Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Remembering Bing Thom

Architect Bing Thom had thought deeply about good design around cities
It was a shock to find out that Chinese Canadian architect Bing Thom died suddenly yesterday afternoon in Hong Kong.

He had a brain aneurysm and died at Eastern Hospital with his wife Bonnie of over 50 years by his side. He was 75.

Thom was supposed to be a keynote speaker at Walk21, a week-long conference about how to make cities more accessible by foot. Thom was an advocate for making cities more livable, more connected, more accessible.

He was also here to check up on his Xiqu Centre, a theatre for Chinese opera that is being built in West Kowloon together with M+.

The Chan Centre at UBC is well know for its acoustics
I met him around 2005 in Vancouver when I was working for CBC Radio Vancouver. The public broadcaster presented a massive community discussion called Think Vancouver, getting people's thoughts about the city, what we love about it, how to make it better, its past and present, so many aspects.

We invited Thom talk about the city to an audience at the Vancouver Museum and he was so passionate about it, that one couldn't help but be swept along with his enthusiasm. Afterwards he talked to me about how pleased he was that we had organized such an event and that it was run very well.

Soon afterwards I was summoned to his office for an "interview", but nothing came out of it. While I admired Thom very much because he has thought very deeply about things as well as details, doing communications for an architect firm wasn't in the cards for me.

That was the last time I had contact with him, and then I moved to Beijing and then Hong Kong.

The Xiqu Centre is being built in West Kowloon
I was thrilled to read that he was going to design the Xiqu Centre and hoped there was some possibility of our paths crossing again; sadly it was not to be.

To me, his buildings can only be described as serene, strong and graceful. Everything is functional and practical. At The Chan Centre, a performance hall at the University of British Columbia, he was very proud of the acoustics which musicians have raved about. He worked very hard to learn as much as he could about acoustics and how to get the best sound from the design of the room.

An interesting side note is that the building has more washrooms for women than men, as there is always a line for women.

Another piece of trivial information is that he swam everyday in the Kitsilano Pool every morning when he was in Vancouver. 

In a way it's quite fitting Thom passed away in his hometown of Hong Kong, his life coming full circle.

He immigrated to Vancouver when he was very young and in a radio interview admitted he didn't know a word of English let alone the alphabet. He later studied architecture at UBC and UC Berkeley, and then worked at the offices of Fumihiko Maki and Arthur Erickson before opening his own firm, Bing Thom Architects.

We will miss him terribly. He had so much more to contribute with his ideas and passion, but one man can only do so much. Thankfully we have his buildings to remember him by, and hope we can continue to fulfill his vision.

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