Brutalism, also known as Brutalist architecture, is a style that emerged in the 1950s from the early-20th century modernist movement. Brutalist buildings are characterised by their massive, monolithic and ‘blocky’ appearance with a rigid geometric style and large-scale use of poured concrete. The movement began to decline in prevalence in the 1970s, having been much criticised as unwelcoming and inhuman.
The term ‘brutalism’ was coined by the British architects Alison and Peter Smithson, and popularised by the architectural historian Reyner Banham in 1954. It derives from ‘Béton brut’ (raw concrete) and was first associated in architecture with Le Corbusier, who designed the Unite d’Habitation in Marseilles in the late-1940s.
Brutalism became a popular style throughout the 1960s as the austerity of the 1950s gave way to dynamism and self-confidence. It was commonly used for government projects, educational buildings such as universities, leisure and shopping centres, and high-rise bocks of flats.
Brutalism became synonymous with the socially progressive housing solutions that architects and town planners prioritised as modern ‘streets in the sky’ urbanism. With an ethos of ‘social utopianism’, together with the influence of Constructivist architecture, it became increasingly widespread across European Communist countries such as Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia.
Brutalism was generally characterised by its rough, unfinished surfaces, unusual shapes, heavy-looking materials, straight lines, and small windows. Modular elements were often used to form masses representing specific functional zones, grouped into a unified whole. As well as concrete, other materials commonly used in Brutalist buildings included brick, glass, steel, rough-hewn stone and gabions.
As the high-rise began to be discredited as a result of crime and urban decay, so Brutalism became increasingly reviled, and across the UK, many Brutalist buildings were demolished. However, it has continued to influence later forms such as high-tech architecture and deconstructivism. In recent years, it has started been critically reappraised, with certain buildings being seen as architectural landmarks.
Some key examples of Brutalism include:
Unite d’Habitation de Marseille, France
Park Hill, Sheffield
Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Preston Bus Station, Preston
Barbican Estate, London
Trellick Tower, London.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Architectural styles.
- British post-war mass housing.
- Brutalist London Map - review.
- Constructivist architecture.
- Erno Goldfinger.
- High-tech architecture.
- Owen Hatherley - Landscapes of Communism.
- Sink estate regeneration plans.
 External resources
Featured articles and news
An Arc de Triomphe for the late-20th century, the La Grande Arche of Paris.
Richard Hayward of Legrand asks whether technology could help developers meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population.
Thomas Heatherwick's ambitious steel structure begins construction.
The principles, practice and formwork of one of the most important components of modern architecture.
New report claims that inappropriate standards and regulations are holding back the use of composites.
The global smart homes and smart light commercial market will grow fastest in the UK.
Have a look at our article explaining the different types of construction contractor.
Futurist Thomas Frey explores the concept of Disposable Housing - could it be a reality sooner than we imagine?
ICE to host new exhibition offering a window onto the civil engineering achievements beneath our feet.
Do you know all the various types of defects in brickwork?
US museum reveals plans for an installation made entirely of paper tubes.
Review of a book looking at how contemporary architecture found its expression within neoliberal capitalism.
The Great Mosque of Djenne, the largest mud-brick building in the world.
Amanda Clack, RICS President offers recommendations to government on Brexit and the construction skills shortage.