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Brutalism is Back (nytimes.com)
170 points by tintinnabula on Oct 11, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 205 comments

I have a few issues with this article. Most notably, it doesn't prove that brutalism is back at all; it just admits that the style is no longer universally disliked by the public -- perhaps (I'm speculating) out of nostalgia, perhaps out of wistful remorse for having judged it too harshly, or perhaps by the fact that it's no longer the style associated with government intervention, with homogeneity, with willful disregard for social convention.

I also disagree with the notion expressed midway through the article that brutalism was about "an uncompromising desire to tell it like it is". In fact, most brutalism that I'm familiar with deliberately provokes by its unnatural (or even top-heavy) massing, sheer vertical lines, and dominance of concrete over other materials as a deliberate choice. The claim reads as disingenuous since Le Corbusier used structures featuring beton brut -- raw, exposed concrete -- which is where the term brutalism originates. It was very much an aesthetic choice, intentionally designed to be provocative.

As an aside, to me, the Washington DC Metro [1] represents the best of brutalism -- a functional design that, albeit stark, is pleasing to the eye solely as an accident of its function. It expresses the sheer human grandeur -- in this case, tunneling through the earth -- without being visually offensive.

[1] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bd/12-07-12...

Go I hate riding the DC Metro everyday. Maybe it's brutalism at its best, but it's simply a poor design for a metro system. Contrast with something like Hong Kong's MTR [1]: brightly lit, different colored walls so you can visually distinguish stations, and a glass wall between passengers and trains to prevent falls/suicides. DC Metro may be grand, but it's just not smart.

As for the rest of DC's brutalist architecture, this piece sums up a lot of my feelings: https://www.buzzfeed.com/bennyjohnson/the-7-most-heinously-u...

[1] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9f/MTR_Nort...

On the other hand, compared to the NYC subway, the DC metro is like stepping into the future. (Roomy! Quiet! Escalators! Handicap-accessible! It's a modern marvel, I say.) I'd take the brutalism of the DC metro over NYC any day.

To be fair, the DC metro was built more than 70 years after the New York subway.

There are much older subways (London, Paris and Madrid come to mind) that are as large and have managed to stay modern, albeit with slightly fewer stations (but longer networks).

The NYC is subway is old, but it's not like they haven't had any time to work on it. From what I've read, it's mostly attributable to mismanagement at the MTA — misdirected funds, union squabbles, lack of political will, lack of imagination, outright corruption.

NYC is admittedly extremely time-consuming (and therefore expensive) to dig, but all the things that could have modernized the subway and made more it convenient and accessible wouldn't require digging more tunnels.

The other systemic problems — lack of modern signaling, lack of parallel tunnels — are harder and more expensive to solve, especially without disrupting commuters.

ummh... have you ever been on any of those subways?

Paris is a marvel for its density and well-planned routes. But some of the lines are more like underground light rail compared to e.g. the Lexington line, which on its own carries like 1/3 of the passengers of Paris or London.

The London Tube trains I've been on felt like a subway for midgets compared to the 10-foot wide BMT trains. They stop running at night. One of the only times I've missed a flight was due to a London Tube delay.

The new Chinese subways really put the US to shame, quiet, double glass doors, video screens everywhere, cell phones work everywhere, very cheap, very dense and very crowded.

The NY subway is pretty reliable and fast. Apps like Moovit and Citymapper make it pretty easy to get where you want as quickly as possible. Train Time coverage and wifi coverage could be better, the latter is improving. It could be nicer but all I can say is if you think the New York subway is bad now, you should have tried it in the 70s.

Edit: I'd add that an Oyster-type payment system would be nice. Also, a couple of MTA alumni have led systems in London, Hong Kong, Toronto, other cities, so NY is probably not at the very bottom in best practices. Bottom line is you can get anywhere quickly and reliably at all hours, if not always in luxurious style, and you don't need a car to live here. So I'll take it, until your driverless taxi can deal with NY traffic and get there faster.

Paris has well-planned routes? Not at all! Take line 12 for example, a crooked, slow line with stations sometimes a single block apart.

There are no escalators or elevators except for a few stations, and the trains rattle and shake as much as NYC. Not to mention the narrow trains running on standard gauge, created like that on purpose so the federal government wouldn't take it over and run their own trains.

Line 14 is the only one which would qualify as a modern transportation system.

anywhere you go in Paris, you're a few minutes walk from a métro station...NYC subway mostly goes down main transportation axes, there are pretty big deserts where you have a very long walk or take a bus to the subway, even in Manhattan but especially in outer boroughs.

> Paris is a marvel for its density and well-planned routes. But some of the lines are more like underground light rail compared to e.g. the Lexington line, which on its own carries like 1/3 of the passengers of Paris or London.

So maybe that indicates that more, smaller lines are the way to go? Passengers don't care how many passengers each line carries, they care about being able to make their journeys.

> The London Tube trains I've been on felt like a subway for midgets compared to the 10-foot wide BMT trains.

You get used to it. They're small but again that's not inherently a problem. (Being overcrowded is a problem - I don't know how NY or DC compare on this front)

> They stop running at night.

As of a few months ago there's now limited service on friday/saturday nights. But yeah, all-night running is absolutely something NY has over other subways. How much of a priority that should be is a judgement call of course - it's achieved by four-tracking the lines, so if you didn't need all-night running you could have ~twice as many lines (build the same number of tunnels, but spread them across the city better) for the same price.

> One of the only times I've missed a flight was due to a London Tube delay.

Anecdote != data - how do the statistics on late running compare?

Fun fact: The Lexington avenue line carries as many passengers in a day as the entire DC Metro

> The London Tube trains I've been on felt like a subway for midgets compared to the 10-foot wide BMT trains.

Indeed, taking luggage on the tube during rush hour is a truly painful experience.

Taking luggage on any mass transit system during rush hour is likely to be a painful experience...

Yes, that's correct, but taking luggage on the Tube during off hours is just regular painful.

The D.C. Metro is equally badly managed, if not worse. The only reason it's better in some ways,[1] is because it started with a 70-year technology advantage.

[1] And it's worse in many ways too, such as the lack of express tracks.

WRT NYC, isn't there also that it's one of the very few (if not the only) 24/7 metro system?

London's Night Tube is a very recent thing (August 2016) and only covers a few lines, Madrid Metro closes at 0130 and reopens at 0600, Paris Metro closes at 0115 and reopens at 0530 (with exceptions: 5 lines are open all night on new year's eve and 2 festivals, and since 2007 it closes at 0215 on fridays, saturdays and holiday eves)

Honestly, do you use it on a regular basis?

I think DC-style brutalistic buildings could look fantastic... if they were covered in vegetation. That'd be so cool.

I am also a huge fan of Logan's Run

Is that an issue with the architecture of the DC Metro, or just the design of its "accessories?" Glass walls to prevent people from falling into the tracks weren't a thing when most subways were constructed in America.

It's possible to retrofit the DC Metro to keep its (arguably) beautiful ceilings [0], while still making it safe and navigable for commuters.

[0] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/42/WMATA_Me...

The glass partitions were put in sometime after 2000, but the heavy emphasis on color-schemes I remember from the early 1990s.

That reminds me way too much of my undergrad alma mater, Cleveland State University. Back when I went it was almost entirely made up of drab (maybe Soviet inspired?) concrete block buildings like this from the 60s-70s. We called it "concrete state university". It reflected the depressed look of the rest of early 2000s downtown Cleveland pretty well. A majority commuter school at the time, little attention was paid to campus life.

On the plus side, the campus and the whole area actually looks a lot nicer now. Also, after it's all said and done I have to say I actually got a pretty decent education too (at the very least it was a great deal for the small state school tuition price). Maybe aesthetics aren't everything.

I also ride WMATA Metro every day. I understand that the architect wanted no lights to be actually visible, hidden behind ceiling ledges and in alcoves, diffusing light. Apparently he's in his eighties now and is outraged that they're spoiling his vision by placing direct, bright lights.

