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$50,000 Margolese National Design for Living Prize goes to architect, planner Bing Thom

[Editor's note: The Tyee is proud to be media partner for the Margolese Prize, an award given to innovators who make our landscapes more livable for everyone. Today the second winner was announced. This is the press release with all the details.]

Vancouver-based architect and urban designer Bing Thom is the winner of the second annual $50,000 Margolese National Design for Living Prize. The Margolese Prize is awarded by UBC's School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture to a Canadian who has made and continues to make outstanding contributions to the development or improvement of living environments for Canadians of all economic classes. The prize was created by a generous estate gift made to UBC by Leonard Herbert Margolese. As part of the award, each prize winner is invited to give a public lecture on their work.

Born in Hong Kong, Bing Thom immigrated to Vancouver with his family in 1950. After working for Fumihiko Maki and Arthur Erickson Architects, he formed his own firm in 1982. Some of his recent design projects in Metro Vancouver include the Surrey City Centre Library, Aberdeen Centre and the Sunset Community Centre. Among numerous awards bestowed on Bing Thom and his firm is the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada's highest honour, the RAIC Gold Medal.

Thom was informed of his receipt of the prize Tuesday. "It is a great honour to have the community building and placemaking aspects of my work recognized as they have always been core to the values of my practice," he said in response. "Architecture has a huge potential to change our world for the better when it authentically engages the community in which it is placed."

In a strong field of candidates, Thom stood out for his broad vision of placemaking. In particular the jury, comprising Phyllis Lambert, founding director and chair of the Board of Trustees of the Canadian Centre for Architecture; David Beers, editor of the online news source The Tyee and co-founder of the Tyee Solutions Society; and Nancy Noble, CEO of the Museum of Vancouver, praised Thom's re-imagining and reshaping of the Surrey City Centre with a new public library and a mixed-use complex called Central City that includes a shopping centre, university, office tower and civic plaza.

"Bing Thom is an extraordinary strategic thinker. He considers how a building can effect and create synergies for the wider community," said Lambert. "That is very rare." Other projects that have served as important urban catalysts include his Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, Texas and the Arena Stage in Washington D.C.

Noble praised Thom's range of projects. "Bing Thom has worked across many spectrums of society: university, commercial and civic settings." His projects range from a local shopping mall in Richmond, B.C. to the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at UBC and the Xiqu (Chinese Opera) Centre in Hong Kong. Noble continued, "He has influenced how I think as a non-architect about the value of architecture. Thom designs for citizens, not consumers."

Thom is as comfortable operating in the heart of urban centres as he is designing for the suburbs. "So many issues related to better living are bound up in transforming our suburban environments, which so often happened in a haphazard, poorly designed way," noted Beers.

"Those issues range from making the built landscape more environmentally sustainable to whether it just feels good to be a citizen in that place. Bing Thom is a special kind of architect who attends to all of that. He does so through his projects and his firm's institute, BTAworks, which identifies social and economic issues related to city building and provides the data and ideas to produce evidence-based decisions."

BTAworks was praised by the jury for the social benefits of their research, analysis and public education on current urban issues.

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