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Arena Stage architect Bing Thom dies at 75

The Canadian architect was known for “building beyond buildings”

Bing Wing Thom, the Canadian architect behind Washington, D.C.’s redeveloped Arena Stage, fell ill on October 4 and passed away at the age of 75 from a brain aneurysm. At the time, Thom was under the care of Eastern Hospital in Hong Kong.

Thom was born in Hong Kong in December 8, 1940. He later emigrated with his family to Vancouver, Canada in 1950 before eventually studying architecture at the University of British Columbia in 1966 and the University of California, Berkeley in 1970. For a year, he lived in Tokyo, working for Japanese urban planner and architect Fumihiko Maki.

Ever since he was a child, Thom had an interest in architecture. The Vancouver Sun reported that when he visited his uncle’s engineering firm in Hong Kong, he "saw these marvellous drawings and said, ‘that’s what I want to be.’ "

When he was in his early 30s, he worked as a project manager for Arthur Erickson on the Robson Square Courthouse and Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. Later, he founded his own firm in 1981 and designed four pavilions for Expo 86. In 1989, his design for the False Creek Yacht Club won him the Governor General Medal from the Royal Architecture Institute of Canada. Other works designed by his firm include the Central City/Simon Fraser University complex in Surrey, Aberdeen Centre in Richmond, and the Surrey City Centre Library

When Thom redeveloped the Arena Stage, Washington Post architecture writer Roger K. Lewis praised the building, describing it as an "aesthetically bold, sometimes theatrical, architectural ensemble unlike anything else in Washington."

In later years, many of his works were centered in Asia, such as a master plan for the new city of Dalian, China in the 1990s and China’s Shijiazhuang Grand Theatre in 2012. Most recently, Thom designed Washington, D.C.’s Woodridge Library, the first library in the city to have a rooftop deck.

Heritage expert Don Luxton told The Vancouver Sun, "I think he was exceptional in terms of creating places that people could really feel proud of, as part of the city. Some of his cultural projects, like the Arena Theatre in Washington or the work he’s been doing in Hong Kong on the opera house, are great public institutions, amazing."

In a statement posted on the Bing Thom Archiects website, Thom’s wife, Bonnie, wrote, "Bing believed architecture transcends the building, to shine its light onto its whole surroundings. He was so happy his architects also pursue this adventure of ‘building beyond buildings.’"

While Thom had no children, he once stated, "All my buildings are my kids."