Brutal Ottawa: Architecture's Concrete Utopias

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 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 visions. The tour will explore a variety of examples of brutalist projects throughout Ottawa's downtown core; major and minor, town and crown, public and private, built and unbuilt.   These include institutional civic projects (National Arts Centre, Main Library), the federal civil service (DND), commercial and corporate development, and major urban plans for renewal, infrastructure and beautification (canal, Mackenzie King Bridge).


The tour will meet at the Oscar Peterson statue near the NAC, at the corner of Elgin & Albert Sts.  From there we'll visit a number of sites in the blocks within the area defined by the NAC & O'Connor St. and  Albert St. & Laurier Ave.   We'll end at the World Exchange Plaza at Albert & Metcalfe Sts.

Please review our covid guidelines before attending a walk.
About the walk leader

Sarah is a PhD candidate in urban planning at McGill and a graduate of Carleton Architecture. She is interested in how we shape our cities and how our cities shape us. 


Sarah Gelbard

Date:Sun May 8, 2022
Time:11:00 AM
Duration: 1 hour 30 min
Language: English
Start:Oscar Peterson statue (Albert & Elgin Sts.)
End:World Exchange Plaza (Albert & Metcalfe Sts)
Distance:2.0 kms

The walk will climb the stairs to the NAC terraces.

The original NAC façade as seen from Elgin St. (2009). The new 'lantern' feature on the NAC reduces the Brutalist aspect of its architectural style. The Ottawa Public Library Main Branch, Metcalfe & Laurier Sculpture on the NAC terrace.  Note the contrast between the NAC brutalist style and the French Chatêau styleLord Elgin in the background. Sarah Gelbard, leading her walk on Brutalism for Heritage Ottawa, July 2018.
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