There is nothing wrong with the design of the DC Metro. It's problems are 100% issues of mismanagement.

> DC Metro may be grand, but it's just not smart.

As a subway system, no not smart, but (if the rumors are true) the stops were also designed to serve as fallout shelters. In that regard, perhaps it is smartly designed.

You'll feel even better knowing that most of those buildings are owned by REITs and that the government actually leases them.

In addition to the Metro, another structure that I recognize as wonderful brutalism is the Hirshhorn museum. More than just visually unique, the space works well for exhibits as you work your way around the donut (one way or the other) with large interior windows (but also windowless exterior space). It's very different from anything else on the Mall, and also from much of the other typically rectangular brutalist (waffle) buildings in DC (exceptions for Watergate and the lovely Canadian embassy). From within the surrounding garden it feels at home, a smooth, geometric, vaguely alien singleton resting behind the hedges as any other sculpture.


As for brutalism coming back, I haven't seen much new construction. I suspect when it does make its resurgence it will be with some recognition of how it was received in the past and how those structures are regarded today.

> perhaps by the fact that it's no longer the style associated with government intervention

The speculation of the article is actually the opposite - that in the era of Bernie Sanders, when young people hear "socialism" and think of a functioning European welfare state rather than an oppressive European dictatorship, the connotations of large-scale government intervention have become a positive.

The funny thing about that is, that even for Europeans the term sounds negative, at least for Germans. We do not think that we live inside socialism. For us socialism is what Eastern Germany had and it is a bad idea (TM), too. We would use terms like social democratic or social market economy. Maybe it is different in other European countries, though.

In Western Europe socialism doesn't seem to uniformly create a negative reaction. After all Francois Hollande, President of the French Republic is a member of the Socialist Party.

If you go further east in Europe though both Brutalism and Socialism are scorned.

Perhaps when young Americans talk about socialism they don't really mean socialism in the Marxist sense, but rather a mixed economy somewhere in between the USA and France?


I'm referring to the US associations; I think that's the cultural zeitgeist that the New York Times is more familiar with :-P

Sort of the backlash to the right wing calling both European Social Democrats and American moves to expand the welfare state "socialist" as a term of abuse.

I honestly don't think Bernie would have had a chance at getting the kind of traction he got if the US right hadn't basically massively overplayed its hand by trying to tell a generation that grew up after the end of the cold war that Obama was a socialist.

It led to a very strong, very noticeable shift in perception where a much wider group of Americans in discussions would start asking questions about socialism instead of shooting down any mention of it with insults.

He probably wouldn't have chosen to call himself a socialist if the American right hadn't watered down the term so much.

The currently governing party in France is literally called the socialist party, no?

Socialist party on France is not really socialist nor communist: it is a capitalist party with "social-democrat" focus, i.e. quality public schools, quality and universal medical coverage for citizens, etc. In fact, even the conservative-liberal French party is in favor of universal medical coverage. That is pretty much the same in other European countries, like e.g. Spain (close to France), where I live.

My point is that if the party calls itself the socialist party then clearly there isn't a big problem with the term "socialist".

In "western Europe" the negative word for "socialist" is "communist", as most western-European "socialism" became social-democracy (i.e. "capitalist liberal-progressist" without Marxist commitment at all) after WWII.

In Germany Honecker invented the term "real existierender Sozialismus" [0] (actually existing socialism) and except in some extremist circles definitely has a negative meaning today. In my head it is stored next to sentences like "Niemand hat die Absicht eine Mauer zu errichten." ("Nobody has the intention of building a wall").

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Real_socialism

Ironically, as a welfare-state-loving young (?) European, just looking at the pictures of horrible desert-of-concrete DC government buildings linked elsewhere in this thread (not the subway, which I really loved when visiting) fills me with unexpected libertarian rage. That FBI building is like materialized propaganda for joining the NRA and forming a militia. Submarine architecture, to make a point against the customer?

Amazing how it expresses sheer human grandeur at the same time it reduces the human to insignificance, isn't it? I always feel like I'm in some kind of weird cross between a cathedral and the diggings of some giant alien worm.

> It was very much an aesthetic choice, intentionally designed to be provocative.

Sometimes, perhaps. Soviet brutalism was inspired by anemic budgets rather than the aesthetic. In fact I would speculate this is a driving factor more than anything--concrete is easy to work with and is cheap.

The aesthetic certainly gives the movement its name, though.

It was also popular for its apparent low maintenance.

Only now we are at the point where 60 year old concrete buildings need to be cleaned and it costs a fortune to do so because they were never designed for it

Part of the problem is that concrete doesn't age well. The building might start as looking ok, but quickly becomes discolored. It's worsened by the fact that many of the buildings made no accommodation for how they wouldn't allow water to just drip and discolor them even worse.

The article talks about them belonging to "an era of muscular, public-minded development". Later, it says, "Brutalism wasn’t fully popular with a broad public, whose members were never convinced that awe-inspiring concrete dourness was what society was truly missing, and it ultimately depended on the good will of sympathetic planners". So, actually, it harkens back to an era when politicians and planners felt that they didn't need to be accountable.

The worst part of the article is when it argues, "THERE’S NO QUESTION that Brutalism looks exceedingly cool. [author's emphasis]". I think most of the broad public would disagree - and the article basically says that. Brutalism is just gross and dirty to me. There's nothing interesting or cool about it for me. Brutalism means putting a lot of money into something that's crappy. As rayiner points out (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12688217), it isn't honest like the article portrays it as. The buildings are often needlessly complicated or purposely ugly.

Done right, aging concrete can be very beautiful. It blends with nature, slowly taking up color and texture of natural rock. Unfortunately, the "doing it right" has to happen at the drawing board, where people tend to picture pristine surfaces of perfectly even coloring. There, they are easily tempted to go for those minimalist shapes that exaggerate shinyness when new (that's why people go for that look) as much as raggedness when not. The difference between patina and grit happens before building even starts.

If I had a few man-decades of developer time to burn, without any chance of ever seeing adequate return, my dream software project would be a tool that analyzes architectural model data, simulates aging and creates an "aging forecast" version ready for rendering. This could help architects and clients to avoid badly aging designs if they choose to factor that into their decisions. Or at least it could generally promote the idea that sustainable is not just about day to day energy use but also about long term attractivity .

This seems like a really cool and useful idea. Are you sure it would be that long to develop a prototype?

I'm sure that it would take me very long, not being an expert in any of the required skill areas and all that. Seen from afar i identify several key components of a high quality architectural aging simulation: water/geometry interaction (most stains seem to be related to differences in water exposure), some rough thermal simulation (different drying speed, often you see "shadows" of internal structure on the outside, because the internals influence heat dissipation and thus drying speed), gathering and refining actual aging examples for all kinds of surface materials and finally extracting not only geometry but also surface material information from the input formats you would want to support. Putting it all together to generate output models or images would be the smallest part.

A less sophisticated effort might just try to use image based rendering techniques to normalize before/after photos into flat textures ready to be used as a learning set for some ML magic. Unfortunately, this would completely fail at respecting different aging properties of surfaces that look similar when new. Cleverly alternating between initially similar surfaces could for example be harnessed to get a clean, minimalistic look when new and expose some ornaments that distract from unintended unevenness later.

This isn't a completely theoretical idea by the way: a ca 2005 subway station here that used to get heavily criticised for its bland white walls is slowly starting to expose fascinating watermark-like images embedded in the texture of the walls, consisting of cleverly modulated ribs that seemed perfectly uniform when new.

Have you got any examples of concrete building that have aged well? I know some buildings age well but none I can think of are made of concrete.

(I like the software idea, as aging is something that architects would appear to overlook in any buildings built in my lifetime).

