George Baird, the Canadian architect, scholar, and educator, died yesterday, October 17. He was 84. The immediate cause of death is not known but he had been in ill health.
Baird began teaching at the University of Toronto—from which he received his Bachelor of Architecture degree—in 1967, and remained a part of the faculty until his 1993 appointment as Professor of Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. In 2004, he returned to his alma mater in Canada to serve as dean of the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, a position he held until 2009. In a statement, the school expressed: “It is the rare architect whose voice and contributions straddle the worlds of practice and theory so significantly, but Baird’s very much did.”
According to Baird, the book that changed his life was Hannah Arendt's The Human Condition (1958). His own early writings applied theories of semiotics to architecture, helping lay the foundation for the Postmodernism movement. Notably, Meaning in Architecture (1969), a book of collected essays edited by Charles Jencks and Baird while he was a postgraduate student at University College, London, featured a coterie of heavy-hitting and up-and-coming theorists, including Reyner Banham, Geoffrey Broadbent, Alan Colquhoun, Kenneth Frampton, Christian Norberg-Schulz, and Aldo van Eyck. Baird’s own oft-cited text, “‘La Dimension Amoureuse’ in Architecture” was indebted to literary theorist Roland Barthes.
A prolific writer, Baird frequently contributed to RECORD, reviewing scholarly volumes and architecture exhibitions. He wrote and edited several books, including Alvar Aalto (1971) and The Space of Appearance (1995), confidently spanning theory, history, biography, and urbanism. In a review of Baird’s more recent anthology Writings on Architecture and the City (2015), Kenneth Frampton wrote that it was “impossible to do justice in the space available to the critical writing of the distinguished Canadian architect/theorist.”
Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory (1994). Photo by Jeff Hitchcock, Wikimedia Commons
A Fellow of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada and a Member of the Order of Canada, Baird founded George Baird Architects in 1972. Alongside early collaborators, including Bruce Kuwabara, John van Nostrand, Barry Sampson, and Joost Bakker, he led the development of significant public projects, including numerous seminal works for the urban domain including ‘Onbuildingdowntown,’ the City of Toronto’s first urban design guidelines. Now Baird Sampson Neuert Architects, the award-winning firm’s projects include educational and cultural facilities, research and visitor centers, private and public housing, as well as master planning. In 2010, he received the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada’s Gold Medal, that organization’s highest honor.