One of Canada’s oldest galleries and the third largest in the country, the Art Gallery of Hamilton used to look a lot different. Before a renovation by renowned Hamilton-born architect Bruce Kuwabara, it was another finite piece of Brutalist architecture in the city.
Designed in 1969 by the firm of Trevor Garwood-Jones and completed in 1977, the AGH was part of the Civic Square Project, an urban renewal scheme that was sweeping Downtown Hamilton. The building is connected to Hamilton Place (completed in 1972) and the soon to be Convention Centre and Ellen Fairclough Building (1981) via the elevated Commonwealth Square.
Like Hamilton Place, the Art Gallery was gothic-inspired with buttresses of insitu and bush hammered concrete.
For some, brutalism can be a difficult style to understand or even appreciate, but it’s a style that can evoke emotions and provide a lot of panache, and a style where concrete forms are stretched to their full plasticity.
The courtyard of reflecting pools, wooden lampposts, and seating, created a unique experience for visitors and the terrace with its pyramidal glass canopy was a pleasant touch of interior/exterior space.
It wasn’t a perfect design by any means. The entrance was hard to find, which was a problem. There were also structural issues and problems with moisture.
In 2005 everything changed when KPMB refaced (with a steel manufactured by Dofasco) the exterior, added galleries, a sculpture atrium, and an entrance on King Street. Commonwealth Square changed too. Reflecting pools and seating became a pavilion, as well as a sculpture courtyard.
Now hidden behind Canary Yellow cladding, the Art Gallery of Hamilton continues to thrive as an important cultural institution in Hamilton. Brutalist or not.