Sorry for the late answer, and sorry for the lack of pictures: I originally noticed different qualities in aging at university, where amidst many examples of terrible aging one lecture hall building and one office/former residential stood out. The lecture hall had a broken rib surface like one of these https://www.reckli.com/en/products/concrete-patterns/ribs-wa... (e.g. "Sicilia") on the larger surfaces which turned the staining of time into a feature, the office/former residential was a framework of concrete (probably modular), filled in with grey sand/lime bricks of similar brightness, but slightly warmer hue than the concrete that gave it a subtle elegance (in my eyes, others hated it) that seemed to be immune to aging.

Not exactly an example of aging well, but nonetheless deserving of a honorable mention: all the old Flagler Hotels that now form Flagler College in St Augustine. They were pretty much making up the modern use of poured concrete for houses as they went and it does show in many places. Most of the concrete surfaces are looking rather rotten by themselves (despite what i suspect to be quite intensive maintenance), but the crazy playfulness of all the decorations that surround them do a surprisingly good job at distracting from that. You notice, but you don't care.

> Part of the problem is that concrete doesn't age well. The building might start as looking ok, but quickly becomes discolored. It's worsened by the fact that many of the buildings made no accommodation for how they wouldn't allow water to just drip and discolor them even worse.

Funny how people see things differently. For my eye the discolored old concrete buildings look very inspiring and I guess it was the original idea that the buildings show their age...

> old concrete buildings look very inspiring

especially those with a touch of moss, mold and climbing vegetation here and there.

Definitely sounds intended. Brutalism is about enforcing the artificial nature of things. Trying to keep it nice and clean goes against the core idea.

Though I think brutalism is a blight on our cities....

Part of the problem is that concrete doesn't age well. The building might start as looking ok, but quickly becomes discolored.

I think that's one reason the article author chose to show black and white photos of the buildings. It masks the discoloration of the concrete.

I'm not a fan of brutalism either, but I don't mind an occasional brutalist building as contrast in a skyline.

> I don't mind an occasional brutalist building as contrast in a skyline.

Sort of how it's nice to have an ugly friend around to make your own attractiveness more palatable?

Yeah, kinda, but also like how you might appreciate the unique features of your ugly friend when they are surrounded by a bunch of attractive people.

Obviously the success of concrete with age varies by climate. In coastal California it ages well enough, as long as it isn't festooned with bits of galvanically antagonistic metals. One of my favorite spaces is the Oakland Museum of California and its concrete faces are in fine shape, 50 years later.

Likewise the QPAC building in Brisbane, Queensland has aged well on a similar climate.

Most examples of "brutalism" are just excuses for local governments to quickly build cheap housing, it looked terrible and was mostly a failure.

The UK is a prime example of it's wrongful use, but there have been some great examples.

Barbican in London is one of those examples, it's the only one I know which I actually really like.


Agreed. Have a look at the Barbican or the South Bank Centre in London. They should be flattened.

There was never anything particularly functional or honest about brutalist architecture. A Mies van der Rohe skyscraper is functional and honest: not much more than the structural steel necessary to keep the thing upright and the glass windows necessary to let in light for the humans inside.

Compare with monstrosities like the old Prentice hospital in Chicago: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prentice_Women%27s_Hospital_Bu.... Nothing functional about the tiny windows, or weirdly-shaped circular interior spaces, or wrapping the whole thing in a material (concrete) that doesn't hold up well to a snowy climate. Just architectural wankery.

I think Mies van der Rohe is a little bit of a blowhard. Look how he faked the "structural" steel in the Seagram Building. It is as much a decoration as a marble facade.

Mies would have wanted the steel frame to be visible to all; however, American building codes required that all structural steel be covered in a fireproof material (steel, with its low melting point, will fail in fires), usually concrete. This hid the structure of the building – something Mies wanted at all costs to avoid – so Mies used non-structural bronze-toned I-beams to suggest structure instead. These are visible from the outside of the building, and run vertically like mullions in the large glass windows. Now, observers look up and see a fake structure tinted bronze covering a real steel structure.


Not only does that page not have any photos of the building, but it, most noxiously, disables text highlighting and right click.

Wikipedia article for the building: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seagram_Building

And it "has the worst Energy Star rating of any building in New York at 3 out of 100". "Functional", you say?

Yes, I noticed and was annoyed as well. I have the Quick Javascript Switcher extension installed, for their own good.

Even worse: it doesn't disable highlighting, it just tries to overwrite click-drag with a swipe gesture to navigate between (?) articles.

UX at its worst.

I don't know exactly what 'functional' and 'honest' mean when applied to architecture any more than I do when 'organic' is bandied about. I do know that the bronze mullions Mies van der Rohe designed on the Segrams are purely decorative and the high bit on the aesthetics included running all the lights all night long as a signature statement.

It's not that I'm against modernist glass and steel. Bunshaft's Lever House sits on the same corner as Mies work and is one of my favorite architectural works. I'm not even against glass houses, though I think Johnson's earlier one is a better design than Farnsworth...if at least for not being built in a flood plain.

I don't know exactly what 'functional' and 'honest' mean when applied to architecture

Well, they did provide a definition for "honest" - that it looks like it's built with the materials it's actually built with.

Of course, so did stone houses for centuries, and they still managed to look pleasing in the process.

What I mean when I say I don't know what 'honest' means, is that I don't think that people using that word mean that a house clad in vinyl siding that looks like it is clad in vinyl siding is honest. Nor do they mean that Roman architecture of the classical constructed as opus latericium [1] is dishonest (or doubly dishonest if is still clad with marble).

I don't think 'honesty' (and 'functionality') are an improvement on the Vitruvian, 'firmitas, utilitas, and venustas'[2] for no other reason than Vitruvius backed the concepts up with examples and the examples included everything from fortifications to bridges to temples...which in map pretty well as typologies in which each takes priority over the others.

Perhaps it's because Vitruvius honored those generals, the city, and his gods rather than bricks.[3]

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opus_latericium

[2]: firmness, commodity, and delight

[3]: https://www.yatzer.com/even-brick-wants-be-something-louis-k...

Flat roofs are also architectural wankery here in Canada, but they are more and more popular these days. My friend built a contemporary and modern house with the flat roof. Thought they were having troubles with leaks, but then learnt it was condensation because of a lack of an attic.

This is a design defect, not a flat roof problem per se. It is entirely possible to build a house with no attic and no condensation problem.

But that requires the architect to have a rudimentary understanding of thermodynamics, or to actually listen when the engineer tells them what is possible and what is not.

If flat roofs make condensation problems more likely and require more design work to avoid them, that's absolutely a flat roof problem.

Multi-story buildings are harder to design than one-level projects, it doesn't mean there's inherent problem in them. You just have to follow the books and do the math.

Condensation, airflow and thermal exchange issues are dealt with in any construction engineering curriculum, there are ready solutions to most configurations. If you don't follow them the issue is not with flat roof but with your lack of professionalism: moving condensation to the attic isn't a solution (especially since so many upgrade them to inhabited lofts anyway).

I don't understand why you'd use flat roofs in canada, doesn't it rain and snow a ton? That sounds like recipe for leaking and collapsing roofs compared to angled ones.

Incidentally, mono-pitched roofs seem oddly rare, people seem to go straight from flat to gabled or hipped, even in relatively temperate places where snow doesn't pile up much and a relatively shallow slope would be more than enough to handle rain and snow.

Kinda late, but the reason is building height restrictions. It lets you squeeze in an additional level in urban areas like central Toronto. Plus some people like the modern look I guess.

I'm amazed that's a hospital, I would have guessed it was a parking garage if you showed me that picture with no context.

> or wrapping the whole thing in a material (concrete) that doesn't hold up well to a snowy climate.

Wasn't the idea here was that it was cheap and quick to lay out concrete which is why it was so popular the post-WW2 building boom? This seems like a highly functional approach (see cost effective) - for the time period. But clearly not the material one should use when utilizing a brutalist approach in modern buildings.

Not sure why they made the windows like that other than a sci-fi style exterior. Not all brutalist buildings have tiny windows though. Here's one from Toronto (a city full of brutalist architecture due to the era it exploded in growth): http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3026/2410356675_5df008e7f2.jp...

