The Brutal Truth

Robarts Library

Editor’s Note: This post is the first of what will be an ongoing column exploring various architectural styles in and around Toronto. Spacing writer and heritage architecture consultant Thomas Wicks will look into the history of that style, the people behind it and where in Toronto examples can be found.

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Concrete is just too damn easy to hate.

With the recent launch of Concrete Toronto, a refreshing discussion of Toronto’s concrete architecture was presented, allowing for some of our city’s most visible and often despised structures a moment of clarification, both in regard to their context and their design. Despite this effort, the reality is concrete architecture in Toronto is under-appreciated, often unloved and almost always likely to stir diverging opinions.

Brutalism, as a particularly reviled style of concrete architecture, is also probably one of the most misunderstood. The very name ‘brutalism’ is often cited as proof that the style is, and meant to be, brutal. But wait just a minute — the name is in fact not a willfully negative descriptor of the style, rather it comes from béton brut, a French term meaning ‘raw concrete’. It is used to describe concrete with a surface that is naturally textured, often a result of the process of forming the concrete between wood planks. Though architects began to control the finishes of the concrete by using different materials to form the work, the unaltered aesthetic principles of the material’s production remained. The versatility and economy of concrete made it cheap to build with and allowed architects more creativity in the form a building could take.

Concrete became especially popular in post-war Europe offering architects seemingly limitless possibilities of creating new designs for bombed-out cities (check out the Barbican in London as example). Concrete offered not only new design possibilities but also solutions to housing shortages with quick construction times at a low cost. In Britain architects Peter and Alison Smithson coined the term brutalism, inspired by architect Le Corbusier’s term of béton brut. Le Corbusier used it to describe his choice of concrete for such works as the Unité d’habitation (1947-1952) and the Dominican Monastery at La Tourette (1957-1960).

Via England, the style made its way to Canada and would become a popular choice for schools, universities, municipal building and even churches and concert halls throughout the 60s and 70s. Of course none of this means that the style doesn’t have a rougher side, but to describe it as brutal simply isn’t accurate. All over the world brutalist architecture can be seen from Japan to South America to Africa, Australia, Europe and Canada. It is more international than the so-called International Style (that we will explore in a later column). This partially explains why it is so derided. It’s everywhere, is cheap to build, and can be poorly finished (but even the most loved styles of architecture can be poorly executed). It is the easiest to criticize and often the hardest to love.

In Toronto we have exceptional examples of the brutalist aesthetic. In particular Robarts Library, the main University of Toronto at Scarborough building, and the addition to Central Tech are worthy of study and understanding. Approach these structures with an open mind and examine the intricacies of the composition and articulation of the form. The most difficult things in life are often the most rewarding. Brutalism can be one of them. It’s hard to get your head around, but once you’re there it may never let you go.

Photo by See You, Jimmy!

28 comments

  1. I was down in Caracas, Venezuela back in the summer and they have a lot of brutalist architecture around, since they were booming in the 60s and 70s and haven’t done a lot of building since then. It has to be said that brutalism works a lot better in a warm sunny climate where open spaces can be used more effectively – it cuts down on the ‘bleak bunker’ look of places like York University. Having a riot of tropical vines and flowering plants crawling over the concrete really helps as well, since they cover up and complement the geometry.

    Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I always found brutalism kind of exciting, since it got coopted by a lot of cheap science fiction and became ‘the look of the future’. I remember fawning over my parent’s pictures of Expo 67 and wanting to draw spaceships on top of them.

  2. I think, generally, that the people most hostile to Brutalism are unlikely to be swayed by knowing the origin of its name, as they are probably people mostly unaware that the aggressively ugly buildings ruining their streetscapes are, rather than regrettable accidents, actually part of an entire school of architecture called Brutalism.

    Such people, and many others, are impatient with requests that they examine the intricacies of articulated form to find their reward among the difficulty. Because their complaint is not that Robarts Library or 1 Yonge or Scarborough College are unrewarding. Their complaint is that those buildings look like ass and ruin the entire streetscape. And, of course, they are correct as far as that goes.

