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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

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Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The end of Brutalist architecture?

University campuses that were massively built up in the 1960s and 1970s have one thing in common - a soul-destroying style of modern architecture known as Brutalism. Brutalist buildings are generally made of poured concrete, are completely devoid of ornamentation, and invade their neighbourhoods like Sherman tanks. A good example is the hideously ugly Robarts Library at the University of Toronto.

It has taken a long time, but some communities are recognizing that Brutalist buildings are not worth renovating and should be demolished. The latest example of a brutalist structure slated to be put out of its misery is the Humanities Building at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, which was completed in 1969. In the University's 2005 Campus Master Plan, administrators decided to tear the building down, along with other similar campus eyesores.

According to the UW student newspaper:

Upon its completion, the Humanities Building was described as a testament to the “brutalist” style of architecture, a style made famous in America from the 1950s to the 1970s, but one that had flourished throughout Europe prior to that.

But this unique architectural design of the building is the main problem that most students have with its construction. Chances are that if one has attended UW-Madison for more than one semester, one has had a class in Humanities, whether it was a lecture or discussion. There is also a chance, if not an absolute certainty, that one got lost along the winding corridors of the confusing, irrational building layout. I cannot fathom just how many times I have had no idea where my class is, only to stumble around Pan’s Labyrinth for twenty minutes in a desperate effort to find a buried hobbit-hole of a room on the other side of the building.

A shoddy layout isn’t the only failure here. With its poor ventilation, narrow windows, inclined base, and cantilevered upper floors, you might suspect you were in a bomb shelter. The building is simply not designed well for an environment conductive to learning.

In 2005, UW-Madison released its “Campus Master Plan,” which, among other things, called for the destruction the Humanities building and other 60’s-era buildings to make way for more updated learning venues. Students should be thrilled by this idea, as we are paying top dollar for what are supposed to be top-of-the-line facilities but, as evidenced by this architectural failure, we are not getting what we are paying for.
If this trend catches on, we may soon see the complete destruction of the entire York University campus. It's a start.

(HT: Ann Althouse)


rabbit said...

Lord I hate modern university architecture. Simon Fraser, Waterloo, Calgary - the buildings are just big ugly slabs of concrete. Depressing as hell.

It's usually the older buildings, such as those you can find at UBC, that give a campus its charm and character.

Kit said...

What? UofT still claims to be a University where ideas and thoughts are freely exchanged... crap! I thought those buildings were bunkers for the Palestinian, Tami, and all the other causes that infected the youth there.

They are ugly buildings....

Craig said...

You are so correct about this architecture. It's amazing that anyone ever thought it was anything other than ugly and brutal.

By the way, I thought initially that "Brutalist" was a perjorative term you'd made up, Eric. I was shocked (pleasantly shocked) to see that it was the standard name for this style of building. How utterly fitting.