Jane’s Walk: Brutal Ottawa

Architecture’s concrete utopias

Walking tour given as part of Jane’s Walk Ottawa-Gatineau, May 8 2016
(abridged version of Ottawa (de)tours Brutalism walk)

cormier-9373It has been said that brutalist architecture is “unloved but not unlovely.”  Beyond the monolithic, opaque, concrete façades are buildings filled with drama, mystery, and strong civic focus. In the post­war building boom and leading up to the Centennial, grand and heroic ideals of civic welfare and cultural identity were translated into a new vision for Ottawa. The strong character of brutalist architecture embodied renewed hope, stability, and humanity. Ironically, today we tend to misread these buildings as imposing and inhuman “eyesores.”  

Understanding the values and ideals behind these plans and buildings helps us to question what went wrong when they became built realities instead of Utopian visions. The tour will explore a variety of examples of brutalist projects throughout Ottawa’s downtown core; major and minor, town and crown, public and private, built and unbuilt.   These include institutional civic projects (National Arts Centre, Main Library), the federal civil service (DND), commercial and corporate development, and major urban plans for renewal, infrastructure and beautification (canal, Mackenzie King Bridge).

Photo credit: Chris Cormier

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