    So, as far as a discussion of Brutalism in the new architecture column goes: how about an explanation of why aggressive ugliness is considered by architecture experts to be wonderful? What are these rewards that come from study, and are they really so rewarding that they are worth making people hate their city for? Some explanation of why a building like 1 Yonge is defensible would be more welcome than simply telling people who find it oppressive and hostile and angry and saddening that they aren’t working hard enough.

    I ask these things (does anyone actually see beauty in these structures? what is the thinking behind them, other than economics? Are the hated Toronto examples simply poor examples of an otherwise good form?) because I’m actually interested in the answers, not just to be a jerk.

  3. I *heart* concrete, but don’t find anything defensible about 1 Yonge. It’s not an ideological love, it has distinctions.

    Scarborough College looks like a beautiful manmade mountain range; Robarts keeps the books safe and when inside I cross from the outer-world into a land-of-contemplation — it’s a different place, for a different kind of activity. The architecture affects the way I think. I think better inside of it. It causes separations, lets my mind and body know I’m here to do something else.

  4. I agree with Edward. The Toronto examples cited are all, to put it charitably, un-attractive, dour, and simply don’t respect their context well at all.

    For one moment, let’s not look up, but just ask, when walking by at street level, is this a building that nice to walk by? Does it engender positive interest? Warmth? Do you want to look at it? Eat or chat in front of it?

    I submit that these are all buildings you can safely say are unpleasant to walk by, dour, foreboding and lack visual interest.

    Robarts at least attempted visual interest in some of its details.

    But it does’t fit at all with its surroundings. Its massing and scale completely overwhelm everything around; while also leaving the St. George Streetscape cold. The created ‘green spaces’ no one loves or uses, because the mood of the spaces is adversely effected by how the building does NOT relate to them.

    The other buildings mentioned have even less going for them.

  5. Are the grassy areas around University College and Hart House used and loved? More than the grass around Robarts? I submit they’re used the same amount — but gothicy doo-dads are in fashion now, so the grassy area ‘s use or disuse never factored into assessments of those “loved” buildings.

    Hart House is just a great Toronto building. But wait — there is all that empty grass out front that people don’t use. But Hart House still respects its surroundings and Robarts doesn’t?

  6. I don’t believe every brutalist building is worthy of praise, but I certainly don’t think every brutalist building is also worthy of such hate either. Even the most loved Toronto buildings were at one time scorned. Old city hall almost got demolished, so did Union Station. Scarborough college complements its undulating landscape the way the parliament buildings in Ottawa rise from the banks of the Ottawa river. It may lack all of the gothic whimsy, but it is no less integrated with its surroundings. Robarts isn’t out of scale for its area the way some of the newer (and taller) buildings on St. George street are. It’s set back from the street and has visual interest in the faà§ade. I have spent a lot of time in robarts and always loved the walk up to and inside the building. The rare books library for anyone who hasn’t been there, is especially beautiful, with a feel not dissimilar to a medieval cathedral bathed in filtered light. Most people’s reaction to brutalism is a result of the material which seems to blind them to the other ideas present in the form. The Central tech addition swoops out into the street to provided greenhouse like windows to the studios inside, and at Scarborough, the interior provides students with internal streets, not stacked on top of each other by tiered to engage different levels of the building in a communal space.

  7. For evidence that concrete architecture can be beautiful, look no further than the preceding post about the Washington DC Metro.

  8. Is that thomas of the contents the same Thomas Wicks who wrote the post?

    I don’t hate concrete and I don’t mind challenging architecture. Graduate House on Harbord Street is one of my favbourite buildings in the city, for example.

    So it isn’t concrete that’s caused me to have a sour view of brutalism, it’s that the buildings in that style I’m most familair with — the Hudson’s Bay Centre at Yonge and Bloor, the Toronto Star building at 1 Yonge — are horrible places. Is it the concrete? No. It’s the way they dominate vast stretches of the street without windows or entryways, their chunky, rough exteriors seeming to threaten to squeeze me with their grey into the grey of the sidewalk, the way they seem to absolutely kill, in their institutional rejection of elegance, any possibility of play or love or sustaining life.

