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Fred Hollingsworth took holistic approach to design

Wide spectrum of interests reflected in the work of West Coast Modernist architect

Fred Hollingsworth: Art of Architecture, West Vancouver Art Museum, until Dec. 22 (westvancouverartmuseum.ca).

 As a young man Fred Hollingsworth was an avid builder of model airplanes. This early aerial fascination would end up setting the stage for his dreams to take off later on.

It’s insights like this that pepper West Vancouver Art Museum’s final exhibition of the year with Fred Hollingsworth: Art of Architecture, a showcase examining the renowned North Shore architect’s life, work and numerous pioneering contributions to West Coast Modernism.

“He got into design rather unconventionally through airplane design. He was a model airplane builder as a teenager, for which he won championship prizes,” says Hilary Letwin, the art museum’s recently hired assistant curator. “We’ve got this great photo of him, we think with his father, looking at a model plane – but we also have on display one of his model airplane championship trophies.”

Hollingsworth passed away in 2015 at the age of 98. His more than six-decade career included many prized projects, such as designing the UBC faculty of law building in 1971 and grand estates such as the Bosa House built in 1990.

The current exhibition features numerous architectural drawings, watercolour renderings and even artwork created by Hollingsworth for himself or his clients, all meticulously stringed together by director and curator Darrin Morrison.

But even in Hollingsworth’s more modest projects, such as designing a basic residential dwelling, he tackled with equal care, notes Letwin, adding that the exhibition strives to pass this message along.

“He started to design houses and was really interested in building houses for normal people, making good design accessible to everybody. He was always interested in consulting with the families for whom he was designing and he loved doing residential design,” she says.

During the Second World War, Hollingsworth’s love of model airplane design blossomed into a job at the Boeing plant in Vancouver, where he helped convert technical aircraft plans into more easily digestible designs for fabricators.

Following the war, Hollingsworth sought to settle down in North Vancouver by building a simple abode for his family in Edgemont Village. Upon taking his design plans to one of the then leading design firms in the city, he was soon after hired to work as an articling draftsmen and architect, explains Letwin.

“I think the best thing about the exhibition is that it shows a very holistic approach to his design. He was really interested in not just the exterior of the building or in the architecture of the building, but in every aspect of design,” says Letwin. “He would do light fixtures, he would do rug designs, he did do furniture and, in fact, we have some of his own personal furniture in the exhibition.”

Among Hollingsworth’s greatest achievements were his basic residential properties, which were dubbed as neoteric houses – essentially, affordable bungalows of which at least 16 were built, says Letwin.

In Living Spaces: The Architecture of Fred Thornton Hollingsworth, his neoteric houses are described as: “simple post and beam construction that utilized fir beams and inexpensive cedar planking inside and out,” concluding with a “flat roof with a clerestory to bring in light to the interior spaces.”

“It’s really nice to show the whole spectrum of his design interests,” says Letwin.

When it comes to Letwin’s own interests at the West Vancouver Art Museum, the newly hired assistant curator says she’s thrilled to be working on the North Shore with its “tremendous artist community.”

She joins the art museum after stints at the Burnaby Art Gallery and the Richmond Art Gallery in addition to working as a guest curator at the Gordon Smith Gallery of Canadian Art.

Originally from California, Letwin did her undergraduate degree in archeology before realizing that she “did not like digging in the dirt” and eventually found her academic footing deep in the Renaissance period. Letwin’s PhD dissertation in art history from Johns Hopkins University examined 16th century Italian prints by looking at a select group of printmakers in the northern Italian city of Mantua.

“I actually had my first curatorial fellowship at the British Museum in London, in the prints and drawings department. It was definitely working there that made me realize that I wanted to work professionally in a museum environment,” she says.

Asked how the Hollingsworth exhibition has so far been received, Letwin says it has been exceptional.

“It’s lovely to have people come in and say I grew up in a Hollingsworth home. There are lots of people who seem to have a personal connection to him here and that’s special.”

Fred Hollingsworth: Art of Architecture is on display at West Vancouver Art Museum until Dec. 22. Go to westvancouverartmuseum.ca to see a preview of upcoming exhibitions.

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