Canadian Architects Review, Part 4: Thomas McBroom

Back in 2008, Robert Thompson published a series of blog posts in which he reviewed and evaluated most of the top architects working in Canada at the time, found here. I absolutely loved reading these, so, I figured, it’s time to revisit the concept. My hope is to try to publish one or two of these a week for the next little while.


Thomas McBroom

Of Thomas McBroom Associates

Number of Original Designs, according to his company’s website: 44

First Original Design: Beacon Hall (with Bob Cupp)

Best Design: Memphremagog (9th in Canada according to author; 21st according to BTC’s Top 100)

Worst Design: Kanata Lakes (Doak 0 according to author)

Strengths:

  • On an international scale, he has been, and arguably remains, Canada’s best known architect since Stanley Thompson
  • He has remained in steady demand since the late 1980s
  • He has worked far and wide, on a vast variety of properties, and, by and large, he tends to deliver a consistently good to very good product that is appealing to the eye
  • A “player’s architect”—his courses tend to force good shot-making, feature tough greens, and, in my experience, are liked by the better players
  • He essentially remolded himself in the second half of his career, staying up to date with the some of the more recent trends in the industry—a more natural, lowkey, lay-of-the-land yet still artistic ethos defines his later period
  • He certainly has, in my estimation, improved as an architect over time – Oviinbyrd (or perhaps The Ridge at Manitou) acted as a kind of light-switch moment it seems
  • The upper echelon of his portfolio (Mempheremagog, Oviinbyrd, Tobiano, and, if you want, Beacon Hall too) stacks up with the best of any Canadian architect not named Stanley Thompson—as Martin Amis once pointed out, Shakespeare’s legacy, after all, doesn’t rest on the strength of Timon of Athens or on Henry VI, part 3; nor does Radiohead’s on The King of Limbs or on Pablo Honey; nor does Godard’s on Film Socialisme or on A Woman is a Woman. The giants of literature, music, and film, in nearly every case, attain that status based on the merit of their 3 or 4 best works, and that’s about it. 

Weaknesses:

  • Some might cite this shift in ethos as proof that his early work was deficient—a “Thomas McBroom golf course” becomes a hard thing to define
  • His early period suffers, in my view, from the faults of the time: too artificial, clunky, and penal
  • Most of his early courses tend to feature at least one or two clunker holes that greatly harm the whole product
  • At Crowbush, arguably the sole truly “elite” (or near it) site he was given, he likely under-delivered
  • His renovative and restorative work has come under fire for a lack of historical sympathy
  • As with Doug Carrick, his work seems to have a ceiling (if given another great raw property, could he deliver something elite, the way, say, Rod Whitman most likely would?)

Original Work Grade: Early Period B; New Period (Post-Oviinbyrd) A

Renovative/Restorative Work: C

Overall Grade: A – (Original Grades from Robert Thompson: A for original work; C for renovative work)

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