A founding partner of KPMB Architects, Shirley Blumberg is an invested Member of the Order of Canada “for her contributions to architecture and for her commitment to creating spaces that foster a sense of community.”
Her portfolio ranges from mixed-use developments to highly specialized cultural and academic institutions, many with a focus on revitalizing heritage contexts. Shirley’s projects include the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre at the University of British Columbia, the Fort York Public Library in Toronto, the James Stewart Centre for Mathematics at McMaster University, and the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) Campus in Waterloo which received a RIBA Award in the UK, an AIA Award in the US, and a Governor General’s Award in Canada. She played a role in Toronto’s Cultural Renaissance as partner-in-charge of Canada’s National Ballet School, the Gardiner Museum, and the TIFF Bell Lightbox for the Toronto International Film Festival. Currently she is the partner-in-charge of the Remai Modern Art Gallery of Saskatchewan, the Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics at the University of Pennsylvania, the new Global Centre for Pluralism for His Highness the Aga Khan in Ottawa, 20 Washington Road for Princeton University as well as the new Campus Framework Plan at Princeton.
Shirley is a member of the Toronto Community Housing Design Review Panel, and has served on design review panels for the Ontario College of Art and Design and the City of Toronto. She has been a guest critic and lecturer at universities across North America.
Balance – How do you strike a balance between life/work?
You don't. Be flexible and understand that you can't do it all. Focus on what is most important to you, your work and your life, and let the rest go.
Evolution – How do you see the profession evolving?
Happily, the era of starchitecture and design for design's sake is over.
Now architecture must do its share to address contemporary issues:
Social and humanitarian challenges
And so many more.
Advice- Share a memorable piece of advice you have received from a mentor or a friend (please say who)?
I've always sought out mentoring through reading. So, from books and magazines, some that I live by:
Richard Serra: The work comes out of the work.
Frank Gehry: If you know where it's going, it's not worth doing.
Pablo Picasso: Unless your work gives you trouble, it's not worth doing.
James Dean: Dream as if you'll live forever. Live as if you'll die today.
Helen Mirren: On why she does not bother to call herself a feminist: because it's just fucking obvious.
Charlotte Whitten: Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily this is not difficult.
Trajectory – In your career path, what critical steps helped you to achieve your current position?
Growing up in South Africa where there were NO role models of women professionals, I am always grateful to a high school friend who had also decided to study architecture, and in answer to the question inevitably posed by adults -' what will you do when you graduate-design kitchens?' - with confidence answered: 'why, be an architect of course!'.
She dropped out of architecture school after two years.
Deciding to leave South Africa and live in Canada gave me a life that I never thought was possible.
George Baird as my thesis tutor, Barton Myers as my first employer out of school and an incredible mentor - both made a profound impression.
Collaborating with talented colleagues in the studio.