The concrete architecture of a few decades ago, once lauded, is now mostly viewed with scorn. Before we tear it down, we should consider what will be lost. (Kubo, Pasnik, & Grimley, 2010, Tough Love: In Defense of Brutalism. Architect: The magazine of the American Institute of Architects)
The Lamar Law Center, constructed in 1977 to house the University of Mississippi’s new law school, was designed in the brutalist style by Jernigan, Hawkins, & Harrison, Principals, and assisted by Brewer, Godbold, & Associates (Mississippi Department of Archives and History/Historic Resources Inventory database).
The Bauhaus-style building…represented a departure from the red brick and columns of the Greek Revival style… (law.olemiss.edu/about/history/)
‘Ya think? (Note: the new Khayat law school completed in 2011 reversed right back into red brick and columns of the Greek Revival style). The old Lamar Law Center will undergo renovation to convert spaces to classrooms, add elevators and stairs in the center of the building, work to the windows of the upper floors, and new electrical and mechanical. According to the Daily Mississippian interview with Ian Banner, it is scheduled for spring 2013, at a cost of approximately 7 million.
There have been various speculations as to what, if anything, would be done to alter the facade of the building. I just have one thing to say about that: Please, oh please, don’t. Ontario Architecture defined Brutalism (1960-1970) as
a response to the glass curtain wall that was overtaking institutional and commercial architecture in the 1960s…the design of the building is largely dependent on the shape and placement of the various room masses.
Kubo, et al. ( 2010) suggested that Brutalism was a “terrible label” that implied the buildings were designed “with bad intentions” when that was far from the case. Referring to the Brutalism ethic, Reyner Banham noted:
…one meant to reveal the messy realities of construction and building systems, and to forge a new honesty about architecture and its role within the postwar era’s broader social and urban transformations…buildings tried to be rugged and direct…
Kubo, et al., called Brutalism Heroic, and an example of an era’s ideals, authentic and noble and dignified. As I learn to appreciate beauty as also form and intent, not just columns and cornices, I see the authenticity, nobility, and dignity in the Lamar Law Center–one that I hope is preserved as it is, and not varnished over. The heaviness of the building itself is elevated and lifted by the placement of the rooms with glass surrounds at the top of the anchoring corners. Call me a hopeless romantic, but the lines and angles, massive size, embedded partially underground, yet jutting out at heights, seems symbolic of what the law is meant to be–albeit not always what it is. What was the heroic, authentic, and noble purpose represented in the building design? Perhaps it was nothing more than the move to embrace a new urbanism, brief though it was.
The important thing is ensuring the renovation keeps the character and integrity of the building in tact. I can’t imagine anything worse than a Brutalist building with Greek columns and red brick facade.
Why repeat the cycle of destroying what we might appreciate with a longer historical lens? Cities should be layered with the intentions of different eras; erasure is nearly always a mistake.