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Singapore Weighs Fate of Its Brutalist Buildings (nytimes.com)
94 points by pseudolus 51 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 94 comments



Having grown up in a working class family, I find it strange that western hipsters are so taken by industrial chic architecture. It's an environment that I grew up hoping to escape from. But architectural styles come in and out of fashion, and yesterday's factories and warehouses are being converted into coffee shops and homes that people love and pay a premium for.

In particular, the neighborhood that my parents lived and worked in is now a very expensive and trendy part of town. There's little industry left; in fact a lot of local companies are complaining that there's not enough warehouse space left to rent, because it's all being converted into lofts! Sadly my family sold out way before it became cool :(

I've heard it said that it's the styles that have just recently gone out of fashion that are the least fashionable, whereas the styles that have been out of fashion for longer often make a comeback. This applies to clothes, cars, music, and architecture too.

So one thing I've wondered is: if the industrial style could go from being considered ugly to being loved, is it possible that this could happen to another style of architecture/design that we all currently consider to be an eyesore? And what style would be next?

It makes a lot of sense that Brutalism would be it, and maybe these Singaporeans are just ahead of the curve.


Brutalism's pretty much always been a "love it or hate it" thing; even in its heyday a lot of people hated it. I think it's too divisive to ever solidly come back; it was never really there in the first place.


One guess in London will be young middle class people living in delapidated council houses? It sounds stupid now but what else is cheap in the centre? I was living in one a couple of years ago and they're ironically often more spacious than new=builds. Known several friends do the same. Also, will the centre shift southeast? I guess the relevant question is whether and which businesses follow the pricy housing shift. Like I can't see finance moving from old street/c wharf, but you find tech up towards Kings Cross and at the Eastern side of Old street? And tech is basically the new finance. But those business moves seem a lot smaller than the amount that young prof.s seem to shift around in a couple of decades.

Edit: Another thought, this is a trend driven partly by destruction of council house stock, oligarchic money laundering, etc etc which has created extremely high prices in the centre. If that bubble pops and Brexit murders UK economy leading to a long period of price reduction, maybe young middle class people will go back to living in Kensington fancy houses/flats.


> One guess in London will be young middle class people living in delapidated council houses?

That's definitely already a thing. There are ex-council flats worth over a million in certain parts of London.


I remember discussing the ex council flats in red lion square near holbourn circus - it wont be young middle class people living there.

My Boss a director (of a subsidiary of Elsevier) joked that he couldn't afford one and neither could the MD.


AFAICT it's not the style that grows loved; some things earn our affection by luck. Plus, locations change as cities grow.

Where I live there's a bit of a controversy now over a chimney. It's not the first chimney to be torn down, not even the first very tall one. Another tall chimney on a similar building in the opposite direction from where I live was torn down with no protests. But this one has come to be a bit of a landmark and people don't like to see it gone, eyesore or not.

I'd love to say that particularly well-planned buildings tend to earn people's affection. But I'm not sure that would be true. I am sure that location and changing technology play roles, though.

What was an cheap land in 1919 may now be centrally located, and the brickwork has a patina quite different from the plain, simple, low-detail surfaces that are often built now. Timber beams and brickwork may have been a cheap way to build, but it isn't now, so the materials have changed in our eyes even as the molecules stayed the same. We're not fond of the cheap things that are used for raised floors and lowered ceilings, and so that warehouse gets a bonus for being Not The Usual Ugly. Etc.


> yesterday's factories and warehouses are being converted into coffee shops and homes that people love and pay a premium for.

That's because in post industrial neighbourhoods, the first people to move in are artists, which need lots of cheap space.

The artists then make the neighbourhood trendy and attract buyers looking for lofts.

Of course the lofts condos are just an imitation of the style of 'housing' that the artist pioneers live in.[1]

[1] Those lofts are definitely not glamorous. (poor insulation, drafty windows, improvised bathroom plumbing, plastic core for walls, etc...


