As Brutalism now takes its turn as the architecture of the ‘recent past,’ we must once again adapt to advancing technologies and student needs while respecting the evolving historic framework. Diamond Schmitt Architects, the designers of the 2020/2021 MacKinnon Building theatre addition, are working to preserve the building’s Brutalist heritage while adapting it to accommodate the present and future needs of Guelph’s student population.
The industrial fixtures in the MacKinnon Building demonstrate the core elements of Brutalist interiors after its original construction.
The brick fireplace, with its open apertures, creates a textured screen that delineates the interior spaces. Langmead’s signature stamp on the photo connects us to the interior design of what is now known as the Mackinnon Building.
The MacKinnon Building was one of the first concrete buildings completed in the expansion of the university consciously expressing the strategies of the new master plan. M. H. M. (Murdo) MacKinnon was born in Regina, moved to Toronto as a child, and graduated from the University of Toronto with a PhD in English. MacKinnon joined the University of Guelph in 1964 as founding Dean of Wellington College of Arts and Science. In less than one year, he established the entire program of courses for the arts, humanities and social sciences, helping to quickly lay the foundation for the college. As the university continued to expand, Wellington College was divided into the College of Arts, the College of Physical Science and the College of Social Science in 1969.
The MacKinnon Building occupies a pivotal position as the first building to mediate between the old and new campus. It provides balance and response to Johnson Hall. Where Johnson Hall is a traditional courtyard building with prominent façade and centre tower facing the lawn, MacKinnon, in a typical modernist approach, inverts the courtyard type to create a forward-facing green space around which the building’s circulation is organized. The building accommodates a complex programme with a mix of lecture halls, faculty offices and special purpose rooms. The ground floor corridor is treated as a covered open space and is described as an ‘arcade’ in publications at the time. Of note are the Corbusian operable ventilation panels and large sliding glazed doors along this circulation route—a gesture that does is not fully embraced in this northern climate. The MacKinnon Building illustrates much of the formal concrete language developed by Sert in his Boston/Harvard works and sets the stage for the rest of the campus. There is a balanced mix of cast-in-place and precast finishes which subtlety illuminate the mechanics of the construction system. The brise-soleil, heavily framed skylights and signature projecting roof element further display the Sertian character of the building.