Modesty is a fine quality, but Canadians are notoriously lousy at celebrating our own talent. In Toronto there is a particular inverse-snobbery about hiding genius, which is just plain sad.
You’d never know (even growing up here) that Toronto is an important place for mathematics, internationally. Part of this is the influence of the great professor and master geometer Coxeter, who taught for 60 years at U of T, and was among other things, a hero, friend and inspirer of MC Escher and Buckminster Fuller.
(Like Lucien Freud and Alice Neel, who kept working representationally in the wasteland, when all the attention was on abstract expressionism, Coxeter was a rebel-devotee of classical geometry, in an age of boolean navel-gazing).
Here is a particularly lovely self-built monument to another local mathematics great – James Stewart. It is one of those houses with a profound intent, and it’s own perfect name – “Integral house.” It was built by a man who is a great hero to Chinese math students, because he wrote the clearest books ever, about a very difficult subject, calculus. And it’s little wonder he was able to do that – the man was not a cynical producer of product, but a genuine lover of his subject.
The house – entirely derived from calculus (literally, down to the custom wave-function door-knobs) was also built as a music performance space. The guardian article, to which I will link below, mentions that he had Steve Reich play his birthday party – which tells me a ton of wonderful things about his cultural intelligence.
When Nada and I made our own pilgrimage to see this architectural masterpiece, we found a second fantastic telltale. His idea of a doorway nightlight to welcome his guests? An illuminated Calder sculpture!
I feel embarrassed that the writers of the Guardian had to tell me about him – but I’m still very glad that I do know about him (and this amazing house) now.
He is also a good reminder that, while the generalized class of the rich are worthy of many criticisms, it’s stupid to pretend they are all evil undeserving exploiters. Some people still make it the old fashioned way – by being incredibly helpful – and then also do their best to leave behind a seed of culture and character.
No committee would ever have conceived or commissioned this beauty.