Brutalism at Guelph: Concrete in a New Light

Atrium in South residence

Bold, raw and unapologetic, Brutalism is an attitude as much as a style. The concrete builders of the 1960s believed unequivocally that modern problems could be solved with modern design. This exhibition sheds new light on Brutalism by examining its impact on the University of Guelph. The term “Brutalism” came into use in the 1950s to describe the concrete architecture emerging in the United Kingdom and Europe, including Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier’s expressive béton brut—literally meaning “raw concrete.” Established in 1964, the University of Guelph was born in a decade of ambitious nation-building across Canada, culminating in Montreal’s Expo ’67. Higher education was a priority with 12 new universities being built across the country—eight in Ontario alone. The Brutalist ethic was in full swing. Concrete, with its affordability, speed of construction and expressive sculptural qualities, was the material of choice. Five decades on, what can we learn from this intense building effort and the zealous optimism Brutalism represents? How might this attitude inform future campus evolution?

Items for this exhibit were selected and researched by art history and landscape architecture students in the experiential learning course ARTH*4800. 

Co-Curators: Wilfred Ferwerda (manager, Physical Resources), Sally Hickson (director, School of Fine Art and Music)

Assistant Curator: Kathryn Harvey (head, Archival & Special Collections)

Student Curators: Katelyn Bakos, Elizabeth Bray, Lauren Dickson, Aleksandra Fallenbuchi, Ronique Gillis, Katherine Hochman, Michelle Jacobs, Andrew May, Sarah Oatley, Nicole Smith, Anthony Vomisescu

Consultants: James Ashby (conservation architect and independent scholar, Ottawa), Walter Kehm (landscape architect and original master plan team member, Toronto), Michael McClelland (architect and editor, Concrete Toronto: A Guide to Concrete Architecture from the Fifties to the Seventies, Toronto), Owen Scott (landscape architect and original master plan team member, Guelph), Brendan Stewart (assistant professor, landscape architecture)

Additional Support from Archival & Special Collections Staff: Graham Burt, Lara Carleton, Gillian Manford, Melissa McAfee, Ashley Shifflett McBrayne, Kristyn Pacione

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