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The Worst of Saskatoon

When we moved to Saskatoon in the mid-80s, there was a magazine called Western Living that we received and it listed the Sturdy Stone Centre as one of the ugliest buildings in Western Canada (Moose Jaw’s crushed can was also on that list).   I am not a big fan of brutalist architecture either downtown or elsewhere in the city (the same firm designed the College of Education building) and the Sturdy Stone Centre falls into that category.

Study Stone Centre in Saskatoon

Of course it isn’t Saskatoon’s only example of bad brutalistic architecture.  The Federated Co-operatives Building rivals it, concrete block by concrete block.

The Federated Co-operative Building in Saskatoon

It was built during the great window shortage of the 1970s.  I couldn’t find out who the architect was but who would want windows facing the riverbank anyways?  It takes bland architecture to a whole new level.  Two sides without windows, no distinguishing features, it kind of defines a new kind of architecture, prairie brutalist.

Every city has their own examples of it.  I remember when I first saw Boston’s City Hall and I thought to myself, how did that thing get here and why has it not been demolished?  In Liverpool there is the Metropolitan Cathedral, in New York there is the Port Authority Bus Terminal and in Toronto, there is the famous Fort Book, a library so inviting that it was used for exterior shots of the prison setting in Resident Evil: Afterlife.  

Holiday Inn SaskatoonMy point in all of this is to show what happens when a city doesn’t have or take it’s own design guidelines seriously.  While the Study Stone Centre does have street life aspects incorporated into it, the Federated Co-op building does not.  When these are absent or ignored (like the city is doing in the warehouse district), you get left with cold impersonal buildings that are defined more by parking lots rather than what they contribute to city life.  I keep thinking the city has learned it’s lesson but then again by looking at some of the latest developments take form, maybe not.

The truth is that a city is the one that creates it’s architectural ethos.  Years ago I was in Chicago when strongman Mayor Richard Daly threatened to halt new developments unless the architecture improved and met city guidelines.  When I was in Toronto and I wandered through the Allen Lambert Galleria, which came as a result of the city of Toronto’s public art requirements.  Even Martinsville has a neighbourhood with some architectural controls in it (must have stucco).  A city can lay down standards and expect that they are followed. 

Allen Lambert Galleria

A quick look at 275 2nd Avenue South shows that not only can projects meet city design guidelines, they can surpass them (in this case going for LEED Gold Certification).  A decade ago the city was desperate for new development but things have changed and how we handle the prosperity will shape the city for decades if not longer.  Is the next 75 years going to be dominated by buildings sitting on parking garages or something better?

One Comment

  1. Bert Lang says:

    Study Stone: 8 levels of parking, 3 of offices. But lets get the city to match. Lets paint all the monstrosities bright blue to match the theatre. We’ll be terrorist proof. They’ll think we’ve already been hit

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