    When one appriaches 1 Yonge, there’s a visceral aversion to entering the building, as though approaching it might render one a soulless automaton. If you talk to people inside, that’s exactly what many of them feel it does.

    I suspect that many who hate Brutalism (rightly or wrongly) have the same feelign and experience of it as I do.

    So: I raised these questions not so someone would tell me that Scarborough College is a swooping marvel, but so that the architecture critic telling me why Brutalism has a bad name might begin to explain whether my whole concept of what Brutalism is is misguided, or whether the buildings that make me feel like they’re about to attack me like big square, grey zombies make other people feel frisky or solid or otherwise. In other words, if you “certainly don’t think every brutalist building is also worthy of such hate”, please tell me why. I want to read about it and understand what there is to love in it, or to learn how the buildings I think are representative of Brutalism are not good examples of it, or something.

    Shawn has in the past gone a long way to showing me what’s to love about Robarts. Is the same possible for the entire style?

  9. Sorry for all the typos. And when I wrote “thomas of the contents” I meant “thomas of the comments.”

  10. Maybe the original part of the Ontario Science Centre is a good example of a brutalist building that doesn’t seem to provoke the same sort of reactions as Robarts or One Yonge.

    Thomas the commenter mentions mid-life scorn of Old City Hall. I was under the impression that Old City Hall wasn’t terribly popular back then with the architectural “elites”, who saw it as over-decorated and eccentric. I know tastes change, but was it actually hated by the typical person walking by? If not, Robarts would be its opposite: appreciated by those who’ve studied architecture, but disliked at first sight by many who haven’t.

  11. In the column I wanted to discuss the style’s history and a few good examples of it in the city. You raise many valid points particularly regarding the effect brutalism can have on its surroundings. 1 Yonge street is a bad example of brutalism, whereas Robarts seeks a dialogue with the user and within its context. The measure of its success is reflected in the opinions of its users. In the case of Brutalism it is very mixed. I don’t think your approach to brutalism is wrong, people react to the buildings around them in a very personal way. I wish only to indicate that within a style as controversial as brutalism there is merit to the design, not that all of it is beyond reproach.

  12. It will be interesting to see what happens with Boston City Hall as an indication to the future of Brutalist structures. Will they be conserved or demolished? It’s certainly a hot topic in Boston right now.

    Personally, I think it’s acceptable to say that the architectural ambitions of the Brutalists were well-meant but ultimately in error and the buildings need to come down. Like Towers in the Park and practically the entire portfolio of Le Corbusier, Brutalism was a mistake, did not work, and now deserves condemnation and death. There are now other ways to build in concrete. Live and learn.

  13. Are towers in the park really an error? Are the middle class and healthy neighbourhoods around Davisville, St. Clair and High Park — places that have not turned into slums — errors?

    uSkyscraper — like many people who dislike Brutalism, you’re basing it on your personal taste — you haven’t provided evidence, other than taste, that supports your call to tear them down. My favorite concrete buildings, the ones that give me that great feeling (perhaps the positive version of Edward’s feeling of imminent attack) *work* and work wonderfully. They do their job just fine.

    It is safe to say the bad brutes, like 1 Yonge, Hudson Bay/Bloor, are bad on a massive scale, thus colouring the general view of the style.

    Modernism in general had a bit of trouble at the ground floor. Not sure why. Can be fixed though. If the Sheraton on Queen was fixed up and had a good first floor that talked to the sidewalk, it’s magical paper-thin looking form, slicing the skyline, would be widely loved. But they screwed up those first 12 feet. Perhaps was the 3 cocktail lunches.

  14. If you can dig Mahavishnu’s “The Inner Mounting Flame”, you can dig Brutalism. If you can dig having sex to “The Inner Mounting Flame”, then you can *really* dig Brutalism. And it’s enough to make the Edward Keenans and uSkyscrapers of the world look like eunuchs.

