Happy Birthday, Robarts Library: Canada's best bit of brutalism is 40

Robarts in bloom
CC BY 2.0 Lloyd Alter/ Robarts in Bloom

Brutalist architecture is not very popular these days. The concrete in them has barely cured through, yet they are under threat everywhere. They are solidly built; tearing them down is a difficult job and a huge waste of energy, both embodied and in the process of demolition. Some people even say that they were designed to intimidate; at Slate they recently asked Were Brutalist Buildings on College Campuses Really Designed to Thwart Student Riots?

Toronto's Robarts Library, 40 years old today, elicits a different response. On Spacing, Shawn Micallef writes:

The more time I spend in you, the more I like you. 40 years of watching over the U of T campus and withstanding the grumps and grumbles of undergrads and grads, all while keep their books safe and providing so many dozens of nooks and crannies to do some deep thinking, is something. A lesser city would have torn you down by now during your years of unfashionability. But now you’re middle aged and ready for some respect.

roens/CC BY 2.0

I like it too, and have used the same photo to illustrate three different stories on TreeHugger:

RIP Danforth Toan, Architect of Brutalist Libraries

On the death of the architect of the Robarts Library's architect (in partnership with Mathers and Haldenby) I looked at the architect and his work. More

The Architecture Lover's Manifesto

On changing tastes in architecture, where Dave LeBlanc writes:

While I may think the University of Toronto's Robarts Library [photo above] is ugly, I will endeavour to understand why other people like it. I will remind myself that there was a time when E.J. Lennox's Old City Hall was considered ugly and expendable too.

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On The Case For Saving Ugly Buildings

On the issue of architectural taste, where I wrote:

I am rather fond of the Robarts Library in Toronto. I have happy memories of chaining myself to its doors when it opened, in our successful campaign for undergrad stack access. Vines have grown to cover the lower levels, softening it a bit. I like the juxtaposition of it and the classic Newman house in the foreground.

I related it to the whole issue of architectural preservation.

It's not about cute or ugly, it is about making use of what we have instead of just throwing everything away because somebody is tired of it. In that light, the Robarts Library looks more beautiful every day.

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See also Alex Bozikovic in the Toronto Standard on keeping it fresh and up to date.

Tags: Preservation | Toronto