Brutalist architecture

Le Corbusier's Unité d'habitation in Marseille, France (1952). A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the béton brut megalith is a well-known example of proto-Brutalist architecture.

Brutalist architecture flourished from 1951 to 1975, having descended from the modernist architectural movement of the early 20th century.[1] Considered both an ethic and aesthetic, utilitarian designs are dictated by function over form with raw construction materials and mundane functions left exposed. Reinforced concrete is the most commonly recognized building material of Brutalist architecture but other materials such as brick, glass, steel, and rough-hewn stone may also be used.

In its ruggedness and lack of concern to look comfortable or easy, Brutalism can be seen as a reaction by a younger generation to the lightness, optimism, and frivolity of some 1930s and 1940s architecture. In one critical appraisal by Reyner Banham, Brutalism was posited not just as a style, but as the expression of an atmosphere among architects of moral seriousness. "Brutalism" as a term was not always consistently used by critics; architects usually avoided using it altogether.


Villa Göth in Kåbo, Uppsala, Sweden. "Brutalism" was used for the first time to describe this house.

The term "Brutalism" was originally coined by the Swedish architect Hans Asplund to describe Villa Göth, a modern brick home in Uppsala, designed in 1949 by his contemporaries Bengt Edman and Lennart Holm.[2] He originally used the Swedish term Nybrutalism (New Brutalism), which was picked up in the early 1950's by a group of visiting English architects, including Michael Ventris, and Alison and Peter Smithson.[3][2][4] The Smithsons' Hunstanton School completed in 1954 in Norfolk, and the Sugden House completed in 1955 in Watford, represent ground zero for Brutalism in the United Kingdom. The term gained increasingly wider recognition when the British architectural historian Reyner Banham used it, to identify both an ethic and aesthetic style, in both his 1955 essay, The New Brutalism, and 1966 book, The New Brutalism: Ethic or Aesthetic?, to characterize a somewhat recently established cluster of architectural approaches, particularly in Europe.[4][5] In the 1955 essay, Reyner Banham also associated the term New Brutalism with Art Brut and Le Corbusier's béton brut, meaning raw concrete in French, for the first time.[2][6][7]

The best known proto-Brutalist architecture is the work of the Swiss architect Le Corbusier, in particular his 1952 Unité d'habitation in France and the 1953 Secretariat Building (Palace of Assembly) in Chandigarh, India. Brutalism gained considerable momentum in the United Kingdom during the mid-twentieth century, as economically depressed (and World War II-ravaged) communities sought inexpensive construction and design methods for low-cost housing, shopping centres, and government buildings.

Brutalism began to be favoured by governmental and institutional clients, with numerous examples in English-speaking countries (the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia), Western Europe (France, Germany, Italy), the Soviet Union, the Eastern Bloc (Slovakia, Bulgaria), and places as disparate as Japan, India, Brazil, the Philippines, and Israel. Examples are typically massive in character (even when not large), fortress-like, with a predominance of exposed concrete construction, or in the case of the "brick Brutalists", ruggedly combine detailed brickwork and concrete. There is often an emphasis on graphically expressing in the external elevations and in the whole-site architectural plan the main functions and people-flows of the buildings. Brutalism became popular for educational buildings (especially university buildings), but was relatively rare for corporate projects, which largely preferred International Style. Brutalism became favoured for many government projects, rectangle tower blocks (high-rise housing), and shopping centres.

Combined with the socially progressive intentions behind Brutalist streets in the sky housing such as the Smithsons' Robin Hood Gardens, completed in 1972, Brutalism was promoted as a positive option for forward-moving, modern urban housing.

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