    In that light, may I reiterate my past point that espousing Brutalism is perhaps the architectural-appreciation equivalent of “Wyatting”
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,1816709,00.html
    …and is that bad, really?

    Ultimately, maybe it’s a simple matter of being creatively open to *everything* within our built environment–in which case, even the Toronto Star building may be seen as having its merits, hardcore retro-70s or not. Now, I’m not making bold claims to 1 Yonge being *heritage*; but maybe it’s just as well that it never had its, uh, “brutality” wimped or cheesed out of it. It’d be like making a Nickelback out of Mahavishnu…

  15. Shawn > “Are the grassy areas around University College and Hart House used and loved? More than the grass around Robarts? ” – I walk by both most days, and the answer is actually, yes. The grassy areas around University and Hart house are far more heavily used than those around Robarts, which tend to be empty. But that probably has to do with the fact that Robarts has little ground-floor connection with the outside world.

    I think that is, in fact, one of the problems with brutalist architecture – not concrete, but the design of the buildings. They tend to sit separate and cut off from the world around them. It’s true of Scarborough College as well, at least it was when I was there a few years ago (there’s been a lot of building since). They stand apart from their surroundings, so it is hard to love them. That’s something more solid than just aesthetics to explain why people don’t like them.

    Also, the exterior severity is often extended to interiors too, which are hard and colourless. Of course it doesn’t have to be that way – Thomas Fisher Rare Book library (the peacock’s head in Robarts) is one of the most beautiful interiors in Toronto – because the concrete is softened by wood and books. But the need for concrete to be balanced by other, softer materials is rarely acknowledged in brutalist buildings.

    Which brings me to the fundamental fact that concrete is grey and hard (even coloured concrete seems greyish). Humans like color – our eyes developed specifically to see it, and it signals life to us, where lack of colour (or I guess more accurately, all colours mixed together into indistinguishableness) signals a lack of life. So something that is overwhelmingly grey and hard cannot be appealing to most people. The fact that Robarts does, indeed, have remarkable textures and variations yet still does not look appealing to most people is a sign precisely of concrete’s difficulties. What more modern architects have learned, I think, is that concrete is more powerful if it is balanced by other materials. The interior of U of T’s Bahen Centre, for example, uses polished concrete powerfully in moderate doses. There’s a new condo building on John just north of Queen (beside the Umbra store) that is just beautiful, using a mix of concrete and glass, each balancing the other. So I think Brutalism was a phase in learning to use concrete, one that is interesting but cannot be widely loved, and one that we are evolving beyond.

  16. Though would “evolving beyond” necessarily involve rejection? It could just as well *soften* opinions on Brutalism, now that it’s been rendered a benign and vulnerable artifact of a past time…

  17. The point about brutalism’s relevance to today is well stated. It is a style now confined to architectural history, but the products of the movement continue to impact our city today. These are not structures that can be quickly done away with and I would argue shouldn’t be (well at least not most of them). We need to seek better ways of integrating them into the city. Though structures like manulife centre may be unattractive to most, it is still a vibrant location in the city, full of people and a home to hundreds. Brutalist structures are a product of their time and also a product of grand architectural visions that often failed because they didn’t seek to reflect their place in the city. The need for (and capital) required to realize many of these structures isn’t dissimilar to the factors contributing to our condo boom right now. Though constructed of concrete many of our modern skyscrapers are, as Dylan pointed out tempered with glass, wood, brick and metal. Great! Unfortunately a great many other condos have gone the stucco route and have mitigated the harshness of concrete with a cladding product destined for ongoing maintenance problems. I think in the future we will be far more upset and perplexed by all of the ugly and slumified condos being built now than we are today about a style of architecture that has fallen out of favour, but which had at its core a certain goal in mind. One it perhaps often missed.

  18. For those of you who missed it, Adam Sobolak’s opening gambit in defence of Brutalism was to call me a pussy. Cute. One can only imagine that, back when he was president of the high school architectural conservancy club, the jocks taught him the hard way that questioning a guy’s masculinity was an effective way to marginalize him.

