There was probably no single architectural style (and whether or not that was one style that was yet being discussed) that was demonized and hated as much as brutalism, especially in the 70s, 80s, and even 90.
From different sources comes the reasons for this unsolicited crucifixion of seemingly harmless, like the styles of a building. Some of them are mediated by the human inability to separate social circumstances from the physical event, which reluctantly becomes their symbol. Others rely on universal canons of beauty, and the seemingly rough concrete wasn’t exactly the prettiest sight of its time.
However, as society continued to move forward and shift its perspective, a strange phenomenon struck us in the 2010s: Brutalist Architecture became popular. Here we are in a new era, watching the style finally achieve its long-awaited recognition, even as it is fetishized and replicated through collectible vinyl toys and similar consumer goods.
So how did the ultimate villain suddenly become a hero?
Start of brutalist architecture
Stylistically, brutalism probably came from the eminent modernist architect Le Corbusier and his Unité d’Habitation project in 1952. The style was adopted relatively quickly by British architects and gradually became easily identifiable with the capital itself. Even it was rather strange, given that modern architecture arrived in Britain quite late and was soon “replaced” by the term brutalism.
Although it is thought to be first implemented by Le Corbusier, brutalism cannot be fully equated with the term modernism. Perhaps we could describe it as a kind of alternation: modern architecture with a more lively character, perhaps. Some would even say that brutalism appears as a cross between modernism and postmodernism in the history of architecture.
Brutalism: an explanation of the term
However, the term brutalism does not probably come from Le Corbusier. Several other versions of the story make it difficult to determine the truth, but none of them involve the first thing that comes to anybody’s mind.
Brutalism has nothing related with brutality; as such, at least that was not their intention. It was derived from the French term concrete-brut, which means very well raw concrete, or it was adopted from the Swedish architect Hans Asplund, who used the term New Brutalism to describe Villa Göth in Uppsala (English critic Reyner an also used New Brutalism Banham, the guy who wrote the book named as the New Brutalism: Ethic or Aesthetic? which is now considered a precursor of the movement). The house itself, however, has little to do with Brutalist architecture as we know it in the form today.
According to the 3rd version of the story, according to which Peter Smithson’s nickname Brutus was the one that decided the name of the Brutalist. It was probably a blend of all of these three versions.
What is called the brutalist architecture?
Peter Smithson, the architect, mentioned above, and his wife Alyson Smithson, was one of the leading figures of brutalism in Britain. Like Erno Goldfinger, the Hungarian-born architect, who designed the famous Trellick Tower and the Balfron Tower, which are often mentioned as the most iconic buildings representing the brutalist movement. When you look at their designs, there’s no question that all Brutalist buildings have one thing in common: concrete, of course. But there is more to its design than merely using a classic building material, which was not chosen by accident by the way.
Concrete is mostly used in Brutalist architecture because it is a flexible and straightforward material that responds to authentic architectural expression, but still very clear and noticeable when dry. Interestingly, concrete takes on the properties of the mold it was poured into and then directly conveys honesty – a word commonly used to describe the sheer essence of brutalist ideology. Since the word “honesty” sounds attractive on its own, let’s try to explain why architects and theorists use it confidently.
While this was not the first time concrete was used in architecture, it was the first time concrete was used for the facade. Before brutalism, the ordinary raw material was generally hidden below the surface, whether it was a decorative floral facade or made of steel and glass. Since uncovered cement was for once the genuine hero, it indicated its sculptural characteristics, typifying monumentality and accomplishing formalism with the goal that the choice could be viewed as a sort of transparency of the material.
But on the other hand, brutalism is often associated with “architectural ethics,” honesty was necessary because of the idea that nothing is “ordered” or hidden under the mask. This is what it is, and Brutalist architecture relies on the people who live or work there to understand and appreciate it.
This is also one of the other reasons why the word “style” is sometimes avoided, as the general term style seems in one way or another to degrade the initial effort of the brutalist ideology, which was supposed to carry things on a level.
Brutalist buildings victims of modern society
Given that most of this architecture emerged in the 1960s and continued into the 1970s, you can probably imagine the mentality surrounding brutalism. It was based in part on social equality and hope, especially in communist countries (where it also played an important role). Unity and shared space were somewhat better transformed into shape thanks to brutalist suburban blocks, with plenty of open space and mid-rise buildings and houses that can accommodate and have a lot of people.
Brutalist architecture was also at times associated with Futurism, a brilliant vision of the future, as presented initially, close to how people imagined utopia. But as you know, utopia quite quickly turns into dystopia, especially under the influence of the 1968 revolution and among young people influenced by Orwell.
Thanks to all the unsolicited political and social connotations, brutalism suffered the consequences of the transmutation of communism into totalitarianism, causing popular culture to portray brutalist architecture differently. Shared spaces turn into dangerous terrain, “honest” buildings turn into concrete monstrosities, and before you know it, brutalism is associated with violence, which was crowned once and for all in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Now you can find a host of movies that use brutalist architecture as a backdrop to violence.
A great designer platform YUGEN is very famous for their piece on Brutalist Architecture. They have a lot of cool content as well so worth checking out the rest of there content HERE