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University of Regina celebrates life and legacy of the late Clifford Wiens

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: February 5, 2020 12:00 p.m.

Renowned architect Clifford Wiens passed away on January 25, 2020.
Renowned architect Clifford Wiens passed away on January 25, 2020. Photo: Heenan Photography, Regina

The University of Regina is remembering renowned Saskatchewan architect Clifford Wiens. With a career spanning over 40 years, Wiens is considered one of Canada’s best architects. His diverse body of architectural work can be found throughout Saskatchewan and includes designs for the construction of schools, hospitals, churches, and private residences. Of his many innovative designs, the Central Heating and Cooling Plant at the University of Regina was his capstone, for which he won the Prix du XXe siècle from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada in 2011. Wiens passed away at the age of 93 on January 25, 2020. 

The short biography below was written by Elizabeth Seitz in 2016 and revised in 2018. It and an astonishing array of archival resources related to the fascinating work of Clifford Wiens (including poetry and correspondence) can be found on the University of Regina Library site at: https://www.uregina.ca/library/services/archives/collections/art-architecture/wiens.html 

Power Plant

Wiens’ work on the Central
Heating and Cooling Plant
at the University of Regina
received the Prix du XXe
siècle from the Royal
Architectural Institute of
Canada in 2011.
Photo:
U of R Photography

Clifford Donald Wiens was born into a Mennonite family in April 1926 on their farm near Glen Kerr, Saskatchewan where self-reliance was largely encouraged and growing up he became skillful in general construction principles, metalwork, and mechanics. 

Interested in art and design, Wiens studied painting at the Banff Centre for Continuing Education with A.Y. Jackson; he studied agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon under a Wheat Pool Sponsorship Program for young farmers and machine tooling at the Moose Jaw Technical School. 

In 1949, Wiens was accepted into the Rhode Island School of Design on a full scholarship, graduating in 1954, and in 1957 started his own architectural firm in Regina. In 1958, he began work on his first important project, namely St. Joseph’s Church at Whitewood, Saskatchewan. In 1965, Wiens started what was to be a major project, the renovation and restoration of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building, taking some 14 years to complete. 

With a career spanning over 40 years, Wiens is considered one of Canada’s best architects. His diverse body of architectural work can be found throughout Saskatchewan and includes designs for the construction of schools and hospitals, chapels and churches, motel and apartment buildings, private residences, buildings for corporations and health spas, dairy creameries in Regina and Saskatoon, a Trans-Canada Highway campground near Maple Creek, an artist’s studio in Lumsden, and on the campus of the University of Regina, the award-winning heating and cooling plant which, in 2011, also won the Prix du XXe siècle from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada. 

Wiens belonged to several professional organizations, including: the Saskatchewan Association of Architects, serving as president in 1970; the Regina Chapter of Architects from 1960 to 1969; and, the Canadian Department of Public Works' Advisory Committee on Art for Public Buildings from 1974 to 1981. Wiens was an associate member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and a Fellow of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada. 

In 2005, Wiens was celebrated with a 40-year retrospective of his work ranging in date from 1955 to 1995. The Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon organized and circulated this exhibition that travelled nation-wide. Entitled “Telling Details: The Architecture of Clifford Wiens” the exhibit was curated by Trevor Boddy. The exhibition included more than 170 examples of Wiens’ work including architectural models, drawings, and photographs. Exhibition events also included a one-day symposium entitled “Homemade Modernism: Prairie Architecture Since 1955,” and a performance piece by Wiens’ daughter Robin Poitras of New Dance Horizons (Regina). 

The Saskatchewan Communication Network (SCN) also highlighted the architects’ creative problem-solving skills articulated in and by his clever building designs in a television documentary series called “Edifice and Us.” Wiens’ portion included background for the University of Regina Heating and Cooling Plant, the Silton Valley Chapel, and a personal residence located in Regina. 

Buildings designed by Clifford Wiens include John Nugent’s Studio (St. Mark’s Shop) in Lumsden (1960); the University of Regina’s Heating and Cooling Plant (1968): the Qu’Appelle Silton Summer Chapel (1967); the Regina CBC Broadcast Centre (1983); the Prince Albert City Hall (1984); and many, many others. 

Wiens was a visiting professor or lecturer at several post-secondary institutions in both Canada and the United States, including: the University of Arizona and the Arizona State University; the University of Manitoba; the University of Calgary; the University of British Columbia; the University of Saskatchewan; and, the North Dakota State University. 

Wiens closed his practice in Regina in 1994 and moved to Vancouver where he continued to practise, completing an important project for family in Denver, Colorado. 

Wiens wrote several books regarding growing up in Saskatchewan, his work and his family. Of this Clifford penned: When I started writing needs clarification, as the record can be misleading.  In my Architectural Memoirs I quote Abe Rogatnick, where he defines me as Canada’s Poet Architect.  I took this as a complement, understanding that Abe meant that my architectural work was poetic.  Indeed I was most pleased that he should think so.  It is true that very early in my life I was given to writing limericks but I did not start writing more seriously until the end of my architectural career.  My career as an Architect required clarity in communication.  A long-life communicating with clients, authorities and contractors developed skill and ease in saying what I meant.  It was the cancer that assailed me that put an end to an active practice that moved me to write my memoirs that in the end turned my focus to philosophy and poetry. Patricia, with her dementia, slowly left me leaving me alone with my writing. 

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