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RIP Ted Cullinan, “an architect who made the world better”

He was a pioneer of sustainable design.

A lot of architects from the UK used to visit the University of Toronto School of Architecture when I was there in the '70s, but the one who made the greatest impression on me was Ted Cullinan. He was so charming, down to earth, and the first I met who just naturally practiced what we would come to call sustainable design. He didn't have much to show us other than his wonderful house, which I described in 2007:

It was so logical – the living space was upstairs, closer to the light and where doing longer spans is easier, while all the walls chopping up the bedroom area below support the floor above more easily. He built it with his own hands.

He was a pioneer, doing one of the earliest buildings with green roofs, which Sunand Prasad called “an early indicator of the future of low energy, ecological building design” and “from an architectural point of view this building represents a new stream of thinking which we now take for granted.” We almost lost this one: Pioneering green roofed building by Ted Cullinan saved from demolition

John Hope GatewayView of John Hope Gateway from outside the gates/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Last year I was visiting the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh and got there a few minutes before opening. I stared through the fence wondering who designed this marvelous mix of wood and glass. It turned out to be the John Hope Gateway, designed by the Cullinan Studio in 2009, years before architects were using mass timber in such a sophisticated way. But then as John Glancey of the Guardian once said, “Cullinan is proof that an architect can be ‘green' without being tweedy, embarrassingly ‘right-on', or plain archaic.”

Cullinan Studios just released a statement:

The inspirational founder of our practice was a true pathfinder for all architects. Ted was designing for climate change 60 years ago with a holistic vision for the practice of architecture that he described as a social act.

His legacy is in the buildings and places he transformed, in his model of architectural practice, but perhaps most powerfully in the thousands of people he taught and inspired throughout his long life. We share our deepest sympathies with his family and all his many friends.

But I will leave the last words to critic Hugh Pearman, who squeezed a great obit into a short tweet:

Hugh Pearman Hugh Pearman /Screen capture

He was a pioneer of sustainable design.