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Brutalist Architecture: All You Need To Know About It



I still remember how my grandfather emphasised the incidents of World War 2, which affected every single country. He used to tell me about the armies and old techniques to win the war, people's life which was greatly affected, the way they used to live, and several other stories. But what profoundly intrigued me and inspired me was the post-war stories and rapid developments. Now, it is also worth remembering that the predominance of war crimes bought stress and frustration altogether. Hence, there was the use of several techniques to overcome it. However, you must know that the most fascinating was the revolution from changing surroundings through architecture.


Could you recall any architectural style which essentially focussed on this particular problem? Mate, not on your nelly I am telling you about the answer. You have to find it by yourself and tell me in the comments. Meanwhile, I am introducing one of many architectural styles that coincides with the minimalist interior decor trending today, the Brutalist architecture.


So without further ado, let's proceed learning about the same.



What Is Brutalist Architecture?

First things first, understanding the term is the crucial part before we start to evaluate the style. To commence with: it is necessary to remember that the originator of the word Brutalist seems fair to have a connection with Hans Asplund, son of Gunnar Asplund. He gave the invention the term through a letter to Eric de Mare, further reprinted in 1956 in Architectural Review. However, you can neglect the controversy leading the way. Let me help you to understand it. He wrote, “Judging from their drawings, I called them in a mildly sarcastic way 'Neo-Brutalists.”



Now the version of understanding the term Neo-Brutalists, which spread in England was misleading as Neo-Brutalist never meant Neo Gothic or Neo Classic, but instead New Brutalism. It described a programme or an attitude to architecture. In this way, the term Brutalist reached England back by three architects (one of which is Asplund). What's more about it? I will let you know in the below sections.


Coming towards the word Brutalist, let us understand the meaning.

The term originates from the French word 'Beton-brut,' which means raw concrete. So, in a way, you can starkly put brutalist style in brief descriptive terms of rough and naked appearances. Furthermore, it bought innovative structures by using raw concrete for decor and forbidding any ornamentation or decoration. Brutalist buildings were also easily recognised by their monochromatic-pattern of building through brick or concrete. Now that you understand the elementary meaning, you must also know its first execution. To add on, the term Brutalism first appeared when Alison Smithson used it for an unexecuted project for a house in Colville Place. However, the finest example of Brutalism in architecture is The Unité d’Habitation in Marseille, designed by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier, also considered the birth of Brutalism.

Well, that is a lot of information. Moving forward, let me take you to the pages of History to help you understand the origin of Brutalist architecture.



History Of Brutalism In Architecture.


Before we proceed to the section, let me raise a question. Until you learned about Brutalist Architecture, what was your impression of its true meaning? As soon as I heard about it, I thought of something wilder or more brutal. However, after learning it unreservedly, I laughed at my foolishness and comprehended how stupid I had been. Never mind, Better late than ever! So finally, I came across the actual core of the term, which I explained in the meaning section. As you know briefly, the term brutalism articulates itself with the aesthetics of the Le Corbusier residential unit in Marseille in 1952 and the context of the french term meaning concrete. Concrete, in its raw state, was an entirely original and new solid structure.


The main aspects of this brutalist building that make it more creative are not its size and arrangement but its simplicity due to concrete. Back in the mid-twentieth century, when the United Kingdom was economically depressed due to World War 2, the communities tried to look out for inexpensive construction and design methods for housing, shopping centres and government buildings.


In this hunt, Brutalism gained a power drive. In the wake of World War 2, Brutalism developed as a philosophical and architectural style. Now you must ask a question, why concrete? Due to the European economy's crumbling, they had to use inexpensive materials, eventually resulting concrete, as metal was unsustainable. Despite this, raw materials such as wood, brick, glass, steel and raw-stones were not restricted.

