Building thoughts

An architectural comparison between Britain and Queen’s

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The architecture at Queen’s is a mishmash of shockingly brutalist and older limestone buildings that give Queen’s its straight-from-a-college-movie feel.

This sense, that the buildings at Queen’s are based more on the fantastical world of Hollywood than a real-world university campus, is heightened by one of the more famous Queen’s buildings: Herstmonceux Castle.

I was lucky enough to spend my first year at our English campus. The 15th century castle is an architectural work of significance. It was the largest family home and the largest brick building in England at the time it was built.

The countryside around the Castle is dotted with English cottages — ivy-covered and much more squat than the houses I was used to back home in Canada.

The most striking difference between Canadian houses and British ones was the ubiquitous lichen on the roofs in rainy England.

In London, however, the real differences between Canadian and British architecture became clear.

The National Gallery in London is a striking example of the old-style co-existing with the new. The newest wing of the gallery, the Sainsbury Wing, was built in post-modern style.

One of the defining elements of post-modern architecture is its emphasis on playing with the design elements that surround it.

The new wing has a large rotund, almost comically squat pillar, a riff on the classical pillars that adorn the front of the main wing of the National Gallery.

This sort of architectural synergy isn’t the norm at Queen’s, nor really in Canada at all. Throughout my time in Kingston, I’ve heard countless people complain about Jeffrey Hall, nicknamed “the bunker” by some of my professors, as well as the awkward layout of Mackintosh-Corry Hall.

These buildings, along with others such as Watson Hall, were obviously designed much later than the rest of campus.

These building are examples of an architectural style called brutalism. They’re meant to stand out and surprise viewers.

Watson Hall was the first building constructed on campus not dressed in limestone.

Not only is Watson’s concrete exterior a surprise, but anyone that has tried to enter Watson from University Ave. will muse that it was built without any regard to its surroundings.

Both the front and back entrances face away from this main road. This is a pattern with most of the brutalist buildings on campus.

These buildings can make Queen’s seem un-cohesive, lacking a comprehensive architectural plan. This seems to be the way in North America. Instead, the post-modernism I saw in England plays on elements of the surrounding buildings, while staying modern and fresh.

North American contemporary architecture doesn’t try and fit in with the old, but rather creates an entirely new aesthetic that layers itself on the landscape.

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