    But in a way his whole line of argument fits: if you can’t screw to challenging early ’70s experimental jazz or appreciate big ugly buildings, it’s probably because you don’t have the stones for it. Thanks for clarifying, Adam.

    Which maybe I think is the problem — the only problem — I have with buildings like 1 Yonge. I have no real complaint about Adam or whoever else swinging their big balls around as long as you keep them out of my face. And listen to whatever you want, but don’t come around my place with John McLaughlin on your iPod and lovin’ on your mind.

    Because unlike in the case of music or art or literature, architecture snobs don’t just get to bask in the inherent supriority of their challenging tastes, they get to rub everyone else’s face in it. If appreciating 1 Yonge is like having sex to the Inner Mounting Flame, then building 1 Yonge on the lake is like forcing your mother and your neighbours and everyone else to have Inner Mounting Flame on the turntable and cranked up in their bedrooms all the time.

    And whenever anyone complains that whole swaths of their city are not their flavour of romantic music, and that that fact actually makes them actively dislike going to whole areas of the city, there’ll always be some highbrow jock like Sobolak around to say it’s because they have no balls.

    I appreciate that Thomas Wicks was trying to point out that you can’t write off a whole architectural style on a few bad experiences and a bad etymology and that it’s worth taking a second look beyond the immediate signifiers that turn you off. I was just trying, for one thing, to draw him out a bit to describe what exactly you find when you look closely. Thomas the commenter and others took up that challenge a bit and I thank them for it (truth is, I don’t really hate brutalism all that much at all. I do hate 1 Yonge and the Hudson’s Bay Centre. But Robarts is interesting, which is all I really ask of most buildings).

    The other thing I was hoping to do was point out that the most sweeping dismissals of Brutalism and the most severe misaprehensions of it are likely to come from people for whom architecture appreciation is not a hobby. People who live in fake-Edwardian homes decorated in floral patterns who experience buildings and the streetscape as an environment they inhabit, not a work of art that they study. And whether they are tasteless Neanderthals (or castrated wimps, as Sobolak would have it) or not, they still share the city and have to live with and work in those buildings too. Is there a way to teach such people how to look at those buildings that will make them see past what they read as ugly? It’s a real question — just look at what a few movies and a bit of time did for the popular impression of Jackson Pollock.

  19. I bought Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “Birds of Fire” back in undergrad and listened a bit, but haven’t in a long time. It was all really high-pitched.

  20. I don’t dislike Brutalism, but I do dislike Monumentalism. Sadly, almost all brutalist buildings in Toronto are oversized and monumental in scale, with a few exceptions like the addition to Central Tech, which is quite lovely.

    I think my Canadianness makes me shun monumentalism. There are a lot of examples of this in other architectural genres. For example, I never liked the Dominion Public building, despite its Beaux-Arts style. It was too forbidding along Front street and the fact that pedestrians frequently cross the street or scurry into the PATH system to avoid walking along its facade attest to this. A lot of American cities are like this: the base of the ionic columns of many of their Beaux Arts civic buildings are waaaayyyy above my head, even though I’m 6 feet tall. It just lords over you, and is one of the reasons why their downtown precincts were doomed to failure.

    Canadian humility and ‘inferiority’ allowed us to escape the tyrrany of monumental buildings until the Brutalism revolution, when we got a full dose of it.

  21. it’s good to see someone mentioned boston’s city hall. if they demolish it, it will probably be remembered as one of the greatest exemplars of a much-misunderstood movement. most of you won’t remember just how praised and influential it was in its day. architects kallman, mckinnell obviously spent a lot of time starring at siena. their government center piazza shows a remarkable grasp of italian medieval design.
    who am i to love it madly? all the bostonians seem to hate it with a hate that is real and pure. that’s partly because the architects banished all life (retail, cafes) from the periphery. most brutalist works have the same problem: great architectural forms, striking textures, rough-edged roman monumentality—and at the same time all the anti-social errors of modernism blown up to monstrous proportions: isolation and fortress-building, disdain for the past and contempt for the urban context.

