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Why FM's Architectural Expert Likes Weldon

Mike McLean, Planning, Design & Project Administration, Facilities Management, mmclea26@uwo.ca
Brandon Watson, Communications Officer, Facilities Management, bwatso5@uwo.ca




In honour of Weldon Library's 40th birthday, Western's architectural expert, Mike McLean (Manager, Planning, Design & Project Administration) shares his thoughts on this controversial building.

Think about it - for forty years, Weldon has been a place where students can relax, maybe study. It's a place where they can read whatever or surf the net - where they can take a nap, meet friends and have a coffee. It's a place where they can get help from the librarians or just get lost in the stacks.

This centralized student hub came in the late 1960's, during an era of substantial enrolment growth for Western. A plan was developed for infill of the central campus and abandoned the previous generations' commitment to the traditional Collegiate Gothic architectural theme. The new style ventured toward a sharply planed architecture, using concrete as a construction material.

This architectural style is called Brutalism. The term sounds better in French - "beton brut" which means raw concrete. But why Brutalism for Weldon Library? These heavy and angular, Brutalist buildings could be constructed quickly and economically. Common features include massive, sculptural shapes, rough, unfinished surfaces and striated concrete on the exterior.

Also, this style, which was prevalent from the 1950's to the 1970's, coincided with advances in what you could do with concrete. Pre-stressed, post-tensioned concrete - which was used throughout Weldon, along with standard reinforced concrete - allowed for longer clear spans, fewer beams, and more slender, dramatic elements. The castellated, or egg-crate design of the concrete ceiling on the main floor is a good example of this.

It's important to note as well, that the counterculture movement that dominated the second half of the 1960's inevitably had an influence on the architecture of the day. Many architects chose the Brutalist-style even when they had large budgets and the time to build, as they appreciated the 'honesty', the sculptural qualities, and perhaps, the uncompromising, anti-establishment nature of the style.

There is no question that Weldon Library does not fit in architecturally; however, it is one of the finest examples of Brutalist architecture in Ontario. This seemingly fortified structure is successful at breaking down its mass to a more pedestrian scale along Oxford Drive. It makes good use of its space by bringing in natural light and provides good public, communal space.


  Here and now, as much as when it was first built, Weldon has a unique sense of place. For forty years it has been a symbol of community and gathering for our students and I believe that will continue to be for decades more. At times Weldon is brimming with activity - I challenge you to come during exams and try to find a seat...

The "Brutal" Facts about Weldon

Important Dates
Design : 1967-1968
Ground Broken : October 1968
Dedicated : October 29, 1971
Date Stone/Time Capsule : November 30, 1972
Official Opening : June 1, 1972

Interior Space
Total area 237,093 sq. ft.

Awards
Concrete Institute of Canada Award

Architects for Building
Ronald E. Murphy of Murphy, Schuller, Green & Martin Architects, assisted by John Andrews of Toronto

Structural Engineers
Mech. & Elect. Engineers: Carruthers & Wallace M.M. Dillon Ltd.

General Contractor
Frid Construction Company Ltd.

1997/98 Renovations
Diamond Schmidt Architects

2002/2003 Addition of ARCC
Diamond Schmidt/Randy Wilson Architects

2006-2007 Single Service Desk
University Architect, Mr. Joe Dolezel.



Photography by MJ Idzerda




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