Toronto-headquartered global architecture firm Diamond Schmitt Architects has shared the sad news that founding principal Abel Joseph “Jack” Diamond has passed away at the age of 89, just a week shy of his 90th birthday.
In an official statement, fellow principal Donald Schmitt referred to his friend and longtime business partner as “one of the most significant and defining Canadian architects of his generation.” Diamond, a Gold Medalist of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) and honorary fellow of the American Institute of Architects, designed numerous landmark projects in and around Toronto as well as further afield during his highly decorated architectural career. Globe-spanning highlights include the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto, the Life Sciences Complex at McGill University in Montreal, the Mariinsky II Opera and Ballet Hall in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the Israeli Foreign Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem.
One of Diamond’s final works was the 2016 design for the United Kingdom Holocaust Memorial at Victoria Tower Gardens, London. As noted by Schmitt, the “design fused his [Diamond’s] 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. Its composition, its materiality and spatial power had a remarkable eloquence.”
Another later project was the Buddy Holly Hall of Arts and Sciences, completed in 2021 in Lubbock, Texas.
Born in 1932 in Piet Retief, South Africa, to a Jewish family, Diamond studied architecture at University of Cape Town before heading to England for an academic shifting of gears so to speak, studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Oxford. After Oxford, Diamond continued his formal architectural education at the University of Pennsylvania, where he received his Master of Architecture and worked alongside Louis Kahn. In 1964, two years after completing his studies in Philadelphia, Diamond headed north to Toronto, the city that would become his longtime home. The same year that Diamond emigrated to Canada, he was appointed as the inaugural director of the Master of Architecture program at the University of the Toronto.
First partnering with American architect Barton Myers to launch a Toronto-based practice, Diamond went on to establish his own eponymous firm, A.J. Diamond Architects, in 1975. It was around this time that Diamond began working with Schmitt, a younger architect who had studied at the University of Toronto. In 1989, the longstanding partnership between the two men was formalized with A.J. Diamond Architects becoming Diamond Schmitt Architects.
In his statement, Schmitt noted Diamond’s passion for music and his exceptional talents as a watercolorist and draughtsman. And while best known as an architect and educator whose formidable influence extended to a generously sized generation of younger Canadian architects, Diamond was also instrumental in helping to shape—particularly in his early years through his active role in Toronto’s 70s-era reform movement—the urban landscape of Canada’s most-populous city, notably in the realms of historic preservation and sustainable, equitable development.
In addition to being a 2001 Gold Medal recipient from RAIC, Diamond was an Officer of the Order of Canada (1995) and was awarded the Order of Ontario in 1999. His numerous civic engagements included serving as a member of the Ontario Human Rights Commission from 1986 to 1989.
The details of a planned celebration of Diamond’s life will be announced by Diamond Schmitt in the coming days.