We have Walter Netsch to thank for UIC’s dreary architecture. Netsch, a Chicago-based architect, was part of the brutalist architectural movement that was en vogue from the 1950s to the 1970s. The term “brutalism” comes from the French “béton brut”, which means “raw concrete”. While Brutalist architecture frequently utilized concrete; brick, glass, and steel, among other materials, were also used. Brutalist buildings are often “unpolished” in appearance; they reveal their function through their form. Interior elements are sometimes exposed externally; the grid on the exterior of UH is a good example of this—its internal structure is visible from the outside, rather than covered over by a facade. As a result, we can see the support beams.
Perhaps surprisingly, Brutalist architecture is associated with utopian thinking, though many have criticized it for its dreariness and “unfriendliness”. It was originally supposed to appear “integrating and protective”, though in practice, Brutalist buildings are often intimidating and unwelcoming. Brutalist architecture is associated with a UK effort to design affordable public housing, though many of the buildings used for public housing were not conducive to strong community, and thus many of the communities were overtaken by crime. In addition to use in the construction of public housing, Brutalist architecture was also used on the campuses of many American and international universities, including all of UIC’s East Campus. Other Brutalist universities include: the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, parts of the University of California-Irvine, the Ryerson University Library in Toronto, University of California-San Diego’s Geisel Library, and numerous other campus libraries and centers.
Big names in Brutalism, aside from Walter Netsch, were Erno Goldfinger, Alison and Peter Smithson, and Sir Denys Lasdun, Paul Rudolph, Ralph Rapson, Clorindo Testa, and others.