I've seen it argued that hipsters and architects love Brutalism precisely because it is so ugly and hard to love, it shows off sophistication. Case in point from OP:

> “The fact that people find it ugly means that it already has authenticity,” said Jonathan Poh, an architect who has an office on an upper floor.

First against the wall, IMO.


If you have to embrace ugly things to prove your authenticity, you aren't authentic. In fact, if you do anything for the purpose of proving your authenticity, you aren't authentic. You're a wanna-be trying to cover up the fact that you're just a wanna-be.


If there is objectivity to beauty, it would deem brutalism as an example of ugliness.

I grew and studied around brutalist buildings and they are impersonal and humbling in the bad way: like when you visit a gothic church. Particularly because of the visible aesthetic decay of its materials.

I love hating brutalism though.


If you are bothered by impracticality, wasted materials, pointless or cliche embellishment, etc. Brutalism becomes fresh air.

Particularly when those qualities are poorly executed, i find myself wishing for the honesty of brutalism. The area where I work is now a sea of 5 story condo buildings which try to hide their stick construction, have 4 difference facade materials, and looky flimsy like they are already decaying before they've finished construction.

I am desirous of brutal simplicity.


I like the philosophy of brutalism, but the decay of concrete is so gross aesthetically. I've seen some non-decaying brutalism though, but still doesnt make the cut.


Brutalism can be beautiful. The Washington, D.C. Metro system's coffer vaults is generally ranked highly in terms of aesthetically pleasing designs, and is also a prime example of brutalism.


I'm surprised people think it brutalist. I took those tiled ceilings to be a classical reference -- the pantheon in tube shape.


There are other brutalist buildings with classical flourishes; the calling card of brutalism is just exposed raw concrete.


Do you have other examples in mind? Trying to think of some and failing...


The Canadian Embassy?


Thanks, had never seen that. Presumably the committee had a starchitect and an ambassador, both with veto power.


I dont know about that...when I went into that, it felt very dystopian futurist, kind of what the world would look like if the Berlin wall never fell and communism survived.

Gloomy and grey.


So what is called "creative class" in the article promptly becomes "hipsters" in the HN comment section. And yes we already have the first comment calling for killing them.

> I find it strange that western hipsters are so taken by industrial chic architecture.

It is pretty easy to explain. Unattractive building in low-prestige neighborhoods are cheaper. If you don't care about conventional prestige and comfort you get more bang for the buck. If you want to predict what areas becomes "cool" next, just look at where prices are going down.

Explaining it all due to "fashion" is putting the cart before the horse.


Its Victorian industrial buildings not 60's and 70's brutalist buildings though.


Trellick Tower is definitely a desirable address now.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trellick_Tower

Likewise the Brunswick Centre.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brunswick_Centre

Much more popular with the middle classes than war-era estates like White City.

https://municipaldreams.wordpress.com/2017/01/24/the_white_c...



The thing about warehouses is that they have high ceilings and big windows. So people started to associate the outsides of those buildings with the bright and spacious interiors.


>yesterday's factories and warehouses are being converted into coffee shops and homes that people love and pay a premium for.

Also offices for tech companies.


>Having grown up in a working class family, I find it strange that western hipsters are so taken by industrial chic architecture. It's an environment that I grew up hoping to escape from.

For better or worse, a lot of people in that demographic (how many obviously depends on how you word the question) want parts or all of the eastern European social system of decades past. It should come as no surprise they want the architecture associated with it.


Are you saying hipsters or creative people are communist? Or are you saying working-class people are communist? Neither is even remotely true in my (anecdotal) experience. Do you have anything to back that up?


Singapore may have the world's best modern architecture. I used to be a skeptic of modern architecture but I really enjoy builidngs like the Interlace and Marina Bay Sands. One of many things that changed my thoughts when I was living there. Fantastic country and people.


I'm very curious to live there at some point in the next 5 years. What things would you have done differently if you could go back to when you first moved there?


