Brutalism

The Barbican Estate

In the Financial Times the other day, ‘Beauty and the Brutalists: why the most maligned style in history should be preserved‘ [c]:

But one of his [Donald Trump’s] last acts in office was to issue an executive order that new federal buildings must be built in a classical style. What they should not be, it specified, is Brutalist. This is how it was defined:

“Brutalist means the style of architecture that grew out of the early 20th-century Modernist movement that is characterised by a massive and block-like appearance with a rigid geometric style and large-scale use of exposed poured concrete.”

Brutalism is probably my favourite architectural style. And I’ll be honest, I don’t really know why.

I think a big reason is that it’s just drastic and different. Stark, and well… brutal. It has a cyberpunk and sci-fi look which I find beautiful and endearing. Would I want every building to be built in the brutalist style? No. But I love it all the same.

There’s a line in the movie The Da Vinci Code where Tom Hank’s character is asked by a police officer what he thinks of the Louvre Pyramid in Paris. He says “it’s magnificent.” But the policeman replies, “a scar on the face of Paris.” That phrase often pops into my head when I’m in London and stumble on a piece of brutalism. It is in many ways a scar. But it’s a cool scar. One that adds character in my opinion.

Me at the Barbican Estate

The average person however does seem to think of brutalism as just a straight up ugly scar. And only a certain sort of person seems to be actually willing to live in such buildings. The FT continues:

There is a lot of truth in the long-running joke that Brutalism’s loudest champions — and many of the residents of London’s most famous Brutalist estates, including the Barbican and Keeling House — are all architects themselves.

It’s certainly not for everyone. And I do admit that goverment buildings built in the brutalist style certainly take on a dystopian quality. But I kind of like that. I feel like they’re not trying to hide anything from me. They’re not built to some ancient Greek ideal with white marble and curved columns. Instead they’re admiting they’re often broken and brutal institutions. It’s ugly architecture for an ugly world.

Interested in more brutalism? Check out /r/brutalism or buy “This Brutal World” published by Phaidon.