  22. Well, first of all, Mr. Keenan, remember that my opening Mahavishnu vs. the eunuchs statement could just as well stand as a kind of reflexive self-critique–that is, deliberately conveying a fundamental attractive *and* offputting quality of Brutalism at once. Which, in some kind of alchemic tandem, might ultimately render the style and mode even more fascinating, transfixing, etc. (Though given the period we’re discussing, maybe a better–or more insidiously “evil”–comparison point than a jock might be a pervy swinging-single uncle who passes his Playboys on to his timid nephew.)

    Anyway, the Mahavishnu comparison does, in my mind, convey something more visceral and immediate (and hitherto underexplored) about Brutalism’s qualities than any amount of ingrown archi-speak can manage. Just as 50s/60s jazz and bop has been an effective popularizing chaser for Cold War Modern/International Style/Populuxe/whatever-you-want-to-call-it, so 60s/70s prog and fusion could potentially do the same for Brutalism–a style that wears its dorm-room Dark Side Of The Moon poster like a badge, so to speak. As the pervy uncle might have it, it’s a style as mustily dense and invigorating as, er, 70s bush–and maybe that’s the problem. Or not.

    All in all, though, re “Is there a way to teach such people how to look at those buildings that will make them see past what they read as ugly?”, here’s the antidote I’d offer–just try and look beyond “ugliness”. View them as rich phenomena, as part of the incredibly diverse, many-storied, many-counterpointed built fabric around us.

    Maybe that’s hard to do; after all, it would seem that architectural taste has undergone a never-the-twain-shall-meet “red vs blue” segmentation in recent years. And it goes both ways; just as various strains of Joe & Jane Average might find Brutalism devoid of any redeeming value, today’s Clewes-obsessed Moderns might think likewise about the new Robert Stern condo at 1 St Thomas. Isn’t there some kind of comprehensive urban conoisseurship that can look with childlike wide eyes to *both* ends of that stylistic equation, or even their easily-derided lessers? Sure, it may not be great art a lot of the time; but as phenomena, as cultural expression, even as demonstrations of readily-deflated vanity, it’s all worth a little positive reflection, as long as we can distance ourselves from feeling fatally persecuted (or fatally attracted, for that matter) by it. You can’t beat those childlike eyes.

    And as far as “forcing your mother and your neighbours and everyone else to have Inner Mounting Flame on the turntable and cranked up in their bedrooms all the time” goes; well look, it isn’t like other music or architecture’s any different. To a Clewes-ista, life in 1 St Thomas might be like substituting an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical (ick) for Inner Mounting Flame. That’s why I recommend against feeling fatally persecuted–ultimately, *anything*, even the most sublime musical and architectural stuff, can be as obnoxiously 24/7 ear/eyewormy as “It’s A Small World”, if you shortsightedly allow it to be so…

  23. In light of everything, a most fascinating mini-exhibit this past year was Dominion Modern’s “OISE D&A”, which tried to make a silk purse of one of the more notoriously ungainly and unloveable Brutalist anti-icons in town, the OISE building on Bloor across from Varsity Stadium. Fascinating almost in spite of itself; that is, to under-critically squeeze OISE within the curatorial framework of “great architecture” is as awkward as the building itself (and the show stopped short of delving into the fascinating politics behind OISE’s construction, including the choice of architect, et al–that is, mere stylistic hagiography doesn’t do the building justice). However, the focus upon the building’s original furnishings, and the unceremonious storage-room-and-forgotten fate from which they were retrieved, was more than worth the effort; it reminded us that even *here*, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. And simply by existing, the exhibition allowed us to see OISE with new eyes. It may be a hulk, but it’s a hulk distinctly of its time, and with a story to tell–time heals even the so-called ghastliest of wounds. Which, ultimatly, isn’t so ghastly as the will to deny it any positive merit whatsoever.

