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Thread: Brutalist architecture on universities

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Why the hell are so many universities done with Brutalist architecture?

    my school
    http://www.csusm.edu/img/rotator_082605/scenic4.jpghttp://www.san-marcos-e-real-estate....os_homes01.jpg
    grad school Im applying for (history)
    http://www.uic.edu/orgs/suaa/uic_1.jpg


    The thing is, the designers/architects still seem to like this stuff. Same people that dig this will say how ugly Buffalo and Detroit are.

    The dorms..

    http://www.nctimes.com/content/artic..._408_25_05.jpg
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 01 Dec 2006 at 1:16 AM. Reason: leeched images replaced with urls

  2. #2
    Demographics. The baby boomers entered into universities in the late 60's and 70's, which required the construction of many new universities. It happened that at the time brutalism was all the rage for professional building designers.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    Also cheap. You get a fairly imposing building at a lower cost.

    And, part of the trend was encouraged by "anti-riot" sentiments among college administrators.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Am I the only person around here who appreciates and likes brutalism?

    I would tend to agree with jaws assessment that it was a refelction of an era, an era of rapid change and growth.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  5. #5
    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    Yes, it was the style of the times. Most cold-war schools have this sort of brutalist-heavy campus. At UWaterloo we have a Mathematics and Computer building that looks like Boston's (old?) City Hall, and a Psychology Anthropology and Sociology building that looks like a coastal fortress. And a 10 storey, precast library that looks like a giant sugar cube... and... and... *weeps*

  6. #6
    My dad loves this stuff. It's kinda hilarious, sometimes I feel like I'm subconsiously rebelling against his tastes. I think he's internalized a lot of that whole "low-rise density is just slums / big concrete buildings surrounded by wasted green space is NEATO!" sentiment of the 50s.

    He honestly went to Boston about 10 years ago and thought that their city hall was "very cool!" and appreciated it more than Philadelphia's.

    But isn't all fashion just about defying the previous generation's aesthetic preferences?

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Hceux's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by abrowne
    Yes, it was the style of the times. Most cold-war schools have this sort of brutalist-heavy campus. At UWaterloo we have a Mathematics and Computer building that looks like Boston's (old?) City Hall, and a Psychology Anthropology and Sociology building that looks like a coastal fortress. And a 10 storey, precast library that looks like a giant sugar cube... and... and... *weeps*
    Ha ha ha...and that's sinking because a wise engineer forgot to account for the weight of all the books stored in shelves in a 10-storey building! Is that what you're weeping about? For those you who do not know about this, I'm not sure if it's a true story or if it's an urban legend. But, don't ever trust what a U of Waterloo student says because they've all been brainwashed that the sugar-cube library doesn't sink!

    On a more serious note, I think abrowne is right about how most cold-war schools have this brutalist architectural look. Even Queen's University in Kingston, ON, known for its limestone buildings have some dreary brutalist buildings (Watson Hall and Mackintosh-Corry Building, which is better known as Mac-Corry both come to mind). York University has its share of brutalist building; in fact, I heard that they covered up a huge 1960s building called Ross Building with a 1990s building that covered the ugly front of the university with a more pleasant, cheery colour building. It works in some ways, but I think the Ross Building is actually one of those few brutalist architectural buildings that look good!

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by passdoubt
    But isn't all fashion just about defying the previous generation's aesthetic preferences?
    ...or last year's Then there is style.
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  9. #9
    Quote Originally posted by passdoubt
    My dad loves this stuff. It's kinda hilarious, sometimes I feel like I'm subconsiously rebelling against his tastes. I think he's internalized a lot of that whole "low-rise density is just slums / big concrete buildings surrounded by wasted green space is NEATO!" sentiment of the 50s. He honestly went to Boston about 10 years ago and thought that their city hall was "very cool!" and appreciated it more than Philadelphia's. But isn't all fashion just about defying the previous generation's aesthetic preferences?
    If he really liked City Hall Plaza, perhaps we can come to some agreement and have him take it off our hands? Really - can we?

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally posted by donk
    Am I the only person around here who appreciates and likes brutalism?