My experience of Singapore taught me that it appears to lack diversity of culture/experience to the uninitiated, but it absolutely is there—it just fits within a (much) narrower dynamic range than most other cities. But there is diversity within the nuances once your eyes adjust to the subtle shades.

My advice is to avoid going back to the same places too often. There is an endless list of great places to discover; Singapore might be small relative to Earth, but it's still huge relative to one lifetime.


Conpared to many cities that we consider diverse (NYC, Amsterdam, London, etc), Singapore is by far more diverse, perhaps only second d to Dubai.

Their metro lines have announcements in 4 languages, and you can even get away without speaking English as a middleman langage. Majority of the people speak at least a little of other languages. It's always a mix of languages (Chinese, Malay/Indonesian, Tamil, Sinhalese, etc).

It still has to mix with the European culture though. There are far more Indian, Chinese, Indonesian, and Australian influence.


Singapore is highly multicultural but the depth is shallow. Strong national conformity tampers down the extremes of individualism.


Not OP, but I found Singapore to be rather hell-ish. It feels like one giant American mall, with possibly too much money for its own good.

HK, as a comparison, has preserved its character and charm, with life on the streets and many unique neighborhoods.

Singapore happens when you think SimCity is realistic: the primacy of the automobile, the belief that one additional Starbucks is always better than one marginal tree, the instinct that any public meeting must be broken up, unless it’s a queueueueueue (a long queue) at an Apple Store, etc.

It’s completely identical to Dubai or any of the Gulf metropolis, only with rain. The #1 Thing to Do in Singapour is taking the bridge to Malaysia, and never coming back. They think they can demolish the brutalism, but it’s already too late: it must be in the water supply. Anything built after ca 1980 is still brutalism, only with glass. When you get to Singapore, you take a $50 rise to the city center, and wonder why you are still in the airport.

Singapore is what happens when you don’t allow creative people the occasional drag of a joint: they take revenge, and make you live in it.


> Singapore happens when you think SimCity is realistic: the primacy of the automobile, the belief that one additional Starbucks is always better than one marginal tree, the instinct that any public meeting must be broken up, unless it’s a queueueueueue (a long queue) at an Apple Store, etc.

My abiding memory of Singapore is of visiting after about five months without leaving Shanghai and feeling like I was communing with nature. Everything seemed to be either a road, a building, a tree or a park. And there was a lot of park. One day I left my hotel at eight or nine and just walked until I got to the coast. It was amazing and there is no way to do anything similar in the equivalent area of Shanghai. For six months afterwards I would occasionally think of what a hideous wasted opportunity Pudong was in terms of urban planning. Thirty years ago it was farmland and now it’s city but it’s the worst kind of horrible car centric two lanes each way hellhole without adequate parks.

When I got to Singapore in the airport I saw the slogan, “Not a garden city, a city in a garden”. I obviously thought it was total bullshit but it wasn’t, it was amazing. To be honest I’d rather live in Hong Kong because the food and hiking are better but Singapore is still a great, great place to visit.


> HK, as a comparison, has preserved its character and charm

I don't think that's entirely fair. The way I like to describe it is that Singapore is Asian-Sydney and Hong Kong is Asian-New York. All are world-class cities, but Hong Kong and New York have deep and diverse layers of culture and subculture that are immediately apparent to the most casual of observer. Sydney and Singapore have plenty of depth which is easy for residents to see but for tourists it isn't nearly so obvious.

(Disclaimer: I live in Sydney.)


I like to use the Singapore=Chicago(downtown) Hong Kong=New York. Chicago is clean with great architecture, New York never sleeps, raw gritty.


Interesting, when I was living in Melbourne I thought of Sydney as an Aussie-HK. (Before Melbourne I lived in HK until I was 10.) Obviously not fair to both cities.


The parent is a controversial opinion and one that I do not entirely share, but as a person who has lived in Singapore for a while I am comfortable saying that it's a legitimate, plausible opinion.

