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Building Styles

Brutalism (1960 - 1970)

-- Brutalist Architecture

-- -- London----- Toronto---- Erindale------Brantford---- Guelph

Brutalism was a response to the glass curtain wall that was overtaking institutional and commercial architecture in the 1960s. The style originated in England but was quickly introduced to Ontario as it afforded an attractive and relatively inexpensive solution to weather and climate control conditions in large buildings, as well as a finish that was less vulnerable to vandalism. The 1960s and 1970s were years of great expansion in universities and public buildings, and this is where the Brutalist style is most often found. The development of béton brut, a concrete with no formal finish, was intrinsically linked

to this style. When the formwork is lifted from the poured concrete, the rough, naturally textured surface is the final finish. The amount of texture on the surface is dependent upon the amount of texture on the formwork. The smooth texture of glass for windows and doors forms an attractive contrast. Most windows in Brutalist buildings do not open and the buildings are thoroughly climate- controlled. The design of the building is largely dependant on the shape and placement of the various room masses. Outlines are quite intricate and exterior walkways are emphasized.

Click Hotpoints for descriptions of terms in both text and images.


The Weldon Library at the University of Western Ontario is typical of Brutalist architecture. The rounded corner stair towers provide end balance for five horizontal bands of béton brut concrete. The only ornament are three vertical "stripes" in the concrete.

The lower levels have a variety of box-like forms projecting along an irregular plan, all in windowless poured concrete. The door is simple and not a focal point of the design. The door surround is functional with no historicizing detail. The interior surfaces of the building are also poured concrete.

Brutalist Library

London Ontario


Brutalist houses are relatively rare. While many people are happy to work in a modern International or Brutalist office, the majority of people want to go home to a cozy Classical house.

Like the Prairie school clients, the people who commissioned Brutalist houses were interested in a new attitude to residences and were almost exclusively after something clean, maintenance free, and with all the modern conveniences. This house has a band of horizontal windows in steel frames. The rest is poured concrete with a smooth surface. The building is a series of inter-connecting blocks in a manicured garden.

Brutalist House

Toronto Ontario


Patterned concrete gives an interesting texture to this building in downtown Toronto.

Brutalist University

Toronto Ontario


The John P. Robarts Research Library in Toronto, built in 1973, is one of the best-known examples of the Brutalist style.

Much of the first two floors is completely windowless, as are the support piers. These all have béton brut concrete finishes. The light enters the building through recessed lightwells and narrow, vertical windows. There is a medieval quality to the building with the massive towers and projecting bays. The building is obviously climate and humidity- controlled, which is perfect for storing books and periodicals. The building was designed by Warner, Burns, Toan and Lunde.

Brutalist Library

Toronto Ontario


Another educational building, Erindale College is part of the University of Toronto. It has gold tinted windows that contrast effectively with the poured concrete. There are a large parapet and discrete columns separating the bays of windows. A large windowless tower completes the façade. It has vertical patterning like fluting but no windows or accesses. Like many Brutalist buildings, the garden space is almost exclusively green and relatively maintenance-free as opposed to the Queen Anne or Suburban styles that have colourful gardens.

Brutalist University

Erindale Ontario


Here is a much larger complex that is virtually all concrete, with liberal use of béton brut concrete finishes. There are very few windows, and those that are evident are recessed. The tower in the foreground is ovalesque, but all the remainder is a complex mass of interlocking rectangular shapes complemented by the walkways and landscaping.

Brutalist Library

Brantford Ontario


University residences are a perfect application for the Brutalist style because there is such a rapid turnover of tenants; the building is relatively impermeable. Tall evergreens help to make it an attractive setting. Notice how the overpass has no visible windows whatsoever. The elevator tower is similarly stark, but looks as good as the day it was erected.

Brutalist Library

Guelph Ontario

Brutalism Extra Reading


Blumenson, John. Ontario Architecture A Guide to Styles and Terms. 1978

Boorstin, Daniel, The Creators, Random House, New York, 1992

Pendergrast, Mark . Mirror Mirror, A History of the Human Love Affair with Reflection. Basic Books, New York, 2003

For information on Art Deco architecture in specific areas within Ontario there are some very good books listed under the About page.


The Thin Man - Myrna Loy




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