Brutalism Movement in Architecture

Many of the architectural movements that emerged throughout history have been developed due to aesthetic concerns, the art understanding of the period or socio-political reasons. Behind the spread of Brutalism around the world, it’s much more than these reasons; There are a world war and economic collapses that it brings. The challenging atmosphere and financial difficulties have foregrounded transparency, savings, the use of raw materials and simplicity in architectural design.

What is brutalism?

Brutalism, one of the submovements of modern architecture,  aims to make building elements and structures uncoated as are, contrary to the showing made with using facing materials in buildings. The name of this trend, in which the materials and building elements are used gross, comes from the term “béton brut” used by Le Corbusier in French. It means raw and exposed concrete.

Characteristic Features of Brutalism

The biggest underlying causes of the emergence of the brutalist movement was the growing world population and severe economic problems. It is not surprising that the favorite material of the architectural trend that came up for these reasons is concrete. Because the concrete, used in modern architecture as reinforced concrete, is a cheap, workable, practical and quite durable building material that can be produced anywhere in the world. In the brutalist architectural structures, alongside concrete, building materials such as steel, wood, glass were used rather frequently and these materials, like concrete, were left uncoated in raw form.

An example of brutalist buildings by Ernö Goldfinger,  Balfron Tower in 1967
An example of brutalist buildings from Ernö Goldfinger: Balfron Tower, 1967

 Sharp lines, cold and solid facades, obviously displayed of functionality, heavy and solid stance… The features of architectural structures with a brutalist character are not limited to these. The geometric elements on the facade, that repeated in an order, contribute to the static stance of the building, which is an indicator of political and authoritarian power. The style carries the idea of “form follows form”, which is the main theme of modern architecture, one step further and cares about the understanding of the function from the outside. In addition, not many colors are used, the facades that stand out with the monochrome shades of concrete and steel represent the pessimistic, harsh, scary and ruthless world of the period. States that want to push their political power and strict will on societies have designed their public structures with this structure style, which mostly shows gigantean and sheltered.

The Adventure of Brutalism

The first great representative of Brutalism, which one of the late interpretations of the “Modern Architectural Movement”, is Le Corbusier. In 1952, Le Corbusier, with the Unite d’Habitation design he designed in France where has not yet recovered after World War II, brought an important example of Brutalism, the effects of which will last until today, to the architecture. According to the general opinion, this mass housing project of Le Corbusier, which is the appearance point of Brutalism, is one of the most important projects that defines the requirements of the period well and affects the architecture of the future. Unite d’Habitation has most of the Brutalism trend’s features; A rectangular building block rising on the undressed colonnade system, the facade that designed with raw concrete and repeated architectural texture… This living machine, designed for the proletariat and can be the living space of up to 1600 people, had a design free from adornments and functionless elements just as required by modern architecture.

An example for Brutalism in Architecture Unité d'habitation
Unité d’habitation

The period in which the movement was most popular was the mid-1960s because Reyner Banham pushes Brutalism through as an architectural revolution in 1966 with his book “The New Brutalism” and described the architectural thinking behind the movement. In this way, Brutalism was better understood by large surroundings and started to receive more support in the architectural community.

Another one of the most important examples of brutalist architecture is “Pompidou” in France. Pompidou Cultural Center, which is the design of Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, is a brutalist work that is still popular nowadays and inspiring to architectural designers in their projects. Completed in 1977, the project differs from other brutalist structures with its contemporary materials and more modern stance. This time, architects used structural steel and glass instead of exposed concrete. Stairs that provide vertical circulation of the building, installation pipes, steel structures, shortly all components of the building have been transformed into exhibition items with all their transparency.

Brutalism in architecture example Centre Pompidou
Centre Pompidou

By the end of the 1970s, Brutal Architecture began to lose its position in the architectural surroundings, so modern architecture was replaced by post-modern architecture.

Other Side of Brutal Architecture

Every architectural opinion is open to criticism and has been criticized. Brutalism also got its share from these critiques. Both the colorless, inanimate facades of the buildings and the unemotional,  rough form, coldness and frightening appearance of exposed concrete have drawn heavy criticisms. Although these criticisms are sometimes justified, it is best to interpret the architectural structures and architectural movements according to the era they were produced and showed up. An architectural structure is successful if it reflects the age and time it was designed. Some environments identified this movement with social movements of the eastern bloc, such as socialism and communism, and thus criticized it heavily.

Another subject of critique is that style cannot always show the same effect in different climates and geographies. While the warm and effective sun, in the southern countries, was showing gross concrete effectively, it looked dirty, ineffective and depressing in the north regions. In addition, since brutalist structures were designed and built very quickly to close the housing need after the war rapidly, problematic designs emerged.

Most of the designed buildings, inspired by Corbusier’s design approach, were not able to perform the functions considered, so evacuated and became the living spaces of the homeless. In addition, aging of structures brings cracking and dispersal of concrete in its wake, thence leaving a very ugly look behind. Therefore, Brutalism has seen as the culprit of urban decay and started to have a bad reputation.

As in the thought of Adolf Loos and Louis Kahn, one of the pioneers of modern architecture, architectural designs should be designed clearly to show their form, identity and style of construction without embellishment. Brutalism is a trend that emerged with this idea of modern architecture, for justifiable reasons, then left its place to other movements in the rapidly changing world.

A structure that is designed no matter what its movement is, if it reveals the idea behind it with a good architectural language and successful expression, it always holds its authority and continues to defend itself against all criticisms. Thus, it also makes it possible to find supporters in every period. As a matter of fact, the successful works of Brutalism are still among the most inspired, referenced and visited structures.

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