    Hey, a quarter century ago, the punky side of me would have rejected a lot of prog and fusion and Mahavishnu as a bunch of navel-gazing noodling. Now that it’s a contextualizable part of history, it sounds a lot better, a lot richer, a lot more fascinating and transfixing–and one doesn’t have to be a diehard acolyte, either…

  24. Brutalism of the 1960’s and 70’s was inextricably linked to this idea of monuementality and the idea of the building as a system. It is this monumentality that is not only the most incredible aspect of some of the buildings described, but also makes them the most despised, especially because in doing so, the design at street level becomes sacrificed to the overall massing and form.

    The discussion of location is also worth merit. A concrete building in South America (Brasilia) or India (Chandigarh) will be very different than a concrete building constructed in Toronto. While the greyness of the concrete seems especially bleak in winters, one can also appreciate the vivid shadows cast by the repetitive forms of these monumental structures on a sunny day – I’m thinking of the CAMH building at Huron and College, or the Kelly Library at St. Michael’s College.

    Regarding Boston City Hall, I was under the impression that it was a cheap knock-off of a Saint Marie de La Tourette, a successful Le Corbusier building that, displaced in New England, achieved none of the same effects. A similar looking structure stands at the corner of Russel and Huron Streets on the UofT campus.

  25. In the event anyone’s still reading this, I think the below, from Adam Sobolak, is excellent:

    “All in all, though, re “Is there a way to teach such people how to look at those buildings that will make them see past what they read as ugly?”, here’s the antidote I’d offer–just try and look beyond “ugliness”. View them as rich phenomena, as part of the incredibly diverse, many-storied, many-counterpointed built fabric around us.

    “Maybe that’s hard to do; after all, it would seem that architectural taste has undergone a never-the-twain-shall-meet “red vs blue” segmentation in recent years. And it goes both ways; just as various strains of Joe & Jane Average might find Brutalism devoid of any redeeming value, today’s Clewes-obsessed Moderns might think likewise about the new Robert Stern condo at 1 St Thomas. Isn’t there some kind of comprehensive urban conoisseurship that can look with childlike wide eyes to *both* ends of that stylistic equation, or even their easily-derided lessers? Sure, it may not be great art a lot of the time; but as phenomena, as cultural expression, even as demonstrations of readily-deflated vanity, it’s all worth a little positive reflection, as long as we can distance ourselves from feeling fatally persecuted (or fatally attracted, for that matter) by it. You can’t beat those childlike eyes.”

    Thanks for that. What I’d like to read now (or perhaps I should write some): vivid non-jargony taste-heirarchy-free descriptions of the view of brutalist buildings as seen through those childlike eyes.

    Also: “To a Clewes-ista, life in 1 St Thomas might be like substituting an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical (ick) for Inner Mounting Flame. That’s why I recommend against feeling fatally persecuted–ultimately, *anything*, even the most sublime musical and architectural stuff, can be as obnoxiously 24/7 ear/eyewormy as “It’s A Small World”, if you shortsightedly allow it to be so…”

    I believe you are correct. Or like every store and office everywhere having EZ-Rock on all the time. Which of course they do. So: points well taken. And thanks.

  26. I have long admired the Central Tech (art school) building by recently deceased architect Macy DuBois. To my mind, it is a masterpiece (even though it is not well known and has not been well maintained). It articulates its functions in a meaningful way and the construction detailing is sensitive and artistic without losing the “artlessness” that characterizes the best Brutalist work.

  27. I’m not a student of architecture, or anything, but I’ve always been interested in it, and now that interest is starting to grow. I live in Cleveland, Ohio, which seems to have a plethora of bruatalist buildings in the city proper and the surrounding suburbs (encompassing all of northeast Ohio, really). Regardless of how I feel about the style, I was curious about something: was this style inspired (or at least fueled) by the Cold War and the fear of nuclear annilhation? Was the idea to build something that would survive the blast? I can’t seem to find anything to support this, but the style screams “nuclear bunker” to me, and these all popped up from 1950-1980. The coincidence is too great to ignore.

    Or is it?

    Thanks.

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