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Last edited 30 Jul 2019
Brutalism, also known as Brutalist architecture, is a style that emerged in the 1950s and grew out of 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 Cite Radieuse 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, car parks, leisure and shopping centres, and high-rise blocks 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 the Soviet Union, 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 high-rise buildings began to be discredited and associated with crime, social deprivation and urban decay, so Brutalism became increasingly reviled, and across the UK, many Brutalist buildings were demolished. Typical of this adverse reaction was the demolition in 2019 of the multi-storey car park in Welbeck Street, London W1 (pictured above and below). However, Brutalism has continued to influence later forms associated with high-tech architecture and deconstructivism. In recent years, it has started to be critically reappraised, with certain buildings being seen as architectural landmarks.
Some key examples of Brutalism include:
Park Hill, Sheffield
Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Preston Bus Station, Preston
Welbeck Street car park (demolished 2019)
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- Space, Hope and Brutalism.
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