Brutalism (1960 - 1970)
Brutalism was a response to the glass curtain
wall that was overtaking institutional and commercial architecture
in the 1960s. The style originated in England but was quickly
introduced to Ontario as it afforded an attractive and relatively
inexpensive solution to weather and climate control conditions
in large buildings, as well as a finish that was less vulnerable
to vandalism. The 1960s and 1970s were years of great expansion
in universities and public buildings, and this is where the Brutalist
style is most often found. The development of béton
brut, a concrete with no formal finish, was intrinsically
to this style. When the formwork is lifted from the
poured concrete, the rough, naturally textured surface is the
final finish. The amount of texture on the surface is dependent
upon the amount of texture on the formwork. The smooth texture
of glass for windows and doors forms an attractive contrast. Most
windows in Brutalist buildings do not open and the buildings are
thoroughly climate- controlled. The design of the building is
largely dependant on the shape and placement of the various room
masses. Outlines are quite intricate and exterior walkways are
The Weldon Library at the
University of Western Ontario is typical of Brutalist architecture.
The rounded corner stair towers provide
end balance for five horizontal bands
of béton brut concrete. The only ornament are
three vertical "stripes" in the concrete.
The lower levels have
a variety of box-like forms projecting along an irregular plan,
all in windowless poured concrete. The door
is simple and not a focal point of the design. The door
surround is functional with no historicizing detail. The
interior surfaces of the building are also poured concrete.
Brutalist houses are relatively
rare. While many people are happy to work in a modern International
or Brutalist office, the majority of people want to go home
to a cozy Classical house.
Like the Prairie
school clients, the people who commissioned Brutalist houses
were interested in a new attitude to residences and were almost
exclusively after something clean, maintenance free, and with
all the modern conveniences. This house has a band
of horizontal windows in steel frames. The rest is poured concrete
with a smooth surface. The building is a series of inter-connecting
blocks in a manicured garden.
Patterned concrete gives
an interesting texture to this building in downtown Toronto.
The John P. Robarts Research Library in Toronto,
built in 1973, is one of the best-known examples of the Brutalist
Much of the first two floors is completely windowless,
as are the support piers. These all have béton brut
concrete finishes. The light
enters the building through recessed lightwells and narrow,
vertical windows. There is a medieval quality to the building
with the massive towers and projecting
bays. The building is obviously climate and humidity- controlled,
which is perfect for storing books and periodicals. The building
was designed by Warner, Burns, Toan and Lunde.
Another educational building,
Erindale College is part of the University of Toronto. It has
gold tinted windows that contrast effectively
with the poured concrete. There are a large
parapet and discrete columns separating
the bays of windows. A large windowless tower
completes the façade. It has vertical patterning like
fluting but no windows or accesses.
Like many Brutalist buildings, the garden
space is almost exclusively green and relatively maintenance-free
as opposed to the Queen Anne or
Suburban styles that have colourful
Here is a much larger complex that is virtually
all concrete, with liberal use of béton brut concrete
finishes. There are very few
windows, and those that are evident are recessed. The
tower in the foreground is ovalesque, but all the remainder
is a complex mass of interlocking rectangular shapes complemented
by the walkways and landscaping.
University residences are a perfect application
for the Brutalist style because there is such a rapid turnover
of tenants; the building is relatively impermeable. Tall evergreens
help to make it an attractive setting. Notice how the overpass
has no visible windows whatsoever. The elevator tower is similarly
stark, but looks as good as the day it was erected.
Blumenson, John. Ontario
Architecture A Guide to Styles and Terms.
The Creators, Random
House, New York, 1992
Mirror, A History of the Human Love Affair with Reflection.
Basic Books, New York, 2003
information on Art Deco architecture in specific areas within
Ontario there are some very good books listed under the
The Thin Man -