By Anton Christopher, Belweder North Shore Polish Association
The building blocks of great cities
Iconic, unique, beautiful or sometimes quirky buildings are a key part of what makes each city unique, contributing to the definition of its character, its “vibe” and its spirit. Though long-time locals are usually accustomed to these through day-in-day-out familiarity, architectural features are what first impressions of newcomers and visitors are made of.
Metro Vancouver is full of such gems, but what many locals don’t know is that many of these were designed or built, in one way or another, by Polish-Canadians.
One of such Polish-Canadians was a structural engineer Boguslaw (Bogue) Babicki of Capilano Highlands, North Vancouver, who was part of making each building featured in this blog post (and many more) a reality.
Bogue’s story begins in Warsaw, Poland, where he was born in 1924.
Still a teenager when WWII broke out, Bogue became an active member of the Underground National Army when the Nazis occupied Poland and fought in the Warsaw uprising of 1944. Being inclined towards intellectual pursuits, the war did not stop his education and he managed to continue his secondary schooling by attending the underground high school.
As a renowned BC architect Paul M. Merrick puts it, Bogue’s early life experiences “…meant inevitably confronting the very essence of survival, and the development of a construct of values clearly evolved around the idea of “what is really important.””
Career and Mentorship
After the war, Bogue enrolled at the University of Technology in Gdansk. His talent and aptitude was quickly recognized and he was appointed associate professor at the university.
Simultaneously, he worked as a research scientist at the Institute of Building Research. This took him to a position with the State Design office, where he was part of the design team involved in reconstructing the Warsaw Philharmonic Hall. By great fortune, it is during this time that Bogue met a man who became and remained his biggest mentor and lifelong influence: Dr. Stanislaw Hempel.
Dr. Hempel was the chair in Engineering in the School of Architecture at the Warsaw University and he fostered Bogue’s approach of the conjunction of engineer and artist and what he called “holistic teamwork”.
“I thought of engineering then as applied science and the engineer himself as simply a superior technician. Professor Hempel changed all this for me. As we worked, it was easy to see that the artist pervaded the engineer… Now I use the compound term Architectural Engineering… a term which can be usefully applied to a structure whose design has met certain criteria. First among these is an understanding of nature and the ways its laws are manifest. Second is the possession of a vocabulary of simple mechanical elements which have the purpose of transferring and transforming forces. Stanislaw Hempel opened my eyes to this prospect.” — Bogue Babicki
Indeed, later in his career, Bogue would go on to become a great mentor himself. As one of his mentees, Paul Fast, a well known Canadian Engineer and Managing Partner of Fast + Epp puts it:
“[Bogue] was instrumental in the development of my career during my term of employment in his office. Designing architectural structures in close collaboration with architects did not take significant meaning for me until I began working with Bogue. Several key seminal moments and experiences working with Bogue on challenging projects also informed the future direction of Fast + Epp.”
Mr. Babicki’s work in the early 1950’s focused on such fields as conoidal concrete shells, and total pre- cast structural systems for multi-story residential. This led to, in 1955, him being awarded a National Award for the design and construction of a prototype for a fully prefabricated high rise building.
Success in Canada
Bogue Babicki immigrated to Canada in 1958, and by 1962 had established a successful structural engineering practice, Bogue Babicki Associates Inc.
Bogue’s original take on engineering which consisted of considering not only the technical but also the aesthetic aspect has quickly opened the opportunity to associate with well known architectural practitioners such as Arthur Erickson, Bruno Freschi and Rand Iredale.
His collaboration with Arthur Erickson was particularly fruitful and resulted in such iconic buildings as Simon Fraser University, Lethbridge University Complex (Alberta), UBC Museum of Anthropology as well as Robson Square and Law Courts.
Other well known Vancouver landmarks realized by Bogue include the ‘86 Expo Ball (currently Science World), the Jamatkhana Ismaili Mosque in Burnaby, UBC Thunderbird Stadium, and the Westco Transmission Co. Building (currently Qube building).
In parallel to developing his structural engineering practice, Bogue was actively involved in Vancouver’s civic life.
He was a lecturer and visiting Professor to the faculty of Engineering and School of Architectural at the University of British Columbia, from 1962 to 1975. He was a Director of the Town Waytes Society of Early Music, Vice-Chairman of the British Columbia Development Corp. and a committee member of the Vancouver Centennial Sculpture Society.
In 1972, Bogue produced a 25 minute documentary film entitled “To See Is To Know”, which was acquired by BBC and televised nationally twice.
In 1980, Bogue was elected into the Royal Academy of Arts – the first engineer to have done this. He was also an active member of the University of BC Faculty Club, Vancouver Board of Trade, and regularly participated in international conferences on the arts and human settlement, and Royal Academy of Arts events.
In 2015, at age 91, Bogue was awarded an Honorary Membership of the Architectural Institute of British Columbia in recognition of his many contributions.
When asked about the secret to his success, Bogue would humbly suggest: “The following attributes may have contributed to my modest achievement: ability to listen and consequently to question closely what I heard; tenacity in learning to think, and not forgetting to do so; good fortune to surround myself with those wiser and and more profound in their understanding than myself; and finally, a sense of the essential which is necessary ingredient for any human endeavour.”
In 1956, Bogue married his wife, Maria, with whom they had a daughter, Dominica who is an active member of the North Vancouver community and is well known for her contribution at the international level to sustainability, environment and city planning initiatives.
In his spare time, Bogue was an avid amateur of flying small aircraft, downhill skiing, astronomy and music. He played the piano and the flute.
As is evident from this article, Bogue was actively involved in civic life and giving back to community throughout his lifetime. Even at the age of 86 he was involved in relief efforts in the aftermath of Haiti earthquake in 2010.
Bogue passed away on October 27, 2021 at the age of 97.
Acknowledgements: Belweder North Shore Polish Association would like to thank the Architectural Institute of British Columbia for providing extensive source materials for this article. To learn more about Belweder, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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