Culture //

Finding beauty in Brutal-ity

Patricia Arcilla defends the Wilkinson Building.

Illustration by Aimy Nguyen

You can only use one utensil for the rest of your life, and the options are a smooth, coloured, FroYo spoon, and a heavy, sharp, 500-creative-ways-to-injure-yourself Swiss Army Knife.

Which do you choose?

Why, you ask, is Honi posing such a thought experiment? While the answer is regrettably not ‘a sponsorship deal with Victorinox’, it is related to two unfortunately common questions.

“Why is the Wilkinson building so ugly?”

“Isn’t it ironic that the architecture building is the ugliest on campus?”

Responses— delivered in sighs and brittle tones by architecture students wearied of these very questions— generally fall into one of two categories: denial, or a vague defence of, “Well… it’s Brutalist.” Neither of these is particularly helpful in dispelling the mischaracterisation of Wilkinson as the campus eyesore, nor do they do any service to the reality of its character.

Just as the spoon— undeniably aesthetically approachable— is disposable and one-note, the Swiss Army Knife is multifunctional and virtually indestructible, qualities which undoubtedly atone for any aesthetic shortcomings.

Such, in short, is Brutalism.

The angularity of Wilkinson’s concrete facade is axiomatically Brutal(ist), making neither attempt at conformity nor apology for this fact. In achieving the Brutalist triumvirate of strength, functionality, and frugality, Wilkinson is, on campus, nonpareil. The building has stood since 1960 and subsequently produced successive classes of architecture graduates. It endured largely untouched, barring its expansion in 1976 to its current state. Brutalist buildings outlive the time of their construction and amble indefinitely into the future. In an era of environmental and economic sustainability, Wilkinson’s flat concrete exterior requires little maintenance and accords a pleasant interior climate with minimal air conditioning intervention (functional windows installed in abundance).

It is in exemplifying functionality, however, that Wilkinson holds its major drawcard: equipped— not unlike the Swiss Army Knife— with an almost alarming range of functionalities. Wood workshops, darkroom, computer labs, printers, art gallery, popup bar, lecture theatres, and studios— the list goes on. There’s even a well-stocked coffee kiosk for those weighing the #cleaneating cool points of Pressed Juices against those of gluten-free snacks.

Returning thus to the question of spoon or Swiss Army Knife, the answer is incontrovertibly the latter. 314 functions and counting, bottle opener reassuringly constant between incarnations; this is more than the alternative can say. For once the sweetness of the FroYo is gone, all you’re really left with is a sour aftertaste and a spoon.

Vice Chancellor Michael Spence.

Michael Spence

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