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James Acland was professor of architecture in the University of Toronto School of Architecture from 1958 until his death in 1976. His main research and teaching interest was in historical architecture of the medieval period.
James Acland was born in Toronto in 1917. After attending Ecoles des Beaux Arts and McGill University in Montreal, he graduated from Syracuse University New York with a B.A. in Architecture in 1942. During World War II, he worked on factory designs and from 1942-1945 was with Canadian Army Photo Intelligence. After obtaining an M.A. in Philosophy from Harvard University in 1952, he returned to the study and teaching of architecture and held positions at the University of Utah and the University of British Columbia. In 1956, he returned to his hometown to become associate professor and later professor at the University of Toronto’s, School of Architecture.
Both his research and teaching focused on the history of architecture. Much of his research related to land use and how it affects architecture, the development of complex towns in the medieval period and early European building traditions. His study in these areas resulted in several articles and culminated in his book Medieval Structure: The Gothic Vault, University of Toronto Press, 1972. The subjects he taught related directly to his interest on the history of architecture and included courses such as the History of Medieval Architecture, Renaissance Architecture, European Tradition of Framed Building, Mediterranean Tradition of Mass and Shell Building, Medieval Structures, to list a few.
Starting in 1962, Acland popularized his ideas on the history of architecture by appearing in two CBC television series Man in a Landscape and Wall and Window. In these shows, and many to follow, he was the speaker, actively developed the script and provided photographs, and drawings. Through the 1960s, he continued to be involved in television programming and educational films.
Acland’s interest in the history of architecture led him to become an advocate of architectural and heritage conservation. In the 1960s, he was active in the Stop the Spadina Committee and, as chair of the Friends of Old City Hall, he was instrumental in saving Toronto’s Old City Hall (now the City Court House) from demolition. From 1969-1971, he was president of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario and organized a computer inventory of historic buildings through the National Historic Sites Service. Many of his articles related to his conservation work. His work with Eric Arthur on maritime architecture most certainly did – Building by the Sea, University of Toronto Press, 1962. James Acland died on June 22, 1976. He was still teaching in the School of Architecture and was writing a history of house and street.