Born as a Catholic in Gydr, Hungary in 1924, Zoltan S. Kiss studied architecture in Budapest at the Technical University. Exempt from any military service, he joined 2,000 fellow students and professors on a forced exodus to southeast Germany in the winter of 1944-1945. After a five-day train trip to Breslau, Germany, they were instructed to walk 200 kilometres to Halle in January, but Halle had been destroyed. He was sent with 100 others to Denmark and arrived there on April 18, 1945. Unable to return to Hungary until the summer of 1946, Kiss opted to remain in Denmark. "We loved the country and the generous happy people," he writes in his self-published memoir, Without a Blueprint: Surviving in a Changing World (Sandor Press, 2005). He stayed in Denmark, working as a potter, unable to complete his architectural training, and taught himself English by reading Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer. The Canadian embassy in Copenhagen helped him immigrate to Vancouver, ostensibly as a ceramics expert. Having saved the necessary $1,000 for the journey, he took an American Navy ship to Halifax, travelling with a Danish passport, and reached Canada on June 8, 1950.

The first two-thirds of his memoir is based on the journal he kept of his trek with the Technical University students during World War II and his memories of Denmark. The latter third concerns his family life and architectural career in Vancouver. His Danish Canadian immigration sponsor, Jorgen Christjansen, lived in West Vancouver, so that's where Kiss lived upon his arrival. By a great stroke of good fortune, his sponsor was able to introduce him to the president of the University of British Columbia, Norman McKenzie, who proceeded to quickly write him a note of introduction to Dean Fred Lasserre, the head of the four-year-old architecture department. Kiss graduated and later designed the Academic Quadrangle for the new Simon Fraser University, although credit for the university's most distinctive feature is usually accorded erroneously to Arthur Erickson.


Without a Blueprint: Surviving in a Changing World (Sandor Press, 2005) 0-9738361-0-5

[Sandor Press, 6217 Summit Place, West Vancouver, B.C. V7W 1Y5]

[BCBW 2006] "Architecture" "Hungarian"