Concrete is the material that defines the brutalist approach. The name comes from the French, "beton brut" - raw concrete. You can't do brutalism without concrete.

I agree overall, but am curious: Having only briefly lived in colder climes, what about concrete doesn't hold up well in snow?

Water penetrates the surface causing the surface of the concrete to flake off and eventually rusts the encased rebar which expands as it rusts which eventually cracks the concrete from within.

The Gardiner Expressway in Toronto is a good example of this - it seems as it's permanently under refurbishment.

Water leaks into cracks and cervices when its warm and then freezes when its cold. Since the ice expands and concrete has negligable tensile strength the cracks and crevices expand even further and the material begins to chip away and crumble.

Freezing water expands in little cracks and makes them bigger.

Concrete may stain and crack, but at least it doesn't yellow and droop like that terrible architectural stucco they use today.

I agree, brutalism is one of three disperately non-showing styles in Dwell based solely on functionality. Also the exteriors become infested with red mites due to porousness and algae.

The article totally skips over the fact that brutalism comes from French - Béton brut means concrete.

There is nothing 'brutal' or 'brutalizing' about brutalist architecture. I know I'm being a bit pedantic, but words matter. Right?

Not sure how they did that tbh. You'd think they'd take five minutes and do a Google search:


The term originates from the French word for "raw" in the term used by Le Corbusier to describe his choice of material béton brut (raw concrete).[1][2] British architectural critic Reyner Banham adapted the term into "brutalism" (originally "New Brutalism") to identify the emerging style.

The very first paragraph of the article is completely wrong:

it was a term of abuse for the work of architects whose buildings confronted their users — brutalized them — with hulking, piled-up slabs of raw, unfinished concrete. These same architects, centered on the British couple Alison and Peter Smithson, enthusiastically took up Brutalism as the name for their movement with a kind of pride, as if to say: That’s right, we are brutal. We do want to shove your face in cement.

This is depressing to think about this revisionist history. This was apart of the modern architectural movement of the 20th century, not some sort of audacious idea of an your face art movement.

Just. . .so. . .wrong on so many levels

I'm not seeing the conflict. Brutalism is an english term, embraced by British architects who were fully aware of what it suggested. If they didn't want the term for their brand of architecture to imply brutality, they would have gone with something different. Concretism or Rawchitecture or something, I don't know.

I feel this claim, that the term derives from "raw", seems super suspicious. It is repeated very often, but I've never seen any scholarly analysis of where the word comes from. If you look at the Wikipedia talk page, you'll find people pointing out that that etymology doesn't seem to make any sense: the oldest attestations of the word is from a Swedish (rather than French) writer talking about "nybrutalism", which got borrowed into English as "New Brutalism". And the building which was described as "nybrutalism" was made of brick, not concrete.

If you can find any information about how Le Corbusier coined the term and when, it would be great if you could add it to the Wiki page!

He wrote a letter in 1962 to a fellow architect in which he said:

"Beton brut was born at the Unité d'Habitation at Marseilles where there were 80 contractors and such a massacre of concrete that one simply could not dream of making useful transitions by means of grouting. I decided: let us leave all that brute. I called it 'beton brute' [bare concrete]. The English immediately jumped on the piece and treated me (Ronchamp and Monastery of La Tourette) as 'Brutal' -- beton brutal -- all things considered, the brute is Corbu. They called that 'the new brutality'. My friends and admirers take me for the brute of brutal concrete!" [1][2]

[1] https://f50collective.com/2016/09/19/brutalist-architecture/

[2] https://books.google.com/books?id=b-OUxSelykIC&lpg=PA18&ots=...

Based on that, it sounds like the original inspiration was indeed "raw", but it was almost immediately tagged as "brutal" in English, and its admirers knowingly embraced that term. So perhaps the article oversimplifies things, but the broad strokes seem to be correct.

And yet I find brutalist architecture to be, if not brutal, at least dehumanizing. It's a place that is cold, inhuman (in the sense of being a place where humans don't really fit). Forcing people to live in that environment may not be brutal, but it's kind of cruel, or at least uncaring.

It always makes me think Brave New World in the way it subordinates a sense of humanity to a specific design, and also in the way that design isn't as clever or durable as those who promulgate it imagine it will be.

There's also the connection to Art Brut, a term for outsider art which was popular around the same time.

It is only in french that there are these connections though, in english as well as many other languages it only has the harsh, violent meaning.

This is all discussed in the documentaries I've linked elsewhere in this thread.

Not wrong, just confusing two different movements. My understanding is:

I don't think it's clear where Brutalism first came from, or why Le Corbusier coined it. His style was something different again - detailed, sometimes whimsical, but in concrete.

http://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/history/herit... Has a fair summary.

Whether it started as "The New Brutalism" from the Reynar Banham essay or not, it was soon just "Brutalism". That was the architectural style: angles, textures, shadow, imposing mass. A plainer variation without texture or detail. Just ugly slab sided concrete. Both variations co-existed, not just cost-cutting, so probably architect preference too.

It didn't brutalise the users, or shove your face quite in it... yet.

"New Brutalism" was the urban planning movement that Alison and Peter Smithson created after falling out with CIAM. They might have named it more helpfully! "Streets in the Sky" etc. To them it was an impersonal socialist utopia. People were irrelevant. Much of the bad rep of Brutalism is here. The Smithsons seem to have been as good at architecture as they were urban planning (terrible). It's said they led the simpler, plainer variation, but their own buildings had many inconsistent variations from either Brutalist style, they made frequent use of brick. The odd fancy style at variance to everything. Heating and leaking issues were common from new.

Wikipedia conflates Brutalism and New Brutalism too.

We might remember the style less harshly, but it also coincided with significant economy - especially in Europe with post-war rebuilding, and the horrible fad of New Brutalism planning.

The reality was often living in an inconvenient slum in the sky, with poor access, little thought, and nowhere to sit, or let the kids out. They failed quickly as communities and places to live. They often needed repair before first use.

The better examples (most of those we kept) are mostly public buildings, had enough design to be interesting, but worked as buildings. The urban planning of New Brutalism is usually markedly absent. The worst, mostly now blown up, were some combination of the urban planning and cost cutting combined. Usually combined with the simpler slab sided brutalism. No consideration of humans, or life. Often built so cheaply as to need repair immediately. Brutalism of style, urban planning or brutality of life rapidly became indistinguishable.

We arrived at Brutalism the insult. The end of New Brutalism in the UK came with the building of Hulme Crescent https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hulme_Crescents (It's an entertaining read - how to get everything wrong.)

Opened in 72, failing in 73, and the final nail of New Brutalism socialist utopias in the sky. Just three years after opening, 96.3% of residents wanted to leave. Later the estate had the highest suicide rate in the UK.

The architects had also given Manchester the universally reviled Arndale Centre, so far over budget it almost bankrupted the city. Numerous refurbishments were done to try and make it work. It improved, but never really worked before the IRA demolished it. No one killed, but hundreds injured.

The rebuild was dramatically better, though took some years to complete. How the architects got a second job in the city has never been explained.

There would still be the odd building with Brutalist achitecture, the urban planning movement was done.

The early Brutalism of texture, shadow, angles is vastly more interesting than modern curtain walled retail and commercial, with a cliche barn clock, or cutesy feature, and cost as first, last, everything.

Source: I'm old enough to remember them still building this shoddy junk, and making promises about brutalist buildings, Hulme Crescents, shopping centres etc. Fortunately never had to live in one.

Blaming the architects of Hulme Crescent is wrong. It was mainly the construction cartel faults, plus city planning.

See e.g. https://municipaldreams.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/the-hulme-c...

"First and foremost, the Crescents’ system-built engineering was a disaster. The blocks were erected too quickly and their construction inadequately supervised. Reinforcing bolts and ties were missing; problems of condensation emerged from poor insulation and ventilation; vermin spread rapidly through the estate’s ducting.