You must also know that there were numerous architects who chose brutalist architecture for its honesty with the uncompromising natural style and embracing the rough components without any improvements. Now it does have both positive and negative aspects of modern architecture, according to the critics. Some opponents of this style believed that a brutalist building can cause fear or crime because of their rigid and unified appearance. Additionally, they deduced that the humidity and cloudy weather of the ocean climate could quickly destroy these buildings. This kind of climate leaves algae and lichen due to the presence of water spots, causing rust to the structure.


On the other hand, the positive ones appreciate the bluntness of the materials in the distinguished and integrated form of architecture. As far as my opinions are concerned, I feel that it boldly expresses structure through clean lines, rough textures, and classic design. Now that you know the former narrative: let me take you to the characteristics of these buildings.



What Are The Characteristics Of Brutalist Architecture?


It is time to discuss the appearance of the Brutalist buildings through our one instance. Dont get caught up in the trap that even after reading this, you would not be able to identify as practicality differs. Not so, because I guarantee once you read this section, you will know all the characteristics of the Brutalist architecture.


Buildings designed in the brutalism style have repetitive angular geometries, and the texture reveals that wooden forms were used to cast the concrete over wood. Few buildings may achieve the look of a rocky, blocky appearance in the expression of structural materials; not all have a concrete semblance. They do include brick, glass, steel, rough-hewn stone and trapion. It is not enough as we have more. Not all buildings with exposed concrete interiors are brutalist since they may be included in architectural styles such as Constructivism, International style or Expressionism. Therefore, you have to learn more things to differentiate the type.


Brutalist architecture follows modernism in the function of the form. So one takeaway is that the architects pay less attention to ornamented facades and decorations, emphasising the elementary elements and materials through utility. It means that the construction framework is biased towards the operation instead of a design to cover these mechanical operators and supporting structures. So the first attention point of these buildings is their utility (what is needed to operate) in the most solutionist form. A structure's snappiest deciphering will reveal more Brutalist references. For example, try to code out your room walls. What do they have behind them? A brick and a concrete wall covered with plaster and wallpaper or tiles for final touches. So much back-forth, but in Brutalist architecture, all you see is the concrete wall. There are no fancy stairways, lining ladders, expensive silk drapes, or anything for distraction. The least distance you cover between a material and its function in Brutalism, the more effective it is. In short words, Rawness!


To briefly conclude, I can summarise the features of Brutalist architecture in the shortest points below-

  1. There is a use of varied or contrasting textures and materials.

  2. A sense of bulkier mass, weight and scale is present in these buildings.

  3. Few parts of the buildings have geometric differentiation, causing a dramatic effect.

  4. Building an architectural image that conveys a powerful message.

But, hey, there is more. In conclusion, I never meant that we ended too fast. There are three characteristics, according to Reyner Banham, which you must know to identify Brutalist architecture. And I am shooting them right below.

  1. There must be a clear exhibition of the structure. The emphasis was on primary construction, often even vertical communications. You have to omit the outer layers as they hide the original appearance, aesthetics of construction and basic materials.

  2. There is no later processing of the construction materials used as the valuation of the materials is in their raw or original forms.

  3. There is a powerful memorability of the image, which can give us a perception of the architectural work clearly and comprehensively. It must have a form which can confirm the building or the structure.

For example- At Boston city hall (designed in 1962), there are striking sections, indicating the strikingly different nature of the rooms behind those walls, such as the mayor office or city council chambers.


In order to understand the critiques of Brutalist architecture, we discussed its attributes in this section. I hope now you are the prime mover among the crowd to recognise Brutalism!



What Do Critiques Say About Brutalist Architecture?


Before we purely discuss what the critiques said on Brutalist architecture, let me give you a power dose of its ideology. I am not creating its entire section since it is quick and blends well with this section headline.


Brutalism {concerning architectural philosophy} tilts towards a socialist utopian ideology instead of displaying a style. And it is supported by designers, especially Alison and Peter (more about them later in the below sections). Some critics also argue that due to its abstract nature, it is unfriendly and uncommunicative instead of being integrated. As a result, the positive communities for Brutalist structures were excluded, however, the Second World War brought several urban changes to the UK, making Brutalist structures ideology unpopular.