    I would tend to agree with jaws assessment that it was a refelction of an era, an era of rapid change and growth.
    You're not the only one. I'm not sure I'd characterize all the above pictures as brutalist in the strictest sense but in any case I enjoy some of the modernist concrete campus buildings (including UAlbany where I am studying currently), if for no other reason than the fact that so many U.S. campuses are full of derivative Jeffersonian New Englandy "charm", unnatural golf course grass, ersatz historical buildings, etc. - in short a very stagnant and uncontemporary view of learning environments. In general I appreciate a variety and would therefore be bored if most campuses were brutalist or any other particular style.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    The building I showed from my school isnt completely brutalist. It is really out of place, and bad for its location. The planning guide for the shcool says that the campus is on a hill and supposed to refelct a "Mediterranean hill village." Therfore all of us students have to walk up four flights of stairs every day so we can live in their rendition of a hill village (they left the flat areas undeveloped, so it was a consious effort to build everything on a hill). Yet at the same time you have these massive strcutures that dont look Mediterranean at all and jsut look like giant blocks of concrete on a hill. One would also think that a building on a hillside would have lots of windows. NO! there are almost no windows except for conference rooms, where the view is spectactular. BTW the large building in that photo is the admin building , the sall one is the calss rooms with no windows. Even what appears to be windows in that photo arent windows.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mokbubble
    grad school Im applying for (history)
    http://www.uic.edu/orgs/suaa/uic_1.jpg

    .

    Ahhh, "lovely" UIC Not only is UIC brutalism but it's brutalism on the cheap, and also designed to be riot proof. Amazingly the interiors of the buildings are even worse.

    One of the amusing this is that the architects thought they were SO F*CKING SMART that they just assumed that they had already thought of every possible use that every space might see over the lifetimes of the buildings (which judging from the rust leaching from exposed rebar and stress cracks all over the structures, wasn't intended to be very long). So you've got conduit hanging from all the concrete ceilings because, you know, they didn't think every room would need ethernet in the 1960s.

    Those little arrowslit windows are embedded in the concrete, meaning that it's very expensive to replace them, meaning that they're not replaced (and also never, EVER cleaned) and you can't find a room on campus without several cracked ones, and many are discolored from age. Professors need darkness occasionally to run projectors so they darkened the windows in some of the rooms to the point where they're like the facemasks that welders wear, so those rooms get no sunlight at all regardless of if the projector is running or not, and then they decided that some of the rooms needed to be dark that the architects didn't plan to be dark, so they have sheets of cardboard taped up over the arrowslits.

    There's a building on campus that's not pictured there (it's to the left of the tall one) called BSB. The rumor on campus was that it was designed by an agoraphobic, but the whole thing is this labyrinthine, claustrophobic mess of passageways and "atriums" and elevators and stairways that only go to certain floors (it's only a four story building). I've been lost in that building for 15 minutes before trying to find a class.

    UIC is a miserable, awful, ugly, inhuman campus. I think all architects who develop an unhealthy love of modernism should be condemned to study there. Fortunately though for those of you applying to the CUPPA, it is located in a converted warehouse building on the other side of the Ike. I had a professor once who had his office in that building, he'd joke that "it's the best building on campus, because it's not on campus."
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 01 Dec 2006 at 1:17 AM.
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  13. #13
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    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    Ahhh, "lovely" UIC Not only is UIC brutalism but it's brutalism on the cheap, and also designed to be riot proof. Amazingly the interiors of the buildings are even worse.

    One of the amusing this is that the architects thought they were SO F*CKING SMART that they just assumed that they had already thought of every possible use that every space might see over the lifetimes of the buildings (which judging from the rust leaching from exposed rebar and stress cracks all over the structures, wasn't intended to be very long). So you've got conduit hanging from all the concrete ceilings because, you know, they didn't think every room would need ethernet in the 1960s.

    Those little arrowslit windows are embedded in the concrete, meaning that it's very expensive to replace them, meaning that they're not replaced (and also never, EVER cleaned) and you can't find a room on campus without several cracked ones, and many are discolored from age. Professors need darkness occasionally to run projectors so they darkened the windows in some of the rooms to the point where they're like the facemasks that welders wear, so those rooms get no sunlight at all regardless of if the projector is running or not, and then they decided that some of the rooms needed to be dark that the architects didn't plan to be dark, so they have sheets of cardboard taped up over the arrowslits.

    There's a building on campus that's not pictured there (it's to the left of the tall one) called BSB. The rumor on campus was that it was designed by an agoraphobic, but the whole thing is this labyrinthine, claustrophobic mess of passageways and "atriums" and elevators and stairways that only go to certain floors (it's only a four story building). I've been lost in that building for 15 minutes before trying to find a class.

