Brutalist architecture is inherently polarizing. The word itself conjures visions of stark, monolithic hunks of concrete, of muted colours, and of a retro urban dystopia where we all wear sackcloth and have tech implants in our palms. Mention Brutalism at a party, and you’re sure to elicit a slew of passionate declarations either defending or condemning it. Everyone seems to have an opinion on Brutalism, and it’s no wonder—the style is emotive and intimidating.
But despite Brutalism’s hold over the public’s imagination, Calgary designer Sarah Ward believes that it’s widely misunderstood. “It’s really about simple materiality. It takes this very basic material, concrete, and creates all of this interesting tension through repetition and mass.”
Named for the French béton brut or “raw concrete”, Brutalism peaked through the 1950s to the 1970s, when a spectacular mass public rejection quelled the style. But recently, it’s been experiencing a revitalization, thanks to designers like Ward, who draw from both the grounded philosophy behind the movement and the visual expression of it. The new Brutalism isn’t quite so brutal, but is still functional, celebrating a rawness that doesn’t skew rustic, and relying on a material sensibility.
There’s a charming frankness to Donna Mac that is refined, yet warm and wholesome.
Ward brought her fresh take on Brutalism to the interior of Donna Mac, Calgary’s newest Beltline eatery. Named for one of the founding partners’ grandmothers, the restaurant takes a straightforward approach to unpretentious seasonal dining. “When it came to Donna Mac,” Ward says, “we wanted something humble, resourceful, and simple.”
There’s a charming frankness to Donna Mac that is refined, yet warm and wholesome. Everything has a purpose—the cork ceiling, for example, softens the acoustic landscape of the room and invites an aura of coziness and familiarity to an otherwise lofty space. Hickory wood features throughout, the undulating high-contrast grain adding an earthy vibe, and a lemon-yellow door slices through the otherwise natural palette for a jolt of personality.
Donna Mac embraces a legacy of functionality, whether it’s in the down-to-earth culinary stylings of grandma’s kitchen, or one of the most controversial architectural movements in living memory.
Donna Mac, 1002–9 Street SW, Calgary, AB.
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