Coming on the critics part, let me tell you at the very first that much of the criticism was due to its use of concrete as bare substance. Charles, Prince of Wales, has several speeches and writings against Brutalist architecture. He says, "You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe" at the Corporation of London Planning and Communication committee's annual dinner in 1987.

Now you know the critical subject is that the European climate can erode the structures, making them unsafe as the steel reinforcing bars are ruined due to the dampening and water effect.


A British author, Theodore Dalrymple, says that these brutalist buildings are inhuman and monstrous and even cold-hearted as it does not age gracefully but instead stain and decay, making other styles superior. Hence, there were many against this architectural style. However, I still have a few good points, which I mentioned earlier. With all that we have learned about Brutalist architecture, let us prepare to veil its best structures.



The Best Brutalist Buildings.


In the late 1960s, there was an ongoing campus expansion in North America, resulting in an increased number of Brutalist Buildings at universities. Now, it all began with the Paul Rudolphs 1958 Yale Art and Architectural Building and soon spread over the area. In this section, I am showing you five masterpieces experimenting brutalist architecture. But, before we proceed, there is a little task for you. While you process the information on buildings, you have to do a quick mind test if you find the odd geometric shape in just 5 seconds. This way, you will never forget the article and the valuable particulars you read here.

1. University of Illinois-Chicago Circle Campus.


Due to its stone metaphor-dropping gorgeous effect through a water pond, the brutalist design of the building makes it a point of interest. The elevated express walkways serve a purpose for pedestrians, walking even in enormous numbers. It is particularly alienated from nearby residents by a close boundary of nature within the student's area.


Architect: Walter A. Netsch

Location: Chicago, United States

Typology: Educational Institute

Project Year: 1965

Materials: Concrete, Minnesota granite, and Brick


2. McLennan Library.


Named in honour of Isabella McLennan, the library is an in-house research book house for graduates. The enormous, seven-storey reinforced structure is the substantial McGill library, located south of the modern part of Redpath Hall. The outer shell consists of identical pre-cast concrete panels attached to the reinforced concrete frame. The central stairwell and elevator control the excessive traffic, and each floor has maximum space capacity, which ensures good reading areas.


Architect: Dobush, Stewart, and Bourke

Location: McGill University, Montreal, Canada

Typology: University (Education)

Project Year: 1967-69

Materials: steel frame clad in concrete panels




3. Burnside Hall.


Surrounded by the Macdonald-Stewart library, Pulp and Paper research institute and Otto Maass Chemistry building, it is a thirteen-storey structure with a concrete slab attached to the reinforced concrete frame. It includes an underground tunnel system which connects the science and engineering department. Furthermore, it encompasses various entrances to facilitate traffic mobility between classes. The building's outer shell blends well with other campus structures despite its lack of ornament other than its fenestration pattern.


Architect: Marshall, Merrett, and Assoc

Location: Montreal Canada

Typology: University campus

Project Year: 1970

Materials: concrete slabs with a frame of reinforced concrete frame



4. Birmingham Central Library Building.


The cantilevered volume provides shelter to the entrance with an immense-balcony, and the discovery garden is a centre of learning and information with a structural beauty. It includes a circular courtyard with a protected outdoor space, which depends on the daylight in the building. Interconnectivity and overlapping rotundas between the floors provide good ventilation.


Architect: Mecanno

Location: Birmingham UK

Typology: Library/ Theatre Concert Hall

Project Year: 2013

Materials: Concrete



5. The Conventary School Of Art And Design Graham Sutherland Building.

A rectangular-shaped building with numerous pillars and mirrored windows is the signature style of the university, which is a hub for art lovers.


Architect: John Smith

Location: University of Coventry - Coventry, UK

Typology: Educational institute

Project Year: 1967

Materials: Concrete and glass


Brutalist architecture of The Conventart School of Art and Design Graham Sutherland Building, United Kingdom