Why Does UIC Have So Much Brutalist Architecture?

In Part 1 of this two-part blog post, I introduced the development of the University of Illinois at Chicago, now let’s explore the campus’s famous Brutalist architecture. This was an experimental architectural style for a college campus, especially because it’s a style that many people don’t understand. We do our best to explain and contextualize it when we drove past the UIC campus on custom private tours of Chicago’s neighborhoods.

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UIC and the Brutalist Aesthetic

Brutalist architecture is an austere style that was most popular in the 1950s-1970s. Characterized by massive forms, often of poured concrete, and usually devoid of exterior decor, Brutalist buildings often end up looking like modern-day fortresses. Since the UIC campus razed a community of thousands of people, I kind of wonder…couldn’t they have designed buildings that architecturally welcomed the surrounding area with open arms, to make up for their damage to the community?

In my opinion, these massive, dark, concrete and brick buildings are uninviting. Now trust me, I appreciate concrete very much, but not so much with Brutalist architecture. It’s all about the execution, people. Some of the campus buildings have cool geometric forms, yes…

uic brutalist architecture

…but some of those forms may also evoke thoughts of things like, I don’t know, a prison…

UIC brutalist architecture

Was the UIC Campus an Experiment?

It’s rumored that the UIC campus was designed as a psychological experiment. It’s all a test to see how much bad design students could take before they crack.

I wish the Greek amphitheater they had in the center of campus still existed. Campus leaders did away with it during one of their efforts to de-concretize the campus a bit. While the Chicago Pedway System works in downtown Chicago, the theory behind pedestrian walkways on the UIC campus seemed better than the practice.

Theory was also shattered by practice when I approached a former student about these radial stairways found in the Behavioral Sciences Building:

UIC brutalist architecture social sciences building
Interior of the Behavioral Sciences Building. Photo Credit: Klaudia Siczek

In my idealistic, dreamy mind I thought these would be perfect for unexpected run-ins. It seemed possible, with their multiple streams of traffic, larger landings, and alternating radii just for sitting.  At least one student said that this was solely a source of traffic jams and frustration for students who are looking to leave class as quickly as humanly possible.

A few campus buildings, such as the Behavioral Sciences Building and the Art & Architecture Building, were designed using Field Theory. Netch’s idea used sophisticated shape arrangements that would provide psychological variety. The architect minimized the use of windows so as not to distract from the shape of the building. But then, unsurprisingly, almost no natural light made it inside. So was the building for the people, or for the architect’s portfolio?

No wonder students want to leave the buildings as quickly as possible! I suppose it works well for a campus originally designed for commuters.

— Klaudia Siczek, Chicago Detours Editorial Intern


In business since 2010, Chicago Detours is a passionate team of educators, historians and storytellers. We applied a decade of experience as one of Chicago’s top-rated tour companies to become a virtual event company in 2020. We bring curious people to explore, learn and interact about Chicago’s history, architecture and culture through custom tours, content production, and virtual events.


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Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

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With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.


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Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.


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Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

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As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
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Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

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I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
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