10 Icons of Brutalist Architecture

10 Icons of Brutalist Architecture

An architectural style that was quite popular in mid 20th century from the 1950s up until the 1980s, especially in civic projects and institutional buildings and in the form of sculpture-, brutalist architecture establishes the right of building materials and structural features to be seen, admired and even celebrated.

It even found its way into inetrior design.

Featuring visually heavy edifices with geometric lines, solid concrete frames, exaggerated slabs, double height ceilings, massive forbidding walls, exposed concrete and a predominantly monochrome palette, brutalist buildings prioritised function over form, and stripped-back minimalism over flashy design.

Interestingly, the term ‘brutalism’ has nothing to do with the cold, menacing aggro of this architectural style; the word is derived from the French phrase, béton burt, meaning ‘raw or unfinished concrete’. In fact, the negative perceptions around brutalist architecture could be attributed to this word association – such buildings are often seen as unfriendly, intimidating and even uninhabitable. Brutalism is considered one of the most divisive among all architectural styles, thanks to the strong emotions it evokes amongst the design community as well as the masses.

Unité d’Habitation, Marseille

Le Corbusier, 1952

The first in Le Corbusier’s series of “unité” buildings was built as post-WWII working-class housing, but instead it became home to Marseille’s intelligentsia, when its intended residents balked at the revolutionary design. Then complete with a shopping center, post office, and room for 1,600 people in efficiently laid-out apartments, the building acted as a self-contained city that, according to Le Corbusier, “show[ed] the new splendor of bare concrete.” Recently designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the megalith arguably represents the birth of Brutalism.

SESC Pompéia, São Paulo

Lina Bo Bardi, 1986

Transformed from an out-of-use factory slated for demolition into a leisure center, the SESC Pompéia in downtown São Paulo epitomizes Lina Bo Bardi’s dedication to local heritage and materials. When the architect began the project—what she called a “socialist experiment”—in the late 1970s, the building was serving as a kind of unofficial community center, with the non-governmental Serviço Social do Comércio (SESC) organization hosting cultural activities and sports there. Bo Bardi honored the building’s existing use, expanding the complex with monumental concrete towers and bridges that also pay homage to its industrial roots.

The Barbican, London

Chamberlin, Powell, and Bon, 1982

The architects of the Barbican created the estate’s mottled façades by hammering away at cast concrete, and enlivened the structure’s cantilevered balconies with plants. The massive multi-use complex contains an arts center, cinema, restaurants, and schools, as well as some 2000 apartments that began as council housing, intended to make inner-city living desirable to middle-class professionals. Built on a site razed by World War II bombings (“The Blitz,” as it is known in the U.K.), the estate’s layout is intentionally bewildering, an effect created through elements reminiscent of a medieval fortress as well as private gardens, lakes, and walkways.

Habitat 67, Montreal

Moshe Safdie, 1967

Habitat 67 began as Safdie’s McGill University graduate thesis and evolved into one of Canada’s most recognizable brutalist structures. His first design to ever be realized, the set of 354 interlocking, prefabricated concrete units, containing 158 one- to four-bedroom apartments, each with a roof garden, was originally presented at Montreal’s 1967 World’s Fair. Situated along the Saint Lawrence River, the dramatic complex—with its cubic modules that jut out into the surrounding space—proposed the idea of an urban “village,” which Safdie considered a more humane and organic alternative to traditional apartment living.

Trellick Tower, London

Ernie Goldfinger, 1972

“Cities can become centers of civilization where men and women can live happy lives,” Goldfinger once said. Yet by 1972, when the “unité”-inspired Trellick Tower was erected as public housing, it was in the face of growing disillusion about similar tower block buildings. Now revitalized after years of dereliction and petty crime that earned it the moniker Tower of Terror, the 332-foot-high concrete block features two distinct yet connected buildings, separating elevators and stairwells from the balconied apartments to maximize living space.

Brazilian Museum of Sculpture (MuBE), São Paulo

Paulo Mendes da Rocha, 1988

Though MuBE took shape in the late 1980s, significantly after Brutalism’s heyday, it is a striking example of the Paulista School style—the international movement’s Brazilian iteration. As such, Mendes da Rocha—who received a Golden Lion at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale and the 2006 Pritzker Prize—embraced the large-scale, bulky forms that raw concrete naturally facilitates, manifested in the nearly-200-foot beam atop the museum. Containing offices, an art school, and open, concrete galleries, the museum itself is built largely below ground, so as to respect the surrounding green space.

Geisel Library, La Jolla, California

William L. Pereira & Associates, 1970

For fans of both brutalism and Dr. Seuss, there’s only one building that matters: Geisel Library. Named after local La Jolla author and benefactor Theodor Seuss Geisel, the library is the somewhat unlikely home to a vast collection of Dr. Seuss drawings, books, audio recordings, and memorabilia—over 8,500 items in all, plus a large bronze statue of the Cat in the Hat that greets visitors. Architect William Pereira was the creator of many memorable buildings, especially in California—the Transamerica Pyramid tower in San Francisco, CBS’s Television City in Hollywood, and Pepperdine University in Malibu, to name a few. The unique futuristic design is representative of hands (the splaying concrete piers) holding up books (the glassed-in floors).

The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption, San Francisco, California

Pier Luigi Nervi & Pietro Belluschi, 1970

The great Italian engineer-architect Pier Luigi Nervi was a master of concrete as much as Picasso was a master of paint. His work is rare in the U.S., yet this is his most exciting and important structure. It’s also one of the few entries on this list that we dare say is even better viewed from the inside. We find it deliciously menacing—one of the most dramatic interior spaces ever created, enough to make you believe more in the power of art and engineering, where Nervi pushed the limits of reinforced concrete to the extreme.

Boston City Hall, Boston

Gerhard Kallmann and Michael McKinnnell, 1968

Built as part of a campaign to restore the city’s former glory in the face of economic inertia and white flight, Boston’s City Hall has been under fire for its harsh aesthetic since it opened in 1968. The architectural community, however, has praised it as an icon of Brutalism. The concrete building was conceived according to a kind of modernized Classicism à la Le Corbusier, with rows of coffered overhangs and various protruding modules, one of which houses the mayor’s office. With windows into the building’s activities and an outdoor plaza designed to flow seamlessly into the lobby, the building espouses governmental transparency.

The Breuer Building, New York City

Marcel Breuer, 1966

When he was at the famous German art school the Bauhaus, Marcel Breuer invented a series of steel tubular-framed furniture pieces that have become modernist icons and are still in production today. His architectural efforts are equally revered. This inverted ziggurat made of concrete and granite was, and still is, one of the most avant-garde buildings in Manhattan. Wildly disliked when it opened as the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1966, it has since been cited as one of Breuer’s best works and a definitive example of the brutalist movement. Despite all the masterpieces that have passed through its doors, the building itself continues to be a star.

Source: https://www.architectureanddesign.com.au/features/list/a-look-at-brutalist-architecture#


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