• 2015-05-02 Ottawa Brutalism 036b


seminar title What’s (not) so brutal about brutalism?

It 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 abstract, technically
efficient, and impersonal nature of modernism was too closely tied to war. 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 ideals. Is brutalism more than an architectural style?
How does architectural style intersect with architectural intentions? Does architecture have to
be beautiful? How do architectural trends rise and fall?
The tour will explore these questions and debates through a variety of examples of brutalist
projects throughout the downtown core—major and minor, town and crown, public and
private, built and unbuilt. The tour includes institutional civic projects, the growing federal civil service,
commercial and corporate development, and major urban plans for renewal,
infrastructure and beautification.
profilepic_GelbardAbout your tour guide: Sarah Gelbard is a city girl. Trained as an architect 
and currently pursuing a PhD in urban planning, she is interested in both how 
we shape our cities and how our cities shape us. Her research focuses on 
alternative communities and the re-­appropriation of space. Sarah is co-­director
of yowLAB, an Ottawa­-based architecture and design ideas lab and community
 network. She is one of two writers behind UrbSanity, a monthly column 
published in the Centretown Buzz and Spacing Ottawa. To shake off some of the
academic weight, Sarah is a partner and designer with the urban art practice
Impromptu Playground.
Further details:
Meeting place: National Arts Centre (53 Elgin St), by the Oscar Peterson statue
Post­-walk venue: The Backdrop
Duration: 90 min + 60 minutes conversation over refreshments
Total distance covered: approx 2.5 km
Ease of terrain: flat terrain, some stairs
Accessibility: alternative route available to accommodate wheelchair accessibility, please ask
Note that Sarah is also able to offer this tour on demand to larger groups (10-20 people). Please get in touch with us at
info@ottawadetours.ca for more information about this option.
  • walking seminar guide - What’s (not) so brutal about brutalism?
  • availability - irregular; see booking app for specific dates
  • meeting place - National Arts Centre (53 Elgin St), by the Oscar Peterson statue
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