Whose fault was that? Local authorities – pressured by central government and driven by their own ambitions to build big and build fast – can certainly take some blame. The Government’s National Building Agency, which promoted industrialised building but failed to provide any effective oversight, is also responsible.

But arguably it is the cartel of construction companies which dominated system-built housing in the sixties and early seventies which is most culpable. The construction industry sold products unfit for purpose and failed to meet even their own standards of quality control."

Right. I blame many, but I absolutely include the architects. The architects had very much been a part of the movement, and their previous work included Cumbernauld. New Brutalism was very much the cargo cult of the day. Wasn't just the architects, it was most people involved.

That site doesn't show the post war town plan for Hulme. Whilst modern it was still a community with amenities, church and I think swimming pool. The first phases of building were typical 60s semis and maisonettes with 4 stories. Amenities central to the marketing and town plan didn't get built at all, the end result bore no resemblance to the plans. That wasn't unique - it was increasingly common for the amenities to never arrive, or arrive as after thought long after people moved in.

That wasn't unique to New Brutalism of course - even Wythenshawe an estate that's far more traditional had issues with inadequate amenities.

There was certainly govt pressure, it was one of the reasons my father left local govt in '74 whilst central gov was reorganising for more centralisation. The bidding war for more housing by all post war govts meant less and less was being spent per family unit, and as you point out they got ever more industrial. For the record father was not town planning. :p

The design, and specifically streets in the sky, and the very limited number of stairways wasn't shoddy construction. Neither was having to walk 1/4 mile to get from your door to three floors below. Those were designed in. Those weren't uncommon features. Many developments with the new town planning suffered from appalling access, or lots of walking to get a hundred yards. It was a feature not a bug.

There's other factors too, like in an age of Police still walking the beat, they never patrolled the decks. They just walked through the middle at ground level. So much for streets in the sky. The Mancunian Way just added to the isolation, yet it would almost be the millenium before a footbridge was built.

Fortunately, whoever bore most blame, The Crescents saw off the last of the town planning cargo cult.

Whose fault was that?

While I don't disagree with any of your analysis, I also believe that somewhere along the line the architects and engineers that design a building have to take into consideration that a building also has to be actually built. It's not enough to simply design something that can be built and can be shown to be structurally sound if built to your exact specs. If you know that your design will be built by lowest bidder, unskilled labor and contractors with no experience in more advanced building technique, then you probably shouldn't design a building that needs to built with very exacting tolerances using cutting edge materials and techniques.

Cutting edge materials and techniques? Please, these were cheap housing projects for low-income families. In fact the biggest cheap housing project of its time. And fail to see any fault in the architects, and I worked as architect for several decades.

Brutalist architecture is objectively wrong. It's terrible. Building design review boards, take note. It's not back, it died a quick death and we still see its ugly tombstones littering the landscape.

Brutalist concept models must have looked super cool in miniature form though. Blown up to life size? Just a lot of flat, ugly, oppressive, senselessly artless concrete slabs.

Compared to what followed, I think I'd pick brutalism. Downtown buildings in cities that mostly grew up in the 80s and 90s are just boring. When I google brutalist building images, I'm struck by how wildly they vary. I don't love them all. But, they've got real personality and originality. Sure, sometimes it is overblown...big shapes in weird places just for the sake of showing off.

I find architecture that slaps old forms onto new buildings to be...gross. There's a couple of skyscrapers just outside of Houston, for example, with fucking red shingles on it, like it's an adobe house in the desert or or something. So much architecture glues on a bunch of columns, ornamental lintels, fancy molding, etc. When placed on a structure that is huge, particularly one that is much taller than it is wide, they look ridiculous.

I think there are good buildings that were built in almost every era; but, some eras are less ambitious than others. Brutalism was, at least, ambitious. I think there's a reason so much scifi and futurist imaginings feature brutalist architecture. It is an architecture that screams "there are no limits to what we can build!" I think that's pretty cool.

It's all subjective, of course, and we all have our preferences. But, calling it "objectively wrong" seems hard to defend. It is only objectively wrong if it fails to function as a building for people to live or work in. If it leaks, if it falls down, if it is difficult to heat and cool, if it inaccessible to the people who need to use the building. Those are ways to measure architectural wrongness objectively. It's safe to say that some brutalist buildings failed to live up to their purpose, but that's true of many architectural projects. Having the style fall out of fashion, due to a reactionary response to the new and very different, and the buildings fall into disrepair because of it, is not really the fault of the architecture. Old buildings get renovated every 20-30 years, or they stop being relevant. This is true of even iconic buildings like the Empire State building.

Anyway, I quite like brutalist architecture; I don't mean I like it with no discrimination. I still just buildings on their own merit and being in the right style doesn't mean I'll like it, any more than me saying I really love punk rock means I would ever listen to Green Day or Bad Religion. But, there are brutalist buildings that I find beautiful. And, a lot of stuff that followed that I find horrible.

Saying "objectively" is strong language, yes. But I think that if a building fails in its aesthetic, or at least at blending in if it's not going to be aesthetically pleasing, then no matter how functionally fine it is, it's a failure. If all we cared about was function, we'd build ugly boxes everywhere. Oh wait, that's practically brutalism anyways. Every brutalist building I've had the displeasure to walk around or be in has been oppressive, and ugly. The buildings we use shouldn't be oppressive and ugly, because we have to use them. If it was only a piece of art, then I can see the worth in evoking those emotions. But I have to live with the damn thing day in and day out, inside it, not just check it out in a gallery in miniature.

And there is no reason at all to restrict yourself to architecture after brutalism. The Romans figured it out. The architects of the art deco era figured it out. Those ideas are still valid, they still make for beautiful buildings, and we should reuse good ideas because, again, we have to live with the damn things, day in and day out. We can pick and choose what few ideas were good since then and also include them. Prevailing construction techniques might not always allow for it, but we should try.

But some ideas, like brutalist architecture, are a failure, and should never be re-used. I'd rather get a bland design in almost any other style than a brutalist design.

That said, feel free to post some examples of your favourite brutalist architecture, maybe I overlooked something. I'll only be judging them from pictures, which is entirely different than actually seeing the thing in person and having to deal with it; the utter bland enormity and lack of detail gets much reduced when shrunk down to a screen, or student model. But it's something.

You could probably save most brutalist structures by covering them in beautiful murals. Then at least the vast expanses of no detail at all works to your advantage as a convenient canvas. The Bierpinsel in Berlin is not a bad effort in this regard: http://berlin.citysegwaytours.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/20...

Saying "objective" isn't just strong language, it completely invalidates any claim you're trying to make. You're objectively wrong.

Personally, I adore the brutalist aesthetic, for example, everything in this photo: http://www.abc.net.au/news/image/5356556-3x2-940x627.jpg

Now I'm sure you'll hate it, and that's not because you've overlooked something, but because we have different tastes, ie, it's subjective.

> it completely invalidates any claim you're trying to make

Nah, it's just one word. That doesn't cancel the rest of my arguments.

> http://www.abc.net.au/news/image/5356556-3x2-940x627.jpg

You're right, I hate it. It's lazy and bland ("you know what's amazing? gray"). I've even been in a place that has a very similar design. It felt like a dead area to me. Looks like the very definition of soul-crushing. People like blue skies over gray skies for a reason.

> Nah, it's just one word. That doesn't cancel the rest of my arguments.

It does, because the rest of your arguments are expressing the same attitude.

You're saying "I think it's ugly, anyone that doesn't share my tastes is wrong, and no more buildings should ever be built in this style."

Which would be fine if it was presented as opinion, but you've presented it as fact, which makes you incorrect.

I said more than that, go check.

> Personally, I adore the brutalist aesthetic, for example, everything in this photo: http://www.abc.net.au/news/image/5356556-3x2-940x627.jpg

I think that anyone who prefers that to https://www.rhodes.edu/sites/default/files/u321/About%20Rhod... is objectively wrong, in the same sense that someone who thinks Steve Buscemi is more handsome than George Clooney is objectively wrong.

