“It’s hard to escape from the fact that concrete tends to age poorly, and as a material is generally ill-suited to a country that is often overcast and gloomy.”
Need you add anything?
My house is a very late Victorian cottage, the equivalent of a council house in those days. It is now about 130 years old and there is no reason to think it won’t last another 130.
A concrete building looks old and worn out after 30 years…
Brutalism is just very grim and miserable whimsy from the Modernist school of everything suc*s. Although it does convey that feel very well.
But my very favorite bit of modernist/brutalism in London is a set of book-ends. The two stations at the ends of the Piccadilly Tube line, Uxbridge, and Cockfosters. Done by the same architect – I like the lighting fixtures hanging by bolts and iron brackets that could moor a steamship… several cool touches.
Grim unless you see the whimsy though… and then grim again but kind of fun as it is now an insiders joke – like all modernism, it does not like humans; and Post-modernism, modernism’s existential brother, loathes them.
Well, some benefit, at last it reminds us of what it is to be human, or what is inhuman,
…was to be human.
Brutalism reflects the Cold War for me. Like overground bunkers waiting for the Bomb.
We have an extraordinary tradition of architectural vandalism in England, dating back at least five hundred years to the Dissolution of the Monasteries if not further.
On that occasion we destroyed thirty six out of a possible sixty of our ‘greatest’ churches. Thus this contemporary controversy over ‘brutalist’ can come as no surprise.
However, as always, we can console ourselves that things were/are even worse in Scotland.
Yes, it is comforting to have Scotland to look down on and blame. The cartoon South Park blamed Canada for its ills, in the song ‘Blame Canada, sung to the National anthem ‘Oh Canada
Time’s have changed
Our kids are getting worse
They won’t obey their parents
They just want to fart and curse
Should we blame the government?
Or blame society?
Or should we blame the images on TV?
No, blame Canada, blame Canada
With all their beady little eyes
And flappin’ heads so full of lies
Blame Canada, blame Canada
We need to form a full assault
It’s Canada’s fault”
At least blaming the white nation to the North does not trigger any lefties – because they are not protected by woke.
Actually, as you must remember, we are spoilt for choice with both Ireland and Wales to blame.
I think that the problem (for me anyway) is the material used – unadorned concrete. The shapes and designs of some of the brutalist buildings are interesting, and sometime even attractive, but the grim, greyish-beige concrete gives them all a depressing air. If they were built from brick, say, or if the concrete were in someway lightened then many of these buildings would be fine additions to the modern city-scape. However, I wonder whether it was the architects’ intentions to produce this grimness; why they would do this, though, I cannot understand.
My personal belief is that some of the founders of the Brutalism movement were so horrified by the use of nuclear weapons in WW2 and the threat of nuclear war that they wanted to live in bomb shelters. ‘This is the ugliness we must live with’ — a tragic expression of fear, despair and guilt — plus cheap to build! I think that some of the early pioneers of the style found such things comforting.
(Edit: and it seems that Saul D already said this, but either I missed it before, or the oddness in how unherd articles show up means that it showed up here after this note.)
Interesting! I think they wanted to be sculptors on a grand scale. As this article says so well, maybe it’s not great not to care what the average person thinks
I don’t think a brutalist building can be faced in brick, by definition. Contrary to many of the comments here, the term derives from the French ‘béton brut’ (raw concrete) and does not in itself denote brutality – although I don’t deny that that is the effect of many brutalist buildings
Thank-you, I didn’t realise the derivation of the term; by definition it must be concrete then.
The Romans, the inventors and great users of concrete nearly always covered it with a marble,
stucco, or brick veneer. The Pantheon is a good example.
The Barbican only took twenty years to build because for about nineteen of those years the workforce was on strike.
Brutalism is inhuman. Not welcoming to “children and other living things”. It’s meant to be that way. It says much more about the architects’ egos than about the culture around it. It uses the people who interact with it as props; “look on my works…and despair!”
But, then again, there’s the Whitney Museum in New York. Despair not!
Come friendly bombs and fall on Brum!
The Brutalists made a concrete slum
There’s nowhere fit to live.
Swarm over, Death!
Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
Those airless, Speer-like tribute scenes
‘crete walls, ‘crete floors, ‘crete dreams, ‘crete give:
‘crete minds, ‘crete breath.
Mess up the mess they call a centre:
Use all the bombs that we could sent ya’.
Architects we wish you’d died
In the years before ‘45
For nothing that the Luftwaffe done
could match the malice of the one
Whose prideful moth soon decried
In concrete lives you’ll all abide.
Come, friendly bombs and fall on Brum
To get it ready for…anyone.
The cabbages defend it still
Bomb at will.
(will apologies to John Betjemen)
Gooch considers many excuses for Brutalism, and some of them make sense in a historical, economic or political context. But so what? Why should anyone (except historians or biographers) care about the theories or conditions that led architects to produce buildings that were, and are, brutal? Houses and other buildings are not machines, Le Corbusier notwithstanding, and neither are the people who must live and work in them–or at least see them every day.
