Architect and social justice pioneer Raymond Moriyama dies at 93 in Toronto


Architect and social justice pioneer Raymond Moriyama dies at 93 in Toronto

Raymond Moriyama (Courtesy Moriyama Teshima Architects)

The renowned Canadian architect Raymond Moriyama died at the age of 93 on September 1 in Toronto. He was considered among the greatest Canadian modern architects and an outspoken advocate for social justice in the built environment. A statement from his office Moriyama Teshima Architects said “The world has lost a visionary architect.”

Moriyama was born in 1929 in Vancouver to a family of Japanese immigrants. He designed his first building while imprisoned in a British Columbia concentration camp during World War II. “It is a psychological hell when your own country, the country of your birth, stamps you an ‘enemy alien,’ disowns you and expels you,” Moriyama said in 2010 about his time in the camp.

As an escape from the misery that came with internment, Moriyama built his own tree house in hiding. “Soon, I found myself wanting to build my first architectural project, a tree house, without being found out by the RCMP,” Moriyama said in 2010. “That tree house, when finished, was beautiful. It was my university, my place of solace, a place to think and learn. I replaced the despair with ideas about what I could do as an architect to help my community and Canada,” he stated.

The Canadian War Museum by Moriyama (Joanne Clifford/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0)

After the war, Moriyama earned a bachelor of architecture from the University of Toronto in 1954 and a masters in town planning from McGill University in 1957. He opened his office in 1958 at a time when Canadian society had just begun grappling with its brutal colonial past, and Canadian architects were predominantly white.

Later, Moriyama would go on to design substantial Canadian projects including the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa’s City Hall, the Toronto Reference Library, the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, the Ontario Science Centre, the Bata Shoe Museum, and others.

Moriyama received the Royal Architecture Institute of Canada (RAIC) Gold Medal in 1997, the highest award given to Canadian architects. He retired from his office in 2003. In 2009, Moriyama was named a Companion of the Order of Canada and the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts. In 2014, the Moriyama RAIC International Prize was created which gives CAD $100,000 to Canadian practitioners who have shown a staunch commitment to social justice.

Interior of Toronto Reference Library (The City of Toronto/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

In 2020, director Scott Calbeck released a documentary about Moriyama’s remarkable life, Magical Imperfection: The Life and Architecture of Raymond Moriyama. The documentary came at a time when some of Moriyama’s projects were beginning to be threatened by development. This summer, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the government may demolish Moriyama’s lauded complex at Ontario Place; a decision that was met with significant pushback as reported by AN.

A press release from his office, Moriyama & Teshima Architects, said “We ask for particular respect and privacy for Raymond’s family. The world has lost a visionary architect and they have lost a treasured loved one.”