To the people down-voting it because you disagree, please rescind your vote and supply a rebuttal in words.


It’s fine, I was arguably overdoing it for comedic effect. Still, for Americans especially, I believe there are destinations in SE Asia that are far more rewarding than Sing Sing. If you need the economic environment, HK would be an obvious choice, and maybe Shanghai. If you are doing remote work, the list becomes far longer. I spent three years in different cities worldwide in ca. 3-month intervals before getting stuck in Berlin, and I would recommend Barcelona, Florence, HK, Australia’s east coast, Melbourne, Cape Town, Buenos Aires, Rabat, Cairo, Tel Aviv, Beirut (check the local war forecast), and Havanna.


I've only visited once and for a weekend.

My prejudices were not quite reflected in what I actually saw, since I came totally prepared to hate the living bejeezes out of this place.

It's not quite as black and white.

What impressed me most was the garden at the bay. Where they invested a cool billion to build a garden on the most expensive (reclaimed) real estate in the world.

The food is fantastic too.

I understand why my parents loved it. It's instant asia without the hangover you get in places like Bangkok, or Kuala Lumpur.

That said, and while I didn't totally hate it a weekend is fine and I don't really need to go back.

The comparison with Dubai seems apt. If you're not into shopping malls it's mostly a rather drab place.

And there's always the slight undercurrent of fascism, which I intensly disliked. I got the strong impression that if you don't go with the flow you're a pariah and a social outcast.

It also doesn't help that they charge roughly S$ 20 (and up) for a bloody beer at any place, which is halfway in the city center. It's a place where happy hour really makes sense.

So, if I want a huge city with unmatched shopping oportunities, which has still a lot to offer in terms of liveability I rather chose Tokyo.


At least you didn’t quote William Gibson.


Lol...I was waiting...


No, it's not. Downvotes are not for opinions you disagree with.


I agree, but will never ever comment on this (in a thread, where I'm downvoted).

The worst is being downvoted for the dissemination of fact, ideally supported by sources.

Some lesser smart members of this fine forum seem to even downvote comments like this if they dare to go against the party line.

Then again, and as the moderators outline correctly, it's often auto-corrective and I, for one, upvote comments, which are unfairly downvoted. No matter their merits.

Edit : Clarification


I once had a comment flagged and had dang personally warn me over saying that Germany was surprisingly backwards at consumer tech (I explained in more detail what I meant, of course).

HN generally doesn't like 'inflammatory' comments. It's part of both the culture and policies.


I've heard many Germans say that, and it seems pretty obvious from visiting and working with German products. (They love engineering things, but are slow to change once something works, is probably the best description. This leads to really long product cycles and ecosystems of incremental improvement, associated products, etc., which makes it hard to switch. Asia and the US are probably the extreme other end of that (in different areas) -- often not as well engineered, but fast to adopt the newest stuff, and through competition, if one firm's product becomes vulnerable, someone else can replace it, even if the original firm milks their old product for longer.)


I see what you’re saying, it’s sort of typical west coast culture. But I think you can convey the same content with more gentle phrasing.


Same. I lived in Singapore for a few years and it can be a horrible place to live. Great place to visit though.


I visited Singapore once to visit a close friend. I had the impression that it was a city designed for work, and that very little of it grew organically.

But then, I'm a bad judge of cities since I find comfort in the chaos of Delhi.

I did like how walkable Singapore is.


agreed.


I really cannot get my head around this comment. Are you referring to one of the few (only?) cities on earth that caps the total number of vehicles on the road[1]? That has more urban green space than Sydney, Sacramento or Vancouver[2]? That has built 200 km of subway in 30 years[3]?

I am not a citizen of Singapore but I am a resident. There are plenty of valid criticisms to be made but I don't recognise the city you are describing. I feel perhaps you never stepped out of River Valley.

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

[2] https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/not-a-con...

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_Rapid_Transit_(Singapore)


OMG the mallishness. I went there to teach an intensive mini-course a few years ago, and lost my voice in 2 days from the constant air conditioned everything.


