By Christena Copeland

At the age of four, Brian MacKay-Lyons (BSc’73, BEDS’77, BArch’78) stood at the Roman Forum and knew he wanted to be an architect. Widely recognized for merging various forms of architecture from different eras, the Forum has served as a source of inspiration for artists around the world for centuries; MacKay-Lyons was no different. While the small community of Arcadia, N. S., was proudly called home, MacKay-Lyon’s parents eagerly introduced him to a breadth of culture and experiences, including that fateful trip to Italy early in his life, that would forever influence his life and architectural career.

“Growing up in Arcadia presented me with a deep sense of community, landscape and aspect of place; all the best things that represent Nova Scotian culture and tradition,” says MacKay-Lyons. “That said, the influence of my parents’ passion for travel, my own curiosity, combined with an unending desire for collaboration, has given my work a local influence with an international perspective.”

Global influence, regional sensibility

It is this expansive viewpoint that has culminated in a body of architectural work that has resonated around the globe while remaining grounded in regional sensibility.

Today, MacKay-Lyons stands as an internationally acclaimed architect who has won numerous awards including, most recently, a Governor General’s Medal in Architecture for a project created by his firm MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects Ltd., as well as a personal investiture into the Order of Canada. In fact, MacKay-Lyons’ membership into the Order of Canada cites his contributions to architecture through vernacular designs that celebrate Nova Scotian culture as a key reason for this prestigious recognition. MacKay-Lyons is also a proud Dalhousie alum and retired professor, whose connection to the university dates back 50 years.

PhotoEnough House and Schoolhouse (Tradition and Modernity) by James Brittain

“I have deep roots at Dalhousie as well as within this beautiful province,” says MacKay-Lyons. “Like Nova Scotia, Dalhousie is a place where you can actually make a difference; the collaborative and friendly nature of its people lends itself to that growth and evolution.”

Indeed, MacKay-Lyons describes Dalhousie as a refuge for architects in this region, providing a space for shared learning and stable footing in an industry that can be tumultuous, particularly during the early days of one’s career. Additionally, MacKay-Lyons found opportunity for professional expansion, working as an educator at Dalhousie’s School of Architecture, for 37 years.

PhotoShobac by Doublespace Photography

Influence at Dal ‘beyond measure’

“Brian’s impact on Dalhousie’s School of Architecture has been beyond measure,” says Dr. Graham Gagnon, Dean of Dalhousie’s Faculty of Architecture and Planning. “While he completed his tenure as professor in June of 2020, his impacts are alive and well today. Brian’s critically acclaimed work and broad thinking helped to make this school the internationally renowned institution it is today. Our sincere congratulations on his latest recognitions—they are much deserved.”

While MacKay-Lyons is moving forward from his time as a professor at Dalhousie, he will continue to work indefinitely with MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple, while looking back at his years as an educator fondly. And to current or future students of architecture, MacKay-Lyons has these words of wisdom to impart:

“Buildings hold human energy and over time, they give back of that energy,” he explains. “That’s why we must come to the work of architecture with great curiosity and empathy, understanding that our creations hold the spirit of the people who will use and live in them. So listen, learn from others, embrace many cultures and traditions, and from there, you will instill a trust in your clients that can build a lifetime of success.”







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