East Village from Bow Valley College
Judith Umbach Photograph Collection, JU 030518-4
By now you know I am passionate about my adopted neighbourhood. I love the East Village and I am so excited about the developments that are taking place down here. You have all probably heard that our new Central Library will be down here in the Village and I saw on the news today that Bow Valley College had purchased the old Calgary Catholic Board of Education building which is just across 6th Avenue from us. This is yet another expression of the optimism that many Calgarians feel for the future of this area.
The Calgary Catholic School District building is relatively new, in heritage terms, but it does carry a great deal of sentiment. It was built in 1967 to commemorate the country’s centennial. A few years later, to celebrate the city’s centennial 10,000 students were asked to make terra cotta tiles. These were mounted on an obelisk that stands on the grounds of the building. The CSSD has indicated that they will be preserving and moving the obelisk. The CSSD building has been at the centre of some debate as it is one of the few surviving examples of brutalist architecture in Calgary. Other examples include the building’s neighbor, the Calgary Board of Education building, and the former planetarium (Telus World of Science). The Catholic School District building was a part of an earlier attempt to revitalize the east end of Calgary, a process called “urban renewal” (which is nearly a swear word in the heritage community.) Many buildings of historical interest went down to build these brutalist beauties and now they, themselves face the wrecking ball. But it is ever thus. What is seen now, as an eyesore – as were many of the old houses in the east end (as the area was known) may be viewed differently in the future.
The talk now of brutalist architecture raises some of these same questions. Brutalism lives up to its name because it is quite brutal on the eyes – no one could argue that these concrete structures are traditionally beautiful. In fact, it was the brutalist style that Prince Charles was referring to when he said, “You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe: when it knocked down our buildings it did not replace them with anything more offensive than rubble. We did that.” It is hard to generate love for something that is unattractive – think pandas versus gila monsters – but it is something we must consider when we are looking at buildings. If you are interested in brutalism you can find good books on architectural styles in the library catalogue by searching “architectural styles” in the general search. If you’re particularly interested in Calgary’s buildings, you can search “Calgary architecture”. And if you’d like to see some of Calgary’s brutalist architecture up close and personal, the Calgary Heritage Initiative is going to be holding another “Brutal Bus Tour” in November. Check out their website for more information.