Name: Sarah Gelbard
Date: May 08, 2016
Time: 12:30 PM
Duration: 1.5 hr
Language: English
Start: Oscar Peterson statue at the NAC (Albert & Elgin)
End: World Exchange Plaza (Albert & Metcalfe)
Area: Centretown
Distance: 2.0 km

The walk will include steps to access the NAC terraces and walking through alleys and into building lobbies.  

Brutal Ottawa: Architecture's concrete utopias



Photo:  Exterior surface, NAC

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, and will end at the World Exchange Plaza at Albert & Metcalfe Sts.

If arriving by bike, please lock up your bike. Bike parking is available in the NAC garage, Confederation Park, or outside the Main Library. 


Sarah is a graduate of Carleton Architecture program and currently pursuing a PhD in urban planning at McGill. She is interested in how we shape our cities and how our cities shape us. Sarah is co-­director of yowLAB, Ottawa editor of Spacing, tour leader for Ottawa (de)Tours, and one of two writers behind the monthly column UrbSanity in the Centretown Buzz

You can visit the yowLAB blog at