- Project plans
- Project activities
- Legislation and standards
- Industry context
- Specialist wikis
Last edited 24 Apr 2022
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 the 1970s, having been much criticised for being 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, 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 promoted as modern ‘streets in the sky’. 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, and rough-hewn stone.
As high-rise buildings became associated with crime, social deprivation and urban decay, so Brutalism was 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. However, Brutalism has continued to influence later forms, associated with high-tech architecture and deconstructivism. In recent years, it has been critically reappraised, with certain buildings being seen as architectural landmarks.
In 2006, three architects from Boston, Massachusetts initiated a rebranding campaign to relabel Brutalism as Heroic architecture. The effort attempts to remove the negativity of the original term while preserving its reference to its scale and substance.
Some key examples of Brutalism include:
Park Hill, Sheffield
Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Preston Bus Station, Preston
Welbeck Street car park (demolished 2019)
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Architectural styles.
- Boom Cities: architect-planners and the politics of urban renewal in 1960s Britain.
- British post-war mass housing.
- Brutalist London Map - review.
- Chinese brutalism.
- Cite Radieuse.
- Constructivist architecture.
- Erno Goldfinger.
- Heroic architecture.
- High-tech architecture.
- Howell Killick Partridge and Amis.
- Italian brutalism.
- Owen Hatherley - Landscapes of Communism.
- Sink estate regeneration plans.
- SOS Brutalism: a global survey.
- Space, Hope and Brutalism.
- Spanish brutalism.
- Trellick Tower.
- Whittington Estate.
Featured articles and news
Has the pendulum now swung too far ?
Expected by 64% of the respondents in nationwide survey.
World Building Automation and Control Systems (BACS) 2022
The importance of regular check-ups
And related links on DB.
Sustainable urban drainage systems SUDS
Shedding some light on the new Building Regulations.
Interview with historic built environment surveyor.
Upgraded membership category now requires assessment.
Temperature in buildings, explained on DB
Main barrier to entering the profession, new study reveals.
On Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill.
Over 70 managers and organisations shortlisted for the 14 awards.
From biometric to electrical current, chemical and more.
Changes are due to come into force on 1st October 2022.
Heed advice and insight of this report IPA tells the government.
From the Commonwealth Association of Architects.
Sustainable urban drainage systems SUDS