With people, being a good person can be more important than looks; with buildings, being well-formed can also outweigh looks. But that, again, is where brutalism tends to fall down: unlike traditional architecture, it tends not to work on the level of the individual human being. It doesn't prioritise the experience of those inhabiting it, but rather the experience of those viewing it (it is, in that respect, 'arch'), nor those who must maintain it for its inhabitants. It's not situated to receive natural light and heat, but rather to receive natural and artificial light to make an interesting play of shadow in photographs. It's not full of little rooms and cubbyholes and shelves, because those wouldn't look as neat in a model. It's not full of decoration and ornament, moulding and waistcoating, glasswork and patterns of colour to delight the eye over decades, in part because those wouldn't show up in the model and in part because its designers simply don't care.

Brutalist architecture is, in the end, a boot stamping on a human face, forever.

You clearly do not understand what objective means.

Edit: You're using objective for emphasis, in the same way people use the word "literally", when they don't really mean it literally. There is no "objectively" right or wrong when it comes to matters of opinion or taste, they're by definition subjective. I'm shocked I have to spell this out for you.

> You clearly do not understand what objective means.

No, I'm saying that your taste is objectively wrong, 'in the same sense that someone who thinks Steve Buscemi is more handsome than George Clooney is objectively wrong.' He's simply not (which says, of course, nothing about his value as an actor or a man, just about his value as a model).

Tastes can be wrong. Brutalism is wrong; objectively wrong: it denies life and organic beauty (the only beauty that can exist, because we are living creatures). Some things are indeed matters of taste, but others are not. If one writes the number which consists of adding unity to unity as 2 or II or ٢ or २ or ꤂ or 𐒢 doesn't really matter, but if one writes it as PA͉I͓͍͇͜N̵ ̗̻̗p̴̻͙͚͇̳̹ͅa̦i҉̥̫̥͓n̖̭ ̼͕D̻̤̘̮̼̣͜E̴͇̦̟͚͚A̞͇T̴͎̮͔̣͔H̟̻ ̩̥͕̯͙̘D̶̳̞̘͇̠̳̦e̳̥̖̺̯̺s̤̰̬̺t́r̗̼̳u̲͉͎̩̱c̩̬̮̣̫̭͇͟ţ͉̝i̫̝o̗̞̫n̟̘̹̥̖ ̞̝P̪A͓̞͍̭ͅI͚̲̬͙Ṉ̫͉̥ then yes, one is wrong.

You clearly do not understand what objective means.

He is clearly highly literate.

For a similar argument that doesn't make use of the word 'objective', see http://www.paulgraham.com/taste.html

I prefer the former to the latter. I don't dislike the latter. But, I like the brutalist one better than the imitation English style you've linked (I think the one you've linked at least used local stone, which is nice).

You clearly very strongly dislike brutalism, and that's OK. But, you aren't the dictator of what is and isn't in good taste...some people are going to like things you don't like, and you're going to have to accept that.

I wonder how age factors into this question. I'm just over 40, and I suspect I might be a little too old to be part of the next generation that seems to have a revived appreciation for brutalism (but, I like it anyway). But, my parents definitely didn't like it, and from what I can tell there's a generation that's about my age and older that may always have unpleasant feelings about brutalism, while younger folks don't have the same baggage about it.

So, if you don't mind me asking, are you younger than me, or older?

As it happens, I'm very slightly younger than you indicate. So your theory that folks roughly our age dislike it holds. It may be that folks younger than we are don't mind it — but they also don't mind riding bicycles with helmets, which is almost as mad as walking with helmets.

Thank you. The people need to know.

You might find Riverside Plaza (aka Cedar Towers) in Minneapolis an interesting bit of colorful Brutalism. It's a collection of apartment towers that use a variety of colored panels alongside the deck doors. They're highly visible, at the intersection of two interstates and across from downtown.

Today, they're populated almost entirely by Somali immigrants, which really makes for a particular Third-World feel that's not visible from photos. Cedar-Riverside is a lively and densely populated neighborhood, and the towers definitely dominate.

> You might find Riverside Plaza (aka Cedar Towers) in Minneapolis an interesting bit of colorful Brutalism.


The colour does remind me a bit of a Mondrian, but I think it should be removed from the earth just as one would remove mercury-contaminated soil.

That's not Brutalism, that's pure classic modernism. Very Corbusier.

I'd say it's both. If you get away from the heights and walk around the base of the buildings, it's totally Brutalism - straight-up shaped concrete, nothing to decorate but the shape itself. It's also remarkably walkable and sociable. It feels like a space rather than an obstacle. (I credit part of this vibe to the Somali community, who are strongly self-policing and don't tolerate dangerous gangs of young men in their space)

Exactly. Brutalist buildings are in their large majority giant pieces of shit.

Please no more of that.

> Brutalist architecture is objectively wrong.

You may not appreciate it, and that's a fine opinion to hold. But Brutalist architecture can't be "objectively" wrong, for the same reason that the color red can't be "objectively" wrong.

I spent four awful, expensive years becoming a dentist in a brutalist building that began its life with the name "Health Sciences Unit A". Christ, what a mess that building was.

The ugliness goes away after a while, the ugliness you get used to, the ugliness is a matter of opinion. What didn't go away, what wasn't a matter of opinion, though, was the utter disregard for what James Howard Kunstler calls "human scale". The walls of this building ran, STRAIGHT UP without interruption for 15 stories from the plaza outside of it. You couldn't sit next to it, get in it, see inside of it, or shelter under it. You COULD walk a half block away and sit in a nice park. But the building stood in disregard of and negligence to the humans attempting to use it.

Of course, I'm only just parroting the ideas of Kunstler, which you can read or watch here: http://www.ted.com/talks/james_howard_kunstler_dissects_subu...

Brutalism came and went fairly quickly as an architectural trend. I feel like it never had much opportunity to develop. As a result, for every great example of brutalist architecture today you can point to 10 others that really are eye-sores. Many Canadian University campuses provide good examples of this: one or two magnificent buildings alongside many others that most people wouldn't mind tearing down.

Are there worse offenders than Simon Fraser University? Because it seems to have been built to be the perfect middle-ground between open-air prison, sci-fi military base, and early 20th century involuntary asylum.

Totally Simon Fraser, built around 1965 when Brutalism was still in style.

The University of Alberta has many brutalist classics that went up during the oil crisis of the late 70s (boom times for Alberta) long after brutalism had gone out of fashion. Edmonton built some nice brutalist courthouses remniscent of Boston City Hall, a brutalist art gallery, and brutalist legislature grounds among other buildings.

I grew up in the north Edmonton suburbs where a brutalist shoopping mall was erected, it was schockingly out of place. At the back was a terraced park plaza that was concrete, lifeless and featured a gigantic fountain (that never worked) that was a labynthine pile of concrete blocks and slabs.

I used to love going there as a kid, it was always desserted because it was so ugly and it served as a generic backdrop and playground to act out my dystopian sci-fi fantasies.

The plaza and fountain has since been torn out and replaced by something less alientating, and now people actually hang out there, which is disappointing.

Wait. Did you just use the word "nice" in a way that was associated with Boston City Hall, even indirectly? AFAIK (and my own experience) Boston City Hall is pretty much universally reviled as Soviet architecture set in a wind-swept brickyard--the latter aspect of which is apparently being addressed to some degree.

Speaking of Boston, I must admit that the redone, cleaned-up Brutalist modern wing of the Boston Public Library while, of course nowhere equalling the original Beaux Arts structure, actually feels open, welcoming, and airy. It was truly awful previously.

I've never seen it until today but by a quick Googling I think it looks great? Though I too would lose the paving (and admittedly I am a fan of the style).

