BRUTALISM

Written by Julie Dayer

 

What goes around comes around : When social media helps saving architectural style from oblivion

 
 

Following the Modernism Period, inspired by the ideas of Le Corbusier or Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Brutalism is making an astonishing comeback over the past few years.

 
Arcades du Lac, Montigny-le-Bretonneux © Laurent Kronental

Arcades du Lac, Montigny-le-Bretonneux © Laurent Kronental

 

 

This inexpensive architectural style of Anglo-Saxon origin allows the quick construction of dwelling units or public and institutional buildings. Brutalism expanded in England in the middle of the 1950 under the influence of Peter and Alison Smithson. The brutalist approach counters the formalistic conception and useless ornaments. Its goal is to emphasize the functional aspect of architecture, focusing specifically on utilitarian needs at the expense of its outer shell. If the origin of the term is debatable, we owe its use in common language to the critic Reyner Banham, who used it in his publication The New Brutalism. Ethic or Aesthetic (1966).

Verticality and impressive dimensions, repetition of sharp-edged geometrical forms, use of raw materials and absence of any primer or coating: these are few of the aspects showing how little concern the brutalist style has for aesthetic harmony. Indeed, architects supporting this approach uphold first of all an architectural ethic, revolutionizing alternately forms, materials and functions of a building.

After a decade encountering more or less unanimous success, brutalism dealt with great unpopularity among the public around the beginning of the seventies and disappeared into oblivion for about thirty years. During this period, several buildings of brutalist style were neglected and often under threat of demolition. 

The rediscovery of the most significant examples of the style is mainly attributable to the newly reborn interest for the purity and simplicity of his aesthetic, which ironically goes against this movement’s initial ethical goals. Social medias and their taste for photogenic sceneries also allowed those buildings to gain a new haze and a new popularity among the younger generation. This fresh public infatuation however should be credited for the preservation of the now historical buildings, saving them from the destructive fury that threatened them for the last three decades.

 
National Theatre, London, viewed from the north-east © Philip Vile

National Theatre, London, viewed from the north-east © Philip Vile

The Met Breuer Museum, New York City © Max Touhey

The Met Breuer Museum, New York City © Max Touhey

City Hall, Boston © Naquib Hossain

City Hall, Boston © Naquib Hossain

The Geisel Library, San Diego © Pthai

The Geisel Library, San Diego © Pthai