Let’s Get Brutal

Neil Montier-The Belt

The architectural Brutalist style enjoyed a brief heyday from the mid 1950’s to the late 1970’s across the globe, but particularly in the UK and the Soviet aligned countries of Eastern Europe. Frequently employed in state sponsored buildings: social housing, libraries, universities, and hospitals, Brutalist architecture become immensely  unfashionable from the 1980’s onward, the subject of widespread scorn and derision due to its associations with totalitarianism (both Fascist and Communist), urban decay and perceived ugliness, which led to many notable examples of the style falling prey to the wrecking ball and demolition.

Brutalism derives its name from Béton brut (raw concrete), the material most frequently used in construction, however it cannot be denied that it was also brutal in the purest sense: hard, raw, severe, and monumental. Brutalist architecture is always serious, austere and intellectually rigorous, it is never twee, whimsical or ironic.  Brutalism aims for the sublime, not the merely beautiful. Unrelentingly experimental and modernist Brutalism makes no concessions to good taste or common sense or timid sensibilities. Brutalism is a defiant middle finger raised against God, Nature and the small-minded.

As happens with most styles when they are on the verge of completely disappearing from the landscape, Brutalism has undergone somewhat of a resurgence in the last decade, with writers, photographers, artists and architects intent on rehabilitating its reputation. Below I have selected examples of Brutalist architecture, starting with the Atlantic Wall bunkers built by the Nazi’s during WWII, Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation in Marseille, London social housing projects, war memorials and buildings in the former Yugoslavia, up to the present day collages of Neil Montier and Nicholas Moulin. Hopefully they capture one essence of Brutalism, as noted by the critic Jonathan Mendes, a sheer joylessness that thrills.

Atlantic Wall Bunker
Atlantic Wall Bunker
Atlantic Wall Bunker
Atlantic Wall Bunker-Denmark
Unité d'habitation
Unité d’habitation-Marseille
Balfron Tower London
Balfron Tower London
Wyndham and Comber Estates London
Wyndham and Comber Estates London

 

War Memorial-Former Yugoslavia
War Memorial-Former Yugoslavia
Belgrade
Belgrade
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Neil Montier
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Neil Montier
Nicolas Moulin
Nicolas Moulin

 

Image result for monochrome
Nicolas Moulin

 

 

 

17 thoughts on “Let’s Get Brutal

  1. Brutalist architecture has been rather unfairly condemned I think. The clean sculptural shapes and monumental scale of these buildings is awe inspiring and could be compared to the structures of the ancient castles most of us so admire. Concrete as a material is definitely making a come-back in design being used for furniture and garden accessories to good effect. It can work well so long as there’s not too much of it.. The textures and patinas of raw concrete as it ages can be beautiful. Thanks for this interesting selection of photos.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Nikita. I absolutely agree that it was unfairly and rather priggishly condemned. But cosy and twee usually wins over severe and bold aesthetics. Nostalgia beats futurism. Thank you for the interesting comment.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think the concept of the future that was existent when the Brutalist buildings were being put up has vanished, or rather the future arrived and it is sinister and boring. The most we hope for now of the future is an ideal dystopia. So we retreat into a ersatz version of a safer past. Georgian and neo-Georgian architecture is a travesty, a cosy and kitschified version of the 18th Century that never existed beyond the pages of a bourgeois novel.

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  2. These are really cool. The bunkers have a certain kind of beauty… strong lines, curves and layers. I can see why there is a resurgence of interest in the ‘style’ … nostalgia for a different time? Smiling … the good old days of revolution?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Lily. I agree they have a certain quality of cool, a kind of Miles Davis/Stockhausen cool, difficult and uncompromising. The bunkers are something else. I think the nostalgia is for a time when the concept of the future still had currency, which has since been frittered away.

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      1. Aside from lack of light, I think the bunkers would make pretty awesome living quarters. I do like unusual spaces and revolt against cute and pretty things

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Miss Heart. I am no expert on architecture but I have written a few posts here and there. Somehow I felt like Brutalism also belongs in Cakeland. It is definitely intimidating, but the aim of the sublime is to provoke a feeling of shock and awe. Glad you enjoyed.

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