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A Gift from Japan: Design origins of the Dalhousie Arts Centre (1971)

9:00 AM, Thursday 26 May 2022 (20 minutes)

The construction fence along University Avenue is down, restoring to view to the familiarly strange forms of the Dalhousie Arts Centre. Never quite in harmony with Halifax architectural proprieties, the building’s central place in the city’s cultural life has fostered an uneasy co- existence between the radicalism of its forms and the nostalgic impulse of the society it serves. Just how did such an assemblage concrete forms come to be? Arguably Canada’s only authentic “Metabolist” building (a 1960s design movement originating in and largely confined to Japan), the Arts Centre is a product of a curious collaboration between an established Halifax firm and a young avant-garde Japanese architect on a work visit. This paper will explore various threads in the Arts Centre design origins, including architectural movements such as “Brutalism” and “Metabolism”; the democratization and expansion of Canadian universities starting in the 1960s; the concurrent flowering of the “Canadian concrete campus”; and the inspiring power of international cultural exchange, of both ideas and people.

Dalhousie University
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