Check out my piece in the latest issue of Utah Planner

Utah Planner 2015-7.pub
The front cover of the October/November 2015 issue of Utah Planner.

I’m happy to note that my October 2013 blog post entitled “Collegiate brutal: Why brutalist-style buildings are so common on American college campuses” is a featured article in the latest issue of Utah Planner, the newsletter of the Utah chapter of the American Planning Association.

In the piece I highlighted a recent article by J. Bryan Lowder at Slate about brutalism’s rise as the architecture of choice at many colleges and universities across the United States, including my own, the University of Utah and its College of Architecture and Planning (CA+P). Mr. Lowder dispelled the myth that such buildings—characterized in part by heavy use of concrete and few windows—were built to thwart student riots in a time of social unrest. Rather, Slate reports, the reason was much more mundane: buildings made of concrete are much, much cheaper. Yet it also helped universities look like they were taking modernity head-on.

In relating it to my own experience in Utah, I said that I actually had some affection for the CA+P’s home in the brutalist Art and Architecture Building. “It always reminded me of the gatehouse of a medieval castle. It was dark, with most daylight blocked out in much of the building, the recessed incandescents effecting the faint glow of torches,” I wrote. But I also admitted that I may have been alone in my affection. I concluded: “University administrators were looking after the bottom line a little more than they were looking to quell student aspirations. Though, as any student who has taken classes in a cold, colorless, concrete brutalist building may tell you, they may have succeeded in doing that, too.”

Read the original post on my blog, and check out the October/November 2015 issue of Utah Planner below (my piece is actually on page 11, not page 12 as the cover states).

Why does everyone hate SLC’s new courthouse?

 

This 10-story building is dominating the southern end of Salt Lake City’s skyline—and also, apparently, dinnertime conversations in Utah’s capital. (Photo by brackenm via Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

Why does everyone hate the new federal courthouse in Utah’s capital, The Salt Lake Tribune asks. Everyone, that is, except architects, who are patting each other on the back over the building’s “envelope-pushing” “aspirational aesthetic” (whatever that’s supposed to mean).

But perhaps the funniest part of this article? This line: “The 10-story glass structure … sits on the corner of 400 South and West [T]emple, dominating the southern end of the skyline.” Funny that (a) a 10-story building could “dominate” anything, much less a skyline, and (b) that the southern end of the skyline is just four blocks from the northern end of it.

Read more
Why all the hate for Salt Lake City’s new federal courthouse?
by Jim Dalrymple II
The Salt Lake Tribune, 19 April 2014

Collegiate brutal: Why brutalist-style buildings are so common on American college campuses

My first day as a student at the University of Utah, I passed through heavy wooden doors and entered the labyrinthine complex of corridors and classrooms where future architects and urban planners learned their craft. It always reminded me of the gatehouse of a medieval castle. It was dark, with most daylight blocked out in much of the building, the recessed incandescents effecting the faint glow of torches. The bare concrete and brick walls were always cold to the touch; it may have been dank were it not for a modern climate-control system. I rather liked it, though I may have been alone in my affection.

Angular, heavy, austere, concrete brutalist buildings are a hallmark of college campuses in the United States. Rare is the campus without at least one of them; rarer still is the one that doesn’t inspire a considerable amount of derision in modern eyes. But why do American universities have so many brutalist buildings?

The reason most commonly given—to prevent student riots and occupations—is in all likelihood an urban legend, writes Slate’s J. Bryan Lowder:

Many campus Brutalist projects were planned (if not totally completed) before the student movements of the late ’60s and early ’70s really took off, so crafty administrators would have to have been very prescient to foresee the countercultural-quashing usefulness of any particular style.

In fact, Mr. Lowder points out, “the philosophy behind Brutalism—which was developed in the ’50s and early ’60s, again well before the student rebellions began—was directly opposed to repression and control, a detail which makes the style’s later association with totalitarianism all the more ironic.”

The real reasons? First, it was modern and vogue, eagerly adopted by universities anxious to “demonstrate their modernity bona fides.” Second, “building in concrete was way, way cheap.”

So, there you have it. University administrators were looking after the bottom line a little more than they were looking to quell student aspirations. Though, as any student who has taken classes in a cold, colorless, concrete brutalist building may tell you, they may have succeeded in doing that, too.

Read more
“Were Brutalist Buildings on College Campuses Really Designed to Thwart Student Riots?” by J. Bryan Lowder
Slate, 18 October 2013

Photo: The Art and Architecture Building at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City. Image by Paul Richer/Richer Images via the University of Utah.