A Concrete Vision: Brutalist Architecture at York University

Brutalist Architecture at York University

The Brutalist style evolved in the U.K. during the 1950s and was embraced by architects around the world during the 1960s and 1970s. Many Canadian architects applied the Brutalist style to public buildings and universities. These buildings are often known for their large scale, sculptural qualities, and a prominent use of concrete - characteristics that contribute to a buildings' monumentality and longevity. During the 1960s and 1970s, many Canadian universities including York University were built in the Brutalist style.

Brutalist architecture is associated with the use of concrete as a building material, and a rough and textured surface. The rough, unfinished surface--also referred to as béton brut-- is caused by the form work that the concrete is poured into. The rough concrete surface contrasts with windows that typically do not open. In addition to texture, the concrete displays a variation of colours which often evolve over time as a result of climatic and environmental conditions. Outdoor public spaces such as walkways and plazas are often associated with Brutalist architecture.

York University includes many buildings designed and made in a Brutalist architectural style. The university was founded in 1959 under the direction of its first president, Dr. Murray G. Ross. The first campus was at Glendon Hall which opened in 1961. Four years later, the Keele campus opened. This new campus was the site of a lot of expansion during the late 1960s. Many of the York University's Brutalist buildings were built from 1962 to 1972 at the Keele campus. The development over a twenty year period was based on a master plan. The University Planners, Architects and Consulting Engineers (UPACE) undertook the design of many of the buildings. UPACE was made up of three firms from Toronto: Gordon S. Adamson and Associates, John B. Parkin Associates, and Shore and Moffatt and Partners. Many of the buildings exhibited similar Brutalist qualities including the use of concrete, small windows, open public spaces surrounding and connecting buildings, and low to medium heights. The building construction took place alongside an expanding population of students that reached 12,000 by 1969.

The selection of buildings in this exhibit is not exhaustive, yet it includes some of the most well known buildings.

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