Image of Robert Lemon

– Robert Lemon

Giving Insight Spring 2024 Edition

Like many high school students, Robert Lemon (BArch/79) applied to multiple universities. When Carleton University offered him a spot at the School of Architecture, he accepted—even though he had never even visited Ottawa. That decision changed his life.

“What if I gone to the University of Toronto? Well, my career would have been completely different,” says the award-winning retired architect and writer.

Carleton’s impact on him began with the building where he studied. “I didn’t know until I got there how really distinctive the School of Architecture building was in its design,” he says, pointing to elements such as the concrete floors and exposed piping, which were quite revolutionary when the building opened. “This was all designed before the Pompidou Center in Paris, which celebrated those very same qualities.”

He notes that Carleton also offered him lots of chances to learn about historic buildings, such as those in Ottawa’s New Edinburgh neighbourhood. Those opportunities sparked a lifelong interest in historic preservation.

In addition, Carleton helped him gain job experience. “Because I was in Ottawa, I had the chance to work at Heritage Canada one summer. I met Martin Weaver, who became a mentor for me.” Lemon researched a book bibliography for Weaver and worked with him on an Arctic archaeological project.

Carleton also whetted Lemon’s appetite for travel. He spent a summer studying art and architectural history in Paris, and he did a term abroad at the Architectural Association in London. “I’ve always felt those were really seminal things.”

Deeply appreciative of the opportunities he’d had at Carleton, he has established the Robert Lemon Rome Prize. Each year, its funds will help one or more graduate students at the Azrieli School of Architecture & Urbanism travel to conduct or present research. Preference will be given to students travelling to Italy and/or studying conservation. The prize will be sustained by a gift in his will.

The focus on Italy stems from an experience Lemon had soon after leaving Carleton. In 1984, he studied at ICCROM, the International Centre for the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Property in Rome. There, he enhanced his knowledge of historic architecture preservation and built an enduring network of fellow architects from many countries.

Lemon spent much of his career in historic preservation in Vancouver, as an architect and, for a half decade, as the senior heritage planner for the City of Vancouver. In 2022, he retired and returned to his roots in southwestern Ontario, buying and renovating a heritage property—the Tower House, a work of modern architecture by Shim Sutcliffe Architects—in Stratford. His memoir An Architect’s Address Book—the places that shaped a career (ORO Editions, 2023) chronicles the importance of studying abroad for budding architects, no matter where their career path will take them.