The Brutalist architectural movement was born in the European communist countries and became famous all over the world in the 1960s and 1970s.
Those buildings constructed through brutalist architecture had certain critics who defined this kind of buildings as "piles of cement". While others embraced the designs admiring their unique aesthetic appeal.
Brutalism is a trend derived from modern architecture, influenced mainly by the French architect Le Corbusier, especially his large-scale projects, such as the houses in Marseilles and Berlin, as well as the masterful architecture of Chandigarh in india.
With the progressive decline of the modern movement, brutalism is becoming more and more common, thanks to a simple and repetitive architecture made of raw materials that guarantees the possibility of creating great works at a reduced cost.
What is Brutalist Architecture and how is it defined?
Brutalism is an architectural style that features bold, structurally innovative forms that use raw concrete as a raw material. Brutalist buildings, recognizable by both their mass and materiality, often reveal the means of their construction through unfinished surfaces that bear the traces of the molds that formed them.
Brutalist architecture emerged after the Second World War, the term "brutalism" of the architectural current became very popular among architects without anyone knowing exactly the architectural hood it covered. And it was in England that it appeared, from the early 1950s, in the form of the "new brutalism".
A large number of young architects took concrete brutalist architecture as a violent term and made it their banner. Subsequently, rather than a school or a movement, the word brutalism continued to refer to a generation of "angry young men" and a polemical climate, masking very diverse and sometimes contradictory sensibilities.
The peculiar name that came to be known as brutalist architecture probably comes from "beton brut", the French name for raw concrete, which in the hands of an artist architect like Le Corbusier could become a surprisingly beautiful building material, especially under the rays of the Mediterranean sun.
The nickname "brutalism" was created and popularized by Rainer Benham, a bearded English architecture critic of the influential edition of "Architectural Reviews". It was until then that a new generation of young architects who, in building the postwar socialist utopia, would come to be called brutalism, challenged the very foundations of what they called dying bourgeois modernism.
In the late 1930s, architects saw in the positions of their elders an attitude of resignation and compromise: the great principles of modern brutalist architecture seemed to them betrayed in favor of a kind of English provincialism.
Brutalist architecture gained considerable momentum in the United Kingdom in the mid-20th century, when economically backward communities sought cheap construction and design methods for the development of cheap Brutalist houses, shopping malls, and government buildings. However, many architects chose the Brutalist style even if they had large budgets, as they appreciated the "honesty," sculptural qualities, and perhaps the uncompromising, anti-bourgeois nature of the style.
Contemporary Brutalist architecture, on the other hand, derives from the refusal of Brutalism and it seems that this invention was made possible by the sarcasm of Swedish architect Erik Gunnar Asplund, a play on the names of the main leaders of the movement, Peter Smithson known as Brutus and Le Corbusier's famous formula imagining the Radiant City.
Concept of Brutalist Architecture
The naming of the Brutalist architectural style is most commonly attributed to the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier (born Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris), who specified béton brut (raw or unfinished concrete) in his Unité d'Habitation apartment buildings, the first of which was completed in Marseille in 1952.
Architecture critic Reyner Banham spread the term brutalism more widely through his writings on the work of British architects Alison and Peter Smithson, whose work focused on raw materials and an industrial aesthetic.
The brutalist movement aims to question the aesthetic values of the architecture of the time in search of a real contrast. This idea is part of the intense socio-economic situation of the time: after World War II, European cities needed to construct new buildings, given the large number of people damaged or completely destroyed by bombing.
Brutalism responded to this need with its repetitive, crude and economical architecture, receiving great support from society, especially from left-wing parties supported by socialism and communism. For this reason, it is no coincidence to find brutalist buildings in the former Soviet Union: from the early 1950s until the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Characteristics of Brutalist Architecture
Brutalist architecture or brutalism architectural characteristics are identified by the important use of cement that, combined with the plastic forms worked and molded in detail, highlights the strength of the structure. The volume of the elements is robust and accentuated, while the shapes and materials are molded by the space creating a connection with what surrounds us.
Buildings that denote brutalist architecture usually consist of repeated modular elements that form masses that represent the brutalist style in interiors, specific functional areas, clearly articulated and grouped into a unified whole.
Aesthetically the characteristics of brutalist architecture fit into the context of European modernism of the 1950s and 1970s (in the field of fine arts, in brutalist paintings, in film, photography, graphics, sculpture, interior design) with its search for new means of expression.
That is, in particular, there arises an interest towards brutalist architecture for local color, a plastic, sticky and "modernist" form, and sharp and expressive textures. The declarative ease and softness of the "international style" of Brutalism contrasted with the impressive power of structures and volumes, bold compositional solutions on a grand scale.
For example, one of the most popular themes of Brutalist architecture in Latin America, often used in Brutalist architectural projects for administrative and public buildings, is a stepped pyramid, turned downward and raised on pylons.
These ideas were inspired by the belief in the new technologies of brutalist architectural construction in houses, in particular, in the unexplored possibilities of such a new building material as reinforced concrete. The plasticity of concrete and its "sculptural" possibilities attracted brutalist architects.
Just like painting brutalism. Concrete is used for its elemental and modest honesty, which contrasts dramatically with the highly refined and ornate buildings constructed in the Beaux-Arts style of the elite. In the cast concrete surfaces, the fundamental nature of their construction is revealed, the texture of the wood boards used for the cast-in-place forms. Construction materials to achieve brutalist architecture also include brick, glass, steel, rough stone and gabions.
The theory of brutalism is often associated with a utopian socialist ideology, which tends to be supported by designers, especially Alison and Peter Smithson, near the apex of the style. In the architecture of European socialist countries, this style was prominent between 1965 and 1989. In Czechoslovakia, Soviet brutalism was presented as an attempt to create both a "national" and a "modern socialist" architectural style.
On the other hand, not all brutalist buildings with an exposed concrete exterior can be considered brutalist and may belong to a variety of architectural styles, including Constructivism, International Style, Expressionism, Postmodernism, and Deconstructivism.
The uniqueness of brutalism lies in the intention to show all the tangible components of architecture and, therefore, the rough forms and raw materials.
Brutalist Architecture Works
Concrete is of great constructive necessity in this historical period, as a low-cost, unpretentious, utilitarian, democratic and modern material, in addition to having high technical possibilities.
By means of new technologies, a molding capacity is achieved that responds to all kinds of structural fantasies and a new capacity to cover enormous spaces. In this way, mid-20th century architects conceived gigantic raw concrete structures with a poetic, sculptural, brutal and primitive rhythm.