This Internet comment is fairly typical of the general feeling:

This building and space feel like something straight out of a Eastern European Soviet bloc country. I think Kim Jong-un would be impressed! It's hard to believe a city so beautiful would chose such ugly architecture for it's government.

That said, it's exacerbated by the huge bare surrounding expanse in a northern city that's cold and windy for a significant chunk of the year. There's work going on at the moment. I'm pretty sure I'll never like the architecture but with a reasonable exterior space it may be more tolerable.


So there's room in the world for all kinds of tastes. Some people enjoy black metal with unintelligible screaming as the lyrics, for example.

However, even black metal fans do not usually force everyone in their neighborhood or their workplace to listen to black metal, and if they did it would be seen as unacceptable.

The FBI building in DC is pretty bad as well, but I think they will be tearing it down soon.


The Dept of Energy building looks rather similar to Simon Fraser:


Percival Stern Hall, at Tulane, where I'm typing this from, is pretty egregious.


and seems to be used for just about every alien home world in every sic-fi movie ever produced in Vancouver. See battlestar galactica as an example.

I went to SFU for 5 years. There is nothing which beat the feeling of listening to dramatic music while the 135 ascended the hill to reveal the concrete facets of its dystopian sci-fi facade. Got me pumped for classes.

> As a result, for every great example of brutalist architecture today you can point to 10 others that really are eye-sores.

Isn't that just sort of an application of Sturgeon's law?

Although I suppose that given how expensive a building is to put up, there's a lot more push back against ugly things.

Not sure. There's boring or uninspiring and then there's outright ugly. Sure, a lot of buildings (most) are meh. But Brutalism managed to create an outsized number of structures that have come to be viewed as actively awful looking.

> Isn't that just sort of an application of Sturgeon's law?

I think the "international style" has a much better hit ratio though. So there really was/is something uniquely bad about brutalism.

(My pet theory is that it's a style designed to look good in black-and-white photographs - presumably because that's what architects tended to be judged on in those days? - at the expense of looking good in real life)

And also, old buildings are prettier on average because the old ugly buildings get torn down and replaced.

Not sure whether it can apply to this context.

The concretes building are fairly recent. Not sure there was enough time to have a sort of "return on investment". And breaking down something of that scale is quite an undertaking.

Not to mention most of these were made mostly of concrete and steel and built to last a lifetime. Trying to justify tearing down a perfectly fine structure just because its an eye sore becomes a much harder argument to make.

Concrete has a very hard time lasting more than a few decades anywhere that gets rain, and especially anywhere that gets snow.

They probably looked very pretty in the blueprints.


The first thought that struck me when I saw it was "that is a visual expression of Orwellian thought".

Deep down a majority of people prefer to live in houses that look like this:



Do you remember the Shire in the Lord of the Rings? That is a synopsis of what people feel when they think of 'home'. Honest, humble but well crafted dwellings affordable by the average hobbit. As master Bilbo is keen to tell us:

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort."

Brutalism is quite obviously something that came out of Minas Morghul.


It is an architectural anti-thesis.

> The first thought that struck me when I saw it was "that is a visual expression of Orwellian thought".

Yup, exactly. There is little more care for the inhabitants inside than there is for the ants, the ivy, the birds, the earthworms which could live on & around a homier structure. A Brutalist building spares no more thought for its inhabitants than does an abbatoir for those who enter its confines: they are a necessary nuisance, but mustn't be permitted to intrude upon the happiness of the architect anymore than absolutely required.

The Brutalist Le Corbusier famously said that a house is a machine for living in, but what he really meant is that he thought a home is a machine for performing intellectual labour, consuming calories, excreting waste and engaging in other animal activities as required. In other words, he didn't really know what it means to live; if he did, then he would have known that a house is not a machine, but rather a fractally intricate ecosystem, itself contained within even more intricate interlocking ecosystems.

I don't actually blame him: he lived through the collapse of civilisation that was the Great War, and then the complete nightmare of the Second World War. He had seen so much that was great and good ground up in destruction, so much that had seemed so permanent turned to ash, that I can understand why he didn't think permanence could be found in an organic, human scale of building (it's much the same sentiment which fuelled Hitlerism & Stalinism: the old order had fallen, and the only thing many people thought they could turn to for strength was raw totalitarianism).

Brutalism is a kind of totalitarianism of architecture, a demand that those who build, those who inhabit and those who maintain must constantly bend their wills to the will of the Great Man (the architect), bend without love, without understanding, without hope, without fear, without joy, just mute, abject obedience to a cold and uncaring plan.

No thanks. Give me ivy, give me bricks, give me marble, give me dirt and grass and trees; give me men and women and children; give me sheep and dogs and horses; give me colours and light and ornament; give me emotion and delight; give me, in short, life.

Well said.

Hah, interesting. I like the second "horrid" photo much more than the first one. It's much more aesthetically pleasing to me personally, though the first example seems like more creative thought went into it.

Maybe that's why I'm not an architect though.

I liked the second one as well. I think that may be because it's a grey scale photo. The reality would be a bleak grey/beige windowless monstrosity which would look more like an industrial site

I think that second link looks awesome. How well the design serves the building purpose, I don't know, but purely from an aesthetic perspective, I think it looks great.

Wow you guys are breaking my heart! The "works" one is Mies Van Der Rohe. Notice how it actually "works" as in "functions" as a building.

OK you have to admit this really nifty. It's a watertower!!


Hey, didn't expect to see South Africa on here. Is this the tower close to Grand Central Airport in Midrand?

Another great (to me at least) looking brutalist building in Johannesburg is UJ (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d3/Universi...)

I honestly had to come back and check the URLs because when I opened both of these in new tabs I thought I'd opened them in the wrong order. Just goes to show how objective taste is and why every time there's a shift in GUI styles there always seems to be violent opposition to it.

The first picture with both building next to each other just made me realize how MUCH MORE I prefer the glass building.

For those curious, the second image is apparently the Curtis Lecture Halls at York University.



Reminds me a bit of where I worked in Italy:


Edit: The company was great, but I hated being in an anonymous office park. Sad to see that kind of thing built with how much beautiful architecture there is over there.

The first one looks like Baby's First Architectural Mistake; the second one looks like Where Life Goes to Die.

The first isn't really brutalist is it? It's full of curves!

Brutalism is defined by concrete, not by the absence of curves.

Undisguised concrete. All modern architecture on a large scale is defined by concrete (though apparently that's changing), but the difference is in how much it is on display.

Brutalist buildings exist because they are cheap and allow for architects to differentiate themselves.

It is almost the physical manifestation of enterprise software: ugly, minimally functional, uncomfortable to the hapless inhabitants, and impossible to maintain.

The article references the lament of brutalist fans that the near-universal hatred of these buildings results in neglect. The reality is that the prioritizarion of hubris over function translates to buildings that aren't fit to purpose. Wacky sight lines usually translate to complex roof and gutter systems, which fail. Poor engineering practice makes HVAC difficult to deliver, resulting in high costs and poor occupant comfort.

UC Davis has the Social Sciences building (aka the "Death Star"): http://www.predock.com/SocialSciences/UC%20Davis.html

While visually striking, it is a labyrinthine nightmare on the inside and almost impossible to navigate if you have to get to a class.

Nightmare? I love that building! Of course, I never had any classes in it. And I always imagined that an exact model of it and its surroundings would make the best Quake level ever. So...yeah...nightmare... :)

The University of Minnesota has a good mix of both good and bad brutalism - http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-SXHJA8qATF8/TmmME0iDt_I/AAAAAAAADR...

This is juxtaposed when set next to the Frederick Weisman Museum which was designed by Frank Gehry: https://www.bluffton.edu/homepages/facstaff/sullivanm/minnes...

Overall, the whole campus is a pretty good study in architecture.

University of Toronto has Robarts which I think looks like an Evil Wizard Castle. Or a turkey.


Perfect headquarter for a secret government authority. I really like the style, at least from the outside.

