Wednesday 29 August 2012

Brutalist Bunker in Board-and-Batten

Ask any local and they'll tell you that the colonial townsite of Niagara-on-the-Lake "has charm coming out of its arse". The most historic part of what was once Upper Canada, there have been buildings on this site for two hundred years. So naturally as soon as I arrived in town I had to do a survey of the town's architecture. Ignoring the colonial, I went straight for the late modern, of course.

First up, the acknowledged masterpiece of Ron Thom's 1973 Festival Theater. According to the website Ron Thom House for Sale - "Thom liked to set his buildings so that people could come across a house in the trees – from above or below – but not be able to see all of it. A low-hipped cedar shake roof floats over the cedar and cement block base. Glass meets glass and corner windows vanish into thin air. The house reflects Ron Thom’s admiration for the designs of both Frank Lloyd Wright, and Richard Neutra."

Although Thom's idiom is nominally west coast (think Arthur Erickson) his execution at Shaw has more in common with Soviet Block Eastmodern.
Hiding in shame

Look ma, no windows
Well guess what. Thom didn't design some west coast cedar gem nestled into a hillside. Thom plunked down a late modern brick pile, all planes and geometry and completely absent glass meets glass. With absolutely nothing of human scale to the place, Thom's Festival Theater shows an insular cultural insensitivity that's remarkable for a town that has only one business- staging early modern plays!
Welcome humans - sorry there's no windows. Or door.

The only inviting vista - entering via the rear

At almost the other end of Queen Street is another inexplicable intersecting planes piece of Trudeau-era optimism - the Canada Post outlet. It's not merely insensitive to the 200 year old buildings that surround it. It reminds us that the Feds do what they want, where they want. No municipal ordinance holds sway for them. This charming institution even has a name - Property Number:61768. And its own website.

No shame

Speaking of own website, here's the Campbell Scott house. Campbell was an early cultural influence on me – he taught me woodworking (along with a generation of students at St Catharines Collegiate Institute and Vocational School). It's sad to know he has recently passed away (February, 2016).

I've saved the best for last. Some clever Johnny or Joan managed to sit at a drafting table and foist a Brutal School Bandshell on the governors of Simcoe Park. This foreboding silhouette "illustrates typical Brutalist characteristics such as top-heavy massing and the appearance of a bunker-like structure."

To me it's too funny. Usually a brutalist building is concrete gravured with the texture of the wood forms in which it was cast. Here, they just nailed together the wood form. Way to cut out the middleman.

A flying apron?!

Up next - Post Modernism in Colonial Williamsburg.

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