. . . and a forgotten building you should. First: The head-scratching conundrum of Brutalist architecture: it seems as if the bigger the building, the more the public didn’t like it. Isn’t that just odd? And it had a theory behind it, too. But don’t take it from me. ArchDaily.com:
. . . few ideas suffered a more tragic death than the nascent school of brutalism. A late addition to the modernist repertoire, it was vivisected in its prime by critics and the public alike for its perceived coldness and inhumanity. In a particularly cruel twist, its downfall was triggered not by its oversights but by the unpopularity of its strengths. The greatest masterpieces of North American brutalism—Kallmann, McKinnel & Knowles’ Boston City Hall, Murphy’s J. Edgar Hoover Building, Rudolph’s Art & Architecture Building, Pereira’s Library at UCSD—became its greatest liabilities.
In the derogating full-frontal assault on brutalist teleology, it seemed as if the higher the profile a building attained, and the further it pushed against the boundaries of the familiar, the harder it fell when the chair of social disapproval was pulled out from underneath.
This wasn’t tragic, unless your heart sings at the sight of dead concrete pressing its grey boot on the face of the city in perpetutity. There’s a reason the Chair of Social Disapproval was yanked out: the people who lived in the cities weren’t asked if these monsters should be invited to sit with the rest of the family.
The author discusses the Robarts Library at the University of Toronto. It wasn’t going to abide by your uptight rules, pop; it was going its own triangular way. Dig?
Breaking free of the prescriptive Cartesian grid that had become ubiquitous throughout the previous half century of architecture, the design was guided instead by an isometric grid derived from the sixty-degree angle. Right angles are all but abandoned in the plan, which takes the shape of an equilateral triangle with smaller, triangular masses protruding from its sides. The three main profiles of the library, each one hundred meters long, assert a jarring interjection into the rectangular street plan of the university campus[.]
Some people just love it when buildings disrupt the grid, particularly if such a thing can be seen as a blow against Cartesian prescriptions. But if you like your library to remind people of a guard house and a crematorium, this is your baby.
Hail! The watchers have seen our Queen Insect approach! Make ready!
Pictures from Google Street View. Now, elsewere in modern ideas, here’s something that looks equally blunt, but has a rich and glorious past.
And what’s that, you ask, and who cares? Let’s take another look. It curves:
Brutalism didn't curve. The Philly Ink architecture critic explains:
For many years, I also wondered what the peculiar, blank-faced behemoth at 1020 Market St. was used for. Because it has no windows, I thought it might have started life as a movie theater. It wasn't until 2013, when the building made the Preservation Alliance's endangered properties list, that I discovered its impressive pedigree. Thanks to the Alliance's Ben Leech, we now know that an older building at that address was taken over by Robinson department store in 1946. The new store was designed by Victor Gruen, a prominent Viennese architect who fled the Nazis in 1938 and ended up becoming the father of the American shopping mall.
That's one of Vic's? Indeed:
Before Gruen (originally, Grunbaum) rocketed to fame for the Northland Mall outside Detroit, he toiled away in traditional downtowns, giving modernist face-lifts to dowdy commercial buildings.
Northland Center opened before Southdale, but it wasn’t enclosed. That came later. This year Target moved out and Macy’s said it was giving up the ghost as well; this page says it’s closing for good in March. Anyway, the article notes that the blank facade once held an illuminated sign, and man, did it ever. A detail from this Flickr page:
Detail from here. The last days of downtown . . . before Gruen's work gave people another place to go. If only his Dayton's building in St. Paul had been so alive.