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  • Writer's pictureGebler Tooth Architects

Principles of Brutalism

Brutalism is a style with an emphasis on materials, textures and construction, producing highly expressive forms.

Brutalist buildings are characterised by their massive, monolithic and ‘blocky’ appearance with a rigid geometric style and large-scale use of poured concrete.

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.

A pioneer of modern architecture, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier, was not only the main predecessor of and influence upon Brutalism, but also created some of its most iconic structures.

Brutalism was generally characterised by the following features;

  • Rough, unfinished surfaces

  • Unusual shapes

  • Heavy-looking materials

  • Straight lines

  • 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.

The most famous Brutalist buildings are as follows:

  • Barbican Centre

  • Trellick Tower

  • Unite d’Habitation de Marseille

  • Habitat 67

  • Boston City Hall

  • Geisel Library

  • Rudoplh Hall

Peaking in New York City in the 1970s, brutalism began losing its position in popular architecture at the turn of the same decade, with the downfall blamed not only on its functional shortcomings, expensive maintenance and inability to remodel but also the way this architectural style came to be perceived as a symbol of urban decay and totalitarianism.

The grandeur of raw concrete was short-lived with the exposure causing visible damage to these buildings, and turning them into ugly monstrosities that also affected the streetscape. Brutalist buildings lost their appeal in public imagination and the architecture was derided as an example of bad taste.

Almost three decades later, brutalism is making a comeback in building design trends. Interestingly, some of the reasons that led to the decline of this architecture style – permanence, inflexibility and bulk – are being cited to support its revival.

Several brutalist buildings have been saved from demolition through public movements for preservation – some have been added to national heritage lists while others have achieved UNESCO heritage status.

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