Nicholas Brewer

What is Brutalism?

This can get complicated so here are the basics. Brutalism is a post-war architectural style defined by the use of simple block-like forms usually made from cast concrete or brick. It is characterised by ‘Massive’ heavily-textured raw concrete (beton brut) angular geometric shapes. Brutalism thrived between the mid-1950s and 1970s.

According to RIBA, here is what to look for in a Brutalist building:

1. Rough unfinished surfaces
2. Unusual shapes
3. Heavy-looking materials
4. Massive forms
5. Small windows in relation to the other parts

Brutalism, or New Brutalism as it was sometimes referred to, has its roots in modernism but emerged as a movement against the architectural mainstream with its emphasis on materials, textures and construction as well as functionality and equality. The brutalist architects challenged traditional notions of what a building should look like, focussing on interior spaces as much as exterior. They also showed the building’s construction, unafraid to make a feature of service towers, plumbing and ventilation ducts in their creations.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Dr Jonathan Foyle, the chief executive of the World Monuments Fund Britain, provided interesting architectural context for Brutalist buildings: “They are very muscular and everything is perhaps bigger than it needs to be, and for that reason I feel that brutalism is a modern take on gothic architecture… Both were designed from the inside out – the purpose of the building and what happens inside is the important part – the outside is merely the envelope that wraps it up.”



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