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Firm: J. A. Cawston

Address: 304 6 Avenue SW

Date of final plans: 1954

Status: demolished

The Brown Building was constructed jointly by the Home Oil Company and Federated Petroleums Ltd., both of which were controlled by Robert Arthur Brown, Jr (1914-1972). It was named after Robert Arthur Brown, Sr (1886-1948), father of Robert Jr and one of the men who was responsible in 1936 for the discovery of crude oil in Turner Valley. The building was designed as a nine-storey tower. The first three floors were built in 1954 and the final six were built in 1960.

The building was 145 feet long and 61 feet deep. The façade of the first two floors was covered in a combination of Scotstown and Vermillion black granite, and the upper floors were in limestone.

In his book Modern Architecture in Alberta, Trevor Boddy discusses the Brown Building extensively. I quote:

The various stylistic trends at work in Jack Cawston's Calgary building make more sense given this Canadian context. As Cawston's career progressed, he opted for a purer strain of International Style modern architecture. Impressed with the Barron Building, in 1953 Home Oil Company impressario Bob Brown commissioned Cawston to design a nine-storey office tower on Sixth Avenue. Completed in 1955, but demolished at the height of a more recent boom, the Brown Building was one of Alberta's best examples of high International Style office architecture. This building exhibited the cleanness and clarity of intent and execution which marks this style.

At the same time, Brown indulged Cawston's choice of rich cladding materials. All too often Alberta architects and developers ignored the exhortations of Mies van der Rohe by covering their buildings with the cheapest and shoddiest of materials. The Brown Building was clad in Manitoba Tyndall sone, with crisply detailed blocked window surrounds in the same material. This light grey, easily worked stone was highlighted by bands of red granite, and the first two storeys on the Sixth Avenue elevation were covered in the same material to temper at pedestrian level the buildin's undeniable austerity. Essentially planar surfaces were highlighted by shadows cast by the banding and window surrounds. The off-centre composition of the entrance and of the banded corner windows showed a respect by the architect for streetscape that is not evident a few years later with the rise of the carte blanche empty plaza, such as those encouraged by Calgary's Plus 15 Bonus System of the 1970s. When the building was demolished, one element was preserved; Brown's lavishly finished boardroom was moved to another tower, a last vestige of his collaboration with Cawston. Like many of Alberta's best designers, Cawston quickly fell from favour and died a sadly early death.

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