As for Modernism, precisely why should buildings be “honest”? How does that moral principle apply to architecture? Are Gothic or Renaissance buildings somehow immoral? This is not self-evident to me. There’s nothing wrong with the idea that form should follow function, it’s true, as long as that idea acknowledges the fact that ornament itself can have an important function: to delight the eye, to make something beautiful.
It is difficult to reconcile ‘buildings should as far as possible reflect the technologies and spirit of their own times’ with the buildings that belief is supposed to have inspired. Optimism, hope, comfort, the belief that good had triumphed over evil and the post-war boom seems almost entirely absent. This is in contrast to the Levittowns, widely credited as being the father of suburbia, which I think have a much more solid claim to embody the technologies and spirit of the times. But, of course, William Jaird Levitt wasn’t an architect, and wasn’t designing for a city council.
One such devotee is Barnabas Calder, an architecture academic and writer. In his passionate and well-written book Raw Concrete: The Beauty of Brutalism, he makes a strong and learned case for the style, focusing on its vigour and monumentality.
If you need to write a whole book trying to convince people that brutalist architecture is beautiful, maybe it’s not actually beautiful.
Calder gently pushes back against other anti-Brutalist arguments, principally the suggestion that it was an excuse for fast, cheap and shoddy construction. This was undoubtedly the case in certain places, but he demonstrates quite conclusively that many of the most striking and prestigious projects were expensive and time-consuming.
So not only are they ugly and out-of-place, they’re expensive and time-consuming to boot. If this is meant to be a defence of brutalist architecture, it’s not a very good one.
There is much to think about in some of the key tenets of architectural modernism. Most intriguing, perhaps, is the emphasis on “honesty”: the belief that buildings should as far as possible reflect the technologies and spirit of their own times, that they should not hide the materials or techniques used in their creation, and that they should reflect a democratic and liberating spirit.
I don’t see how hiding a concrete interior with a nice-looking brick or stone facade is any more “dishonest” than, say, hiding your* flabby and pasty-skinned body with some nice-looking clothes. In fact, it just seems like common courtesy.
As for “reflecting a democratic spirit” — every time I’ve come across when the choice of a brutalist vs. traditionalist design for a building was put to the general public, the traditionalist design won hands-down. How exactly is foisting unpopular designs on people “democratic”?
(* Generic “your”; Mr Gooch will no doubt be relieved to know that I have no idea what his physique is like.)
a fractured and uncertain modern world where older forms feel exhausted or inadequate.
“Feel exhausted and inadequate” to whom, exactly? As I mentioned above, when given the choice, people almost invariably plump for older forms of architecture rather than brutalism. And if you look at where people choose to visit on holiday, traditional cities with centres that haven’t changed in five hundred years tend to get more footfall than concrete brutalist wastelands.
It’s the architecture of megalomaniacs. It hates people & I hate it. It tries to triumph over the natural world rather than reflect it. No love, except for naked power.
Perfect for our age then. Or, at any rate, those who wish to be our overlords.
What architecture do you feel highly reflects the world? Something “solarpunky”?
Is it possible to admire both Scruton AND the odd brutalist building? Rather fond of some of Basil Spence’s work.
I’m interested by the reference to cheap energy driving the ambitious public building projects. My understanding was that, at least as far as housing was concerned, there was insufficient capacity to bake enough bricks and concrete was adopted as a cheaper and more efficient alternative. Does anyone here know more about this?
Well that certainly gave the devil his due and then some, but give me pastiche any day.
I think one reason why some on the left claim to like brutalism is not because they actually like it, but because they think Conservatives don’t like it.
Brutalism is well-named. Those who design this stuff, invariably live in nice Queen Anne mansions. Brutal is for the plebs.
‘Invariably’ is a very strong word to use in any circs, let alone in a completely evidence-free blurting of prejudice.
Prejudice is sometimes a reasonable thing. My prejudice against ugly and barbaric “architecture” being a good example.
I have never ever met an architect whom I found anything other than tedious, smug, myopic and dull….
What a nice man to say such kind things about ugliness.
One of the problems is that if you are designing an building in an unfamiliar style that is unadorned you better have an exceptionally good sense of space and form. Few architects in fact have such fine sensibility.
“Calder notes that some Brutalists, like Denys Lasdun who designed New Court and the National Theatre, were influenced by classicists such as Nicholas Hawksmoor,”
Denys Lasdun does have a better sense than most of the brutalist architects so there is less enthusiasm for destroying his buildings. I remember his College of Physicians being erected in Regents Park providing a stark contrast to the ebullience of the French Mansard style of Cambridge Gate next door, which itself was an intrusion into the fake stucco classic palaces of John Nash and James Decimus Burton. But unlike many brutalist buildings it is not excessively intrusive having a scale that in no way overwhelms Cambridge Gate and its exterior survives largely unmolested by time. It is a building that works in a way that much brutalist buildings fail to work – perhaps precisely because Denys Lasdun had a proper appreciation of earlier architectural masterpieces.
Why do you people have to shorten everything? Traditional to trad. Can you not expend a few seconds? You do not have to fit in with tiktok audiences this much.