Although it is true that SFU architect Arthur Erickson did design prisons, the prisons that he designed were not the typical prisons that one might commonly associate with the word. He did not design the prisons in which Jeremy, a 19 year-old male arrested for marijuana possession, shares a cell with Ratchet — a three-time convicted murderer. No, as SFU administration loves to point out, Arthur Erickson never designed one of these prisons.
Instead, he designed what Erickson himself preferred to call “Prisons of the Mind.”
Psychiatric hospitals, mental Institutions, insane asylums, and “Prisons of the Mind” were burgeoning in popularity in the mid-20th century. Arthur Erickson, a renowned brutalist architect was often called upon to design these masterpieces of human achievement. His goal in designing a prison of the mind was not only to physically contain patients, but also to use a style that instantly and unavoidably reminded its residents of their physical containment. He wanted to use a style that trapped and controlled the mind just as much as it did the body.
When the founders of SFU were deciding on whom to choose to design the Burnaby campus, they thought that the qualities present in the works of Arthur Erickson were exactly what was needed for an institution of higher education. The minds of students just coming out of high school are often filled with creativity, dreams of a better world, making a difference, and thinking outside the box. Although SFU founders claim to support those values, they also believe them to be byproducts of what they call “the naiveté of youth.” As SFU was intended to be an institution of higher education, it was agreed that such naive thoughts must be kept under control. The brutalist architectural style of Arthur Erickson seemed to be the perfect fit.
In recent years, SFU administration has been trying to veer away from the founders’ image of an incredibly brutalist university. With the construction of the Saywell and Blusson halls, SFU admins are attempting to form a new aesthetic for the university. Rather than keeping the soul-sucking aesthetic of insane asylums of the ‘60s, they hope to move closer to the aesthetic of a friendly old folk’s home. With lots of exposed wood and a beautiful outdoor garden and a pond, the newer buildings on campus allow students to feel at least a little more at ease, while also acting as a constant reminder of their inevitable fate.