15 November 2018 § Leave a comment
For the launch of this spectacular new publication from Phaidon we were kindly invited on a tour of some of London’s major Brutalist landmarks. Starting at the Barbican on the Southbank and proceeding via a series of impressive landmarks like Centre Point and The London College of Physicians it was pointed out by our insightful guide that much contemporary architecture, almost inevitably, runs through a love/hate/love cycle.
Brutalism is an architecture that has perhaps suffered more, on this roller coaster of critical opinion, than many others. Surely most styles have never been quite so universally hated? Was it this passionately deep dislike from many quarters that has also ultimately pushed others to an equally heart-felt passion?
It seems to be only in the last decade or so that there has been a largely universal recognition of the quality and values of Brutalism as a unique style that is worth preserving and enjoying. A cautionary word that the task is not yet complete is provided by the book’s list of properties scheduled for demolition – of which appallingly half are in the UK.
In this context is is perhaps remarkable that so much great Brutalist architecture has still survived but it is also necessary to recognise the great buildings that have not. Phaidon’s Atlas of Brutalist Architecture features all of them – lost or otherwise and is undoubtedly the most complete and wide-ranging survey of this still controversial movement.
Proving that the style was truly international, the volume records 850 buildings from more than 100 countries and these are organised in to nine continental regions. Each building is illustrated with black and white (what else?) images, succinctly described and categorised by use (used/abandoned), status (listed listed or scheduled for demolition) and condition.
Within this list not only contains a who’s who of twentieth century architecture – masters like: Marcel Breuer, Le Corbusier, Carlo Scarpa, Ernö Goldfinger, Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Kahn and Oscar Niemeyer – but also those lesser known or simply galvanised by the style.
Interestingly, for a movement that many would allocate to a specific period now past the authors argue that the origins of Brutalism lie much earlier that the traditionally accepted period from 1950 to mid 1970’s and feature for example Erich Mendelsohn’s Hat Factory in Germany built in 1923.
Similarly, the conventional end date of the mid 1970’s has been considerably extended, helped along by the widespread international use of structural concrete. Architects like Herzog & de Meuron with the Signal Box in Basle, Switzerland from 1994 and Stephen Hall at M.I.T in 2002 show that inspiration gained from the movement has continued up to the present day, and undoubtedly will continue and evolve in the future.
Phaidon must be praised for their commitment with this substantial book which in style, size and weight is also deliberately evocative of a Brutalist object. As they headline the book on their website: Big. Bold. Brutal. The cover is both embossed and roughly textured, bold black lettering emerges from a montage of iconic Brutalist buildings whilst the spine text too large and proud to be confined, wraps itself round on to the covers.
The Atlas of Brutalist Architecture not only successfully records Brutalism as a movement, but expands its scope, develops our understanding and inspires further evaluation. A definite must for any architecture or concrete-lovers (well built) coffee table.
To purchase visit www.phaidon.com
This post was also published at CELLOPHANELAND*
Size: 340 x 240 mm (13 3/8 x 9 1/2 in)
Pages: 560 pp
Illustrations: 1000 illustrations
12 November 2015 § Leave a comment
Brutalism is not brutal. At the very beginning of a behind-the-scenes tour of the Southbank, I was embarrassed to discover my understanding of the architectural term has always been wrong, a comprehension apparently shared by much of the population. In fact, the great tragedy of Brutalism was the adoption of precisely that name for a set of architectural principles born of Modernism.
The term has been misunderstood since inception as referring to a ‘brutal’ effect on the eye of the beholder or the ‘brutalising’ impact on its residents. Little could be further from the truth. The term is actually derived from the French béton brut meaning literally ‘raw concrete’ as well as the Art Brut or ‘raw art’ of those such as Jean Dubuffet. Pure, natural and honest would probably have been more in the mind of the creators of the term at that time.
Inspired by Le Corbusier, concrete was considered the solution for new models for housing – especially social housing, but therein lay part of the problem. It became associated not just with cheapness but also with poverty – a link reinforced by Films like A Clockwork Orange which provided a dystopian view of the future set in modern urban landscapes.
I was also a tad embarrassed at my misunderstanding of the architecture of the complex. Always clubbed together as ‘The South Bank‘ I’d considered it all ‘Brutalist’, but our National Trust guide had immediately pointed out the strongly differing styles.
The Royal Festival Hall, built in 1951 for the Festival of Britain, is a curving white building built in Scandinavian Modern Style whilst the contrasting Queen Elizabeth Hall, and Hayward Gallery were built much later, in 1967/8, in cast and poured concrete.
We were here on a preview of one of a series of tours taking place in some of Britain’s most iconic Brutalist Buildings – other tour locations include Sheffield’s Park Hill Estate and the University of East Anglia in Norwich as well as on a Routemaster London bus. The National Trust is aiming to shine a light on the significance of Brutalism and no doubt also help raise the final funds required in a two year restoration of the Hayward, Purcell, and QEH that starts this month.
We were led on a fascinating tour in to spaces never-before seen by the public, shuffling through long underground tunnels, peering onto stages, ducking into ventilation rooms, all the while being expertly coached in the roles of form and function in the vision, construction and reception of these iconic buildings. There were tubes, control panels and ducts a-plenty whilst glimpses in to changing rooms, backstage areas, and green rooms also afforded a performers perspective.
Concrete itself was a frequent topic. At the time considered the ultimate for advanced buildings, it was a very high quality material, and with the extreme care taken in construction at the South Bank, these were buildings that represented one of the high points in its use. Cast, poured or mixed with straw, it was even finished like Japanese woodblock prints with a carefully textured wood-grain finish from three different types of wood.
It is clear that the legacy of Brutalism is currently undergoing a critical reappraisal. Heroic and controversial at its outset, it was initially largely dismissed as an unsightly imposition, whilst today its austere aesthetic is widely appreciated.
The National Trust’s Brutal Utopias seeks to foster this debate and engage the public with these buildings which, like them or not, now thankfully an essential part of our national architectural heritage.
Tours take place at the three locations between Friday 25th September – Sunday 4th October 2015 and can be booked at www. nationaltrust.org.uk
For further information on events at the Southbank visit www.southbankcentre.co.uk
Images by CELLOPHANELAND*