Brutalist Cover-Up at Acadia

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Do you hate the big concrete buildings of the 1960s and 70s, that were popular with governments and universities? Don’t be shy, probably most folks are not fond of these often dreary buildings, many suffering from 50 years without love (or maintenance).

Recently I’ve become comfortable with this style, often known as Brutalist, and can discern charm and whimsy in the most thoughtful examples. A few years ago I noticed one that appealed to me immediately, the 1972 Huggins Science Hall on the Acadia University Campus in Wolfville. In August 2013 I spent a few minutes snapping photos.

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The main facade combines order and restlessness. A concrete grid projects from the wall and appears to support a number of pods that randomly pop out of the building. The pods look a bit like shipping containers, but in 1972 our dreams of living in a container did not yet exist (the Halterm container port had opened just three years before).

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A deep channel between the floor levels gives the illusion that the building is a collection of stacked elements. The light was perfect for my snapshots.

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Depending on your frame of mind, you will cheer or weep, because last fall Acadia announced the Huggins would be renovated. Early concept illustrations show the concrete wrapped with more contemporary surfaces. This new shell allows the building to be heated and cooled in a more environmentally-sound fashion.

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Acadia University

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Acadia University

I’ll keep an open mind on the renovations but I’m glad to have had a good look at the original design before it gets covered up. You might want to take a look too.

Postscript

  • The building was named after Charles Huggins (class of 1920), a Nobel Prize winner for physiology and medicine in 1966.
  • You can read about the renovation project, that includes an Innovation Pavillion, here. The Feds are “investing” in the project and their announcement begins: “The Government of Canada’s Innovation Agenda aims to make this country a global centre for innovation . . .”  Whole lotta innovation going on.
  • In 1972 people might have recognized those projecting pods on the Huggins building as a nod to the much loved Habitat at Expo 67 in Montreal.
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The Guardian

  • A  present day building that does a tiny, unintentional hat tip to the Huggins is Southport on Barrington Street in Halifax.

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About the author

Stephen Archibald

It’s Stephen Archibald doing the noticing. I’m a huge fan of Nova Scotia’s material culture and cultural landscapes. Twitter (@Cove17 ) made me realize I could share what attracted my attention (perfect for my very short attention) and I’m gratified when folks enjoy my content. Pleased to meet you on the internet.

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