Does anything say ‘brutalism’ better than the Vancouver Masonic Centre on West 8th just off Granville?  It gets a bad rap in part because the only part really visible is the back, as seen from West 7th:

The front is in the modified Vancouver brutalist style of the 70s: disguised to the point of invisibility with landscaping.  (Wouldn’t you love to have read the architect’s rationale for this building in 1974 by Underwood McKinley Cameron Wilson & Smith?)

These buildings do present a dilemma for preservationists: they’re so hard to love even though they very much represent the style and ideology of the times.  The centre actually has a C heritage rating.*
Take a last look, though – it’s coming down, to be replaced by a four-storey masonic hall and an 18-storey secured rental tower, designed by SHAPE Architecture. 

*It’s a serious question: what brutalist building should we preserve to have a record of those times?  Nominate your favoured one in Comments.


  1. Well, that’s the thing. Even though lots of people hate Brutalist architecture, there was a time when Victorian houses were hated and Brutalist was loved.
    Tastes are like that.
    I don’t have any favourites to nominate. I suppose some have practical useful elements in their design. That would be what I would look for. (Like pockets in a collection of ugly coats.)

    1. I suspect that Victorian houses weren’t hated for their architecture but for the impossibility of heating them at a time of expensive energy. So they became undesirable and eventually the architecture was associated with the lack of practical value and avoided.
      Locally they were replaced with various iterations of the Vancouver Special which had a high volume to surface ratio and simple forms that are easier to heat. Brutalist architecture often has the same (lack of) features. Ugly becomes acceptable, even desirable, if you can’t afford beautiful. It explains a lot about the way we’ve built and the way we’ve built our cities.
      I was hoping for more than self-promotion in the “Fight for Beauty” exhibit. There’s a lot of potential for discussion.
      (Don’t get me wrong. I like minimalist architecture too. But it should feel inviting.)

    1. They kinda cheated, though – brutalism is supposed to NOT be painted over, in order to show the “beauty” of rain-stained naked concrete.

  2. I’ve always wondered why, with the exception of the Hamilton Ontario Masonic Center ( and a few other big city Ontario lodges, nearly every Masonic Lodge in Canada seems to be ugly, uninspired, and bereft of architectural thought or talent.
    Surely a group founded by “men of outstanding character and high ideals, who built the cathedrals, abbeys, and castles of the Middle Ages,” should be creating structures of beauty and elegance, not the dowdy wood frame boxes that typify Mason Halls.

    1. I agree. They totally could have made an A-frame building with a V shaped entrance and then the building would look like their logo.

    2. One thing is the needed large windowless spaces as their ornate assembly rooms. I know this because we used to take Royal Conservatory of Music exams actually in the Masonic halls. The Vancouver rooms were two or three strokes high inside. Not sure why the rest of the building was so lame.
      I have a bit of nostalgia for the now demolished admin building at the corner of University Boulevard and Westbrook at UBC. It was an utterly ridiculous waste of space with enormous open overhangs and a hunge central staircase so there was very little actual office space. At least the Masonic temple was a big square floor space maximizing box.

  3. As I recall, this building was constructed during the Barrett era, when I was working for the Bc Attorney General’s department. It was built for the Integrated Crime Coordination Unit with the intent of being impenetrable to bugging through windows. Or maybe break-ins by bad guys.
    I’m not sure when the Masons moved in.

  4. Pretty much any brutalist design by Erikson.
    One building that always stuck in my mind is the Klinck building at UBC. It’s quite the mishmash of brutalist and institutional styles, with an offset entrance that makes wayfinding a bother, and a patched up facade. Quite ugly, but it always seemed fitting, typifying the practical ethos of the building’s users, starting with applied science, then civil engineering and today computer science.

  5. Forget the buildings. Brutalism is alive and well, but our typical examples are elsewhere:,-123.1034763,3a,75y,133.55h,97.82t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1ssjEMlyynFG-cqok88NQzIQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656?hl=en
    Ok, that one is not long for this earth. This is the future:,-123.0023252,3a,75y,76h,116.66t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1slaIgTx7J4jDOWx2PgADTHQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656?hl=en
    The second example won an award from the Architectural Institute of BC as recently as 2004. It does look beautiful from above, but the parts that everyone sees – shown here, and the mezzanine – are, well, brutal.
    Of course there is also every parking garage ever.

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