    UIC is a miserable, awful, ugly, inhuman campus. I think all architects who develop an unhealthy love of modernism should be condemned to study there. Fortunately though for those of you applying to the CUPPA, it is located in a converted warehouse building on the other side of the Ike. I had a professor once who had his office in that building, he'd joke that "it's the best building on campus, because it's not on campus."
    Some very interesting points are raised here…

    One issue is the obligation of a building to be adaptable. This is one that we still struggle with, and probably are still getting wrong often. (The Ethernet example is a good one – who could have predicted that? And then with the newer wireless technologies it turns out that maybe Ethernet was not inevitable and was perhaps a step in the process that might have been skipped.) Sometimes the architect must rely upon the client or upon outside experts with regard to future needs not yet known and therefore shouldn’t be made to accept all blame. (Not to be an apologist - many modernists were highly egotistical in their assumptions about what they knew.) Since most buildings are now built with an approximately 30 year lifespan, however, adaptability may not be the largest concern. And stylistic preferences underlying marketing needs seem to change faster than functional requirements, making buildings “outdated” before they are even…outdated.

    Another interesting point is regarding way-finding. Many modernist buildings and campuses are quite lacking in this regard and I believe this is one of the most valid criticisms. Sometimes there exists a covert agenda underlying this lack, which may or may not be justifiable. Landscaping and interiors are another common criticism. (Notably these are two areas most quickly cut by clients to save costs.)

    I would like to add that it is dangerous to write off all modernism – just as dangerous as writing off everything that is “traditional” or historical or whatever is the opposite of modernist. (Ironically, too, modernism itself is now a part of history.) Many modern buildings are not masterpieces evidencing the highest thinking of that period but simply second-rate stylistic imitations of the best modernism, often prompted by client, developer, or industry pressures for lower costs (an issue touched upon above in another post) and so we cannot use all or even most apparently modern-styled buildings as an argument against modernism per se. Life is complex and so are judgments about the value of various buildings and environments. Speaking about condemning modernists to study in modernists facilities – I resemble that remark and happen to love studying at UAlbany…but admittedly I was raised with a fairly broad appreciation of the various periods and ranges of the arts (from chant to Scriabin to Schoenberg to Alex von Schlippenbach, from Michelangelo to Malevich, Shakespeare to Samuel Beckett, etc., etc. ). Life is full of variety and ought to be – let’s welcome everything from Louis Kahn to Coop Himmelblau along with the spectrum of historical styles, their attack in decon, their rebirth in po-mo, and everything all the way up to Leon Krier’s make-believe medieval world…all parts of the richness that makes life interesting. Well, except maybe for Robert Venturi. … (Just a joke.)

  14. #14
    Cyburbian
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    Thank you jordanb, for your criticism of UIC. This will make me feel much better if I can't go to grad school there! Seriosuly, though, I relaly want to move to Chicago, and I believe it is the only public school that offers a PhD in history. Stalinist architecture here I come!

  15. #15
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    I think some of the brutalist architecture can look alright, especially when mixed with more classical style buildings. I like when I can see the historic progression of a campus. But as far as why they build them that way... where I went to school most every new building is funded in great part by a contributer (usually an alumni who is now filthy rich and wants a building named after them). To most of these people, I'm guessing, they desire for their name to be associated with an imposing building that denotes strength and power.

  16. #16
    Hey at least the buildings at those campuses look distinctly different from eachother.
    I think my Alma-Matter is probably one of the bleakest and worst offenders
    of Brutalist Architecture (SORRY RSW)... Riot Proof and all!



    All the buildings look exactly the same, just like this one...





    The dorms all look just like the academic buildings too, except for the fact that they have a tower in the midle of them.

    I did a story on the architecture while I was at the campus newspaper...
    aparently people the architect wanted all of the buildings to be tinted
    different pastel colors to help people know if they were looking at the
    Humanities or Physics buildings... so oddly enough I guess it could be
    worse than this.





    Here's a shot from Google earth so you can get a good idea of the perfect symmetry for the entire campus.
    Oh this is SUNY Albany BTW, I forgot to mention that. RSW is currently going there I graduated a few years ago.
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 01 Dec 2006 at 1:18 AM.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    Boy, SUNY Albany just shouts Edward Durrell Stone. I've always hated his work. In all of his buildings that I have ever been in, including the Kennedy Center, the internal circulation is horribly inadequate. How is it at SUNY?

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