing historic structures within contemporary design.

He won his first Governor-General's award for architecture in 1985 for Les Habitations Parc Quesnel, 21  residential condominiums on Nuns' Island. He also picked up a medal for the Université du Quebec a Montreal design pavilion on Sanguinet St. The Ordre des architectes du Québec has given him eight awards or mentions of excellence and the Government of Quebec, the Governor General, the Canadian Wood Council and the Save Montreal Society have, repeatedly recognized the quality of his work.

Most of his work is concentrated in Montreal, but he is at work on a convention centre and office tower in Bucharest and a housing project for Breton Flats in Ottawa.

Hanganu says there are very few good architects at work these days. Among the few he admires are the Italian architect Renzo Piano, a Pritzker Architecture Prize winner who designed the Pompidou Centre in Paris, Japan's Toyo Ito, known for his extreme concept buildings, and the celebrated French architect Jean Nouvel, this year's Pritzker prize winner.

Hanganu was on the short list for the Museum of Human Rights to be built in Winnipeg. His concept for the museum was black and fearless, going to the heart of the absolute need for human rights in the world. While most critics thought he de deserved to win, American architect Antoine Predock was awarded the job for a much more glitzy "tower of hope" that emerges from a transparent base.

"Democracy," Hanganu believes does not serve architecture well.

"What we once admired through history was built by the strong and the strong willed. You cannot glorify that now, because the concept is outdated and politically incorrect. But sometimes we need people to remind us when the emperor has no clothes.

 "There is such a cacophony in almost everything architects do these days.

We have to be more careful, we need to pay attention to what we do best as architects. Once it was the end result that mattered, today we are mesmerized by the design process itself. People are not so much interested in architecture anymore as they are interested in construction."


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