My editor has called Buchanan Tower “the barnacle on UBC’s architectural face.” He’s far from alone.
Buchanan Tower is a grey, miserable mass of concrete that looks Stalinist on a good day. Any arts student unfortunate enough to cross its lobby usually comes here to barter or argue with a professor, adding to the building’s murky malaise. Its interior is drab. It’s brutal. It’s lifeless and dull.
It’s also not built for your convenience.
Buchanan Tower, like many of UBC’s older buildings, was built in the course of the 1970s as part of the brutalist movement. Brutalism did not aim to make structures appealing to the eye but to incarnate functionality. Brutalist buildings are typically huge, menacing and ascetic in their simplicity.
And there’s a certain beauty in that.
Buchanan Tower isn’t pretty. It’s not furnished with the expensive tastes of the Nest or as modern and sleek as Sauder.
It’s not meant to be. Buchanan Tower was built for a minimal cost to pursue an optimal function, full stop. The tower is easy to navigate, houses hundreds of offices for its various faculty and will probably stand longer than some of the new buildings being raised on campus.
Just as a knight in shining armour has never seen battle, a building obsessed with its looks might ultimately lose its own purpose. For all of the money invested, the Nest’s Great Hall is a sorry excuse for a gathering space: the design of the space means traffic is constantly flowing through it, making it an inconvenient place to meet or host events. For all your ire, Buchanan Tower does its job.
You might contend that good architecture should look good too. Take another look at the tower and ask yourself what you feel. Disgust? Anger? Is that it?
Or is there not something alien, something oddly fascinating about this giant mass of concrete? It doesn’t need to install a set of framed windows and invest hundreds of dollars in chairs and internal furnishing to do its job. It is what it is.
In a world of gaudy excesses, is that not in the least refreshing?
Its beauty comes from austerity, not aesthetics. In short, this building doesn’t care what you think about it.
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