UC Davis also has Briggs (https://localwiki.org/davis/Briggs_Hall) and Tupper (https://localwiki.org/davis/Tupper_Hall) Halls, two catastrophically ugly buildings that, not coincidentally, are two of the most internally poorly laid out buildings on campus.

The brutalist MacMillan Blodel building in Vancouver served as a (CGI-enhanced) Nazi party HQ in Amazon's adaptation of The Man in the High Castle.


Most of SFU (Simon Fraser University) is brutalist.


Man I always thought that was in Argentina. So much scifi shot on that campus.

The soviets had some really awesome brutalist architecture. http://weirdrussia.com/2015/04/27/soviet-brutalist-architect...

Quake 2 was a really good videogame. Let's leave Brutalist architecture in there where it belongs.

We have our share of brutalism in Berlin, especially in the west side of the wall. I really love how some of these buildings look so scary and menacing, so raw and so rough. Fits to the techno culture.


What's with the tubes?

They make it look like a battleship. I can't imagine they have function...which makes them ugly, to me.

I guess it has something to do with air conditioning. The building is the Research Institute for Experimental Medicine, where they test medicine with animals. The look kind of suits the purpose, don't you think?

>When the Smithsons called their work Brutalist or part of a New Brutalism, the brutality to which they referred had less to do with materials and more to do with honesty: an uncompromising desire to tell it like it is, architecturally speaking.

What crock. If it were about telling it how it is, there wouldn't be a bunch of superfluous, structurally challenging lumps coming out of the buildings.

Alienated architects and cheap capitalists make for a pretty awful built environment, don't they?


What I like most about architecture like this is the lack of noise. The intention comes through, my senses can focus on the substance rather than its dressing. I only hope that, contrary to what the article says, the revival will not mean losing its soul.

Brutalism, like any architectural trend, surely had its eye sores. But let's not forget its beauty as well. Some of the buildings I enjoy are Harvard's Carpenter Center by Le Corbusier (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carpenter_Center_for_the_Visua...), Sert's Peabody Terrace (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peabody_Terrace), and the sculptural craziness of Forder and Wotruba (http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-0ar6wJQtbFQ/TghHUI6e8tI/AAAAAAAAMO... and http://www.uncubemagazine.com/sixcms/media.php/1323/Wotrubak...)

The best modernization of brutalism I have seen is at UCF:



Basically the campus started with a bunch of kind of interesting brutalist buildings and build around it to house its growth from 15,000 to 60,000 students. They mixed huge modern glass with brick and the campus is spectacular.

At least they didn't go gray. Brick brown is a huge step up. And glass improves it.

Its easy to look at examples from master architects like Khan and Corbusier and extol the virtues of Brutalist Architecture.

But for every Khan there are a dozen insipid and unwelcoming municipal courthouses and depressing tower blocks. This presents some good contrasts between the two in New York City alone:


I can't see any different between the GOOD and the BAD sections. Some buildings look OK, some look unpleasant or awful.

I don't want it! I've never understood why an obscure modern art movement got so much traction in a field where much funding comes from the government. Wait... never mind, I guess it makes perfect sense. Consumers wouldn't buy brutalist soup cans, but the government can deliver architecture of almost any level of ugliness to people.

Well, at least brutalism isn't as ugly or wasteful of money as the HTML/CSS combo, and unlike the latter at least brutalism is not fundamentally wrong, so there's that.

Reminder that Brutalism isn't related to the English word Brutal, but rather from the French meaning "naked".

They do share a common root in the Latin brūt, meaning heavy, animal, raw.

Anyone here worked at the Salk Institute? Are the buildings as good to work in as they are to look at?


I'm personally hesitant to call Louis Kahn's Salk Institute Brutalist. I know many define Brutalism simply as buildings with large swaths of raw concrete, which probably qualifies 95% of modernist architecture. For me, I consider concrete oppressiveness, a certain level of heaviness, to be involved in Brutalism. The Salk Institute, in contrast, has lightness and openness.

I never got a chance to go inside, or work there, but when I visited a few years ago, and it seemed like the offices had generous windows; however the wood frames were definitely weathered and could have used more care. It's was gorgeous to walk around and I recommend somehow scheduling a tour if you happen to be in La Jolla (San Diego).


> I'm personally hesitant to call Louis Kahn's Salk Institute Brutalist. I know many define Brutalism simply as buildings with large swaths of raw concrete, which probably qualifies 95% of modernist architecture. For me, I consider concrete oppressiveness, a certain level of heaviness, to be involved in Brutalism. The Salk Institute, in contrast, has lightness and openness.

It sounds like you're saying "it can't be Brutalist, because it's good." A bit No True Scotsman, perhaps?

Ha, I can see that interpretation. I just think the "raw concrete" definition for Brutalism is too general. If one designs a Deconstructivist building with raw concrete, does it all of a sudden make it Brutalist? Of course the terms aren't mutually exclusive, and we'd probably stroke our chins and mutter "hmmmm.. deconstructivist with brutalist tendencies, eeehhh?"

(And personally, I've always enjoyed Brutalist buildings; having studied in a few.)

Brutalism not back according to the authorities in Sydney. The Sirius building waiting for the wrecking ball as we speak.


That's nothing to do with architecture though. It's the NSW government wanting to socially cleanse Sydney and replace the homes of the poor with luxury apartments.

> no question that brutalism vis exceedingly cool

All right, NYT is telling us what to think now?

Architecture of Doom is a good blog for those who are interested in brutalism: http://architectureofdoom.tumblr.com/

So, the Pierre Cardin Bubble house is brutalist? http://www.livbit.com/article/2010/06/11/bubble-palace-an-un...

With this in mind, I wonder what you could do with a 3D printer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQ5Elbvvr1M

They get it wrong. It is not brutalism is back, it modernism in general; what we are witnessing is the end of postmodernism. Postmodernism seem to be in conflict with the faith into progress, both social and technological, yet we've been witnessing tremendous technological progress since early 2000s - nothing revolutionary, but still great advances in mobile, in science etc. So yes, brutalism, as an offspring of modernism, is back.

Am I too late to mention the University of Washington's More Hall Annex? It's perhaps better known by its original (and, yes, official) name, the Nuclear Reactor Building.


Metro 4 was just finished a while ago in Budapest/Hungary and some of the stations look like maps from Quake 2. They are brutal.

Honestly, I'm not sure why they went for that style. With the sheer distaste people had for soviet style architecture after '89, they could have picked a number of far better choices than they did. It may have been a cost-cutting option, but iirc the project went way over-budget anyway.

The only thing about brutalist architecture I've liked is the over all shape of the buildings but the rest of the designs are just a nightmare especially when it comes to floor plans. I get that they want to strip away the excesses of previous architectural styles but a floor plan shouldn't be one of them.

Interesting to see this after admiring a Brutalist building today. It's the Phillips-Wagensteen building on the University of Minnesota campus, filled with medical offices. It's really two buildings connected by a multi-story skyway. Pebbled concrete surface, strong vertical and horizontal lines.

It's not pretty, but it is beautiful.

If you're interested in brutalism I can reccommend these superb documentaries by Jonathan Meades:


That site has all of his films on there and they're all amazing tbh.

Hey, I used to live in those red (Parliament adjacent) buildings in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

They were overly spacious (i.e. 20 foot ceilings) and ridiculously impractical. If Brutalism is back, we should show it the door again.

Buenos aires has several public Brutalist structures: the University of Buenos Aires and the public library are some of them.

They are by far the most hideous buildings in the city.

I was happy to see the National Parliament in Dhaka prominently featured. Amazing building. Feels like you're inside the Death Star inside.

> Feels like you're inside the Death Star inside.

Is feeling as though one is inside a soulless death-machine a desirable quality in a legislature?

I couldn't be happier in the context of permacultural revolution, it make sense. Art povera will make a comeback next mark these words!

Brick buildings are the purist form of brutalism. They're all over the place.

When I read the title I thought it was about politics.

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