Phyllis Lambert, architect, author, lecturer, scholar, curator, conservationist, citizen activist and critic of architecture and urbanism, is Founding Director Emeritus of the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), Montréal. She is recognized internationally for her continuing contribution in advancing contemporary architecture, and for her concern for the social issues of urban conservation and the role of architecture in the public realm.
Lambert played a seminal role in the triumph of modernist architecture in North America in the 1950s when she ensured Ludwig Mies van der Rohe had the opportunity to build the oasis of tower and plaza that in 1958 would change the face of New York and alter the course of architectural history. “My life began with my passionate involvement with…the creation of a building of great architectural quality in New York, that is, the Seagram Building. The philosophy a building expresses seeps into a society and helps mould it.”
Seagram completed, Lambert obtained a master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology in1963, and seven years later was awarded the Massey Medal as architect of a cultural center in Montreal. Lambert pioneered the renovation of a major hotel, the Los Angeles Biltmore as architect and developer, led the restoration of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo, and in her native city became a civic activist as a leader in urban preservation, revitalizing neighborhoods, low-income housing, and by instituting public consultation which helped to democratize the process of urban planning.
In these years Lambert directed the CCA which she founded in 1979. A study center and museum committed to architecture as a public concern, the CCA is a new form of cultural institution that aims to build public awareness of the role of architecture in society, to promote scholarly research in the field, and to stimulate innovation in design practice. Lambert initiated the collection that became the cornerstone of the institution. Today the CCA holds one of the world’s foremost international research collections of interrelated publications, prints and drawings that date from the Renaissance, photographs from the beginnings of this art form, and architectural archives that include the work of the leading thinkers and practitioners from numerous countries who have advanced the art of architecture during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Lambert’s publications include pioneering works on photography, preservation and on leading architects, as well as critical texts on Montreal and New York, and essays in numerous journals. Recently published, her book Building Seagram is a cultural history of architecture, art, urban regulations and real estate, as well as conservation and stewardship in New York City. It has won several awards, as has her contribution to museology and the built world. These include the Gold Medal of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, the Hadrian Award of the World Monuments Fund, AIA Awards of Honor, the Vincent J. Scully Prize of the National Building Museum in Washington D.C., the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service from the Canada Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, the Médaille de l'Académie d'Architecture de France, the Prix Gérard-Morisset of the Government of Quebec, the Jane Jacobs Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Urban Institute, and twenty seven honorary degrees from universities in North America and Europe.
Phyllis Lambert has received the highest civil honours in Canada as Companion of the Order of Canada and Grand officier of the Ordre national du Québec. She is Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and Fellow of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada. France has elevated her to Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and l’Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie has appointed her Chevalier of the Ordre de la Pléiade. Lambert has been named Honorary Fellow of both the Royal Institute of British Architects and the American Institute of Architects, and Fellow of the Society of Architectural Historians. She is also Honorary Member of the Architectural Association, London.