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 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, 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:
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.
- Cite Radieuse.
- Constructivist architecture.
- Erno Goldfinger.
- High-tech architecture.
- Owen Hatherley - Landscapes of Communism.
- Sink estate regeneration plans.
- Space, Hope and Brutalism.
- Trellick Tower.
 External resources
Featured articles and news
"Companies will have to adapt or go out of business" - how are virtual reality and big data disrupting digital construction?
International Well Building Institute and BRE collaborate on multiple levels to advance human health through better buildings.
"The industry has tried moving away from prescriptivism to focus on performance, but maybe that’s no longer working".
Energy from waste and its key role in a low carbon economy.
Sir Ranulph Fiennes was guest speaker at the BSRIA Briefing - Tomorrow’s challenges in today’s buildings.
Read our introductory article to the Common Arrangement of Work Sections. What are they, what are the categories?
Acknowledging the unique requirements of projects in historic environments.
CIAT announces that Alex Naraian has been inaugurated as its new President.
Read our introductory article to the mechanical ventilation of buildings.
Do infrastructure professionals expect too much, or the wrong thing, from their sustainability colleagues?
Government announces new legal powers to give the North a say on how money is spent on transport.
If you are studying a built environment-related degree, we've got hundreds of articles designed to help you out.
What is dot and dab, and how can the typical defects be recognised and rectified?