Make an effort to make friends with some locals. Otherwise it's easy to get stuck in the "expat bubble" where all you do is work, drink, and travel to places outside Singapore. My best memories are with local friends going to places I would have never known about.

I lived there for 2 years. It's a fun place but it can get on your nerves at times. It's hot, crowded, everything (other than local food) is expensive, and the people can be petty and dogmatic. It's growing rapidly which is affecting racial and social cohesion. It's very much a "follow the rules and you'll be ok" place to live.


Sounds like "Disneyland with death penalty" is still apt, then.


Beats Compton with the death penalty...


I too am interested in at least visiting, if not living there.

Are there any recommendations that is not crowded or too hot? The older I grow, the more I uncomfortable I am becoming with crowds


Here is a picture of the building in the article https://i.imgur.com/1BW2j35.png

To me it looks like an old beach resort.


When I read the title, I thought this was almost the exact same article as the one about Poland: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/10/t-magazine/poland-brutali...


Even though this article contrasts brutalist buildings with the more modern glass-and-steel aesthetic, I think both are products of their time and may age equally badly in the eyes of future generations. On the other hand, the architectural styles of the older, more historical buildings in New York, London, etc. seem to have aged well. In that they look old, but not "brutal". There may come a time when even the modern glass and steel facades will look brutal...


They've aged well because they were deemed worth saving after several decades. Since Penn, Euston stations the interest in saving as much as possible rather than just the best examples has caused some lesser quality old buildings to be kept.


I’ve heard this explanation (i. e. selection bias) a few times, but I don’t think it holds true. I live in a 190x building in Berlin that was nothing special for its time. Yet people prefer this style to anything built later, including most modern buildings (which are, however, preferable to the abominations of the 60s, brutalism or not).

Here’s a streetview: https://goo.gl/maps/bmFBmYywHAF2 walk around a bit and you see many such buildings. Only where bombs destroyed the older houses in WW2 will you find anything build after 1920.

The reasons aren’t necessarily a loss in taste: the older buildings have far higher ceilings, which may be due to them often being filled with far more people than is usual today. Alternatively (or because of that) heating costs did not factor into such decisions.

As to skyscrapers and larger buildings such as museums or hospitals, it’s important to remember that glass & steel & concrete is rather new technology. It’s far cheaper than brick, and simply a compromise between costs and appearances that was not commonly available back then. It’s also somewhat inconsistent but undeniable that we appreciate the decorative elements on the exterior, or the stucco inside, yet it feels somewhat tacky to make them today: McMansions are what happens when you think you can plunder all that’s beautiful from previous eras.


Very high ceilings is one technique used to keep buildings cool during the summer before AC or even electric fans were around.


The street view shows what I think would have been housing for people moderately high up the scale. I'm pretty sure that none of the initial residents would have washed the floors themselves... certainly upper half, right? So there's something in the selection view.

I don't know what happened to the buildings which housed the lower half. I know Berlin in 1900 was famous for having lots of awful newly-built tenement buildings, much lower standards than NYC or London at the same period. Maybe these were much less likely to be restored?

But I agree that selection isn't the whole story. Technology is some of it: heating was never cheap, but lighting was even more expensive, which is why old factories have huge windows. I think formality was another part, having a big formal room for guests was important for respectability, whereas today most housing is designed much more around its daily use... so things get subdivided to have more separate bedrooms.


I regret that five minutes searching didn’t lead me to the original article I found this so this is all if I recall correctly stuff.

The average architect lives in a building over a hundred years old.

The most desired buildings in the Netherlands are equally over a hundred years old, with people basically preferring faux copies (because buildings that inaccessible to the disabled are now illegal to build) to more modern architecture.

I’m aware there’re a lot of old buildings in most developed countries but there are more new ones. While there may be some bias towards keeping nice old buildings it’s not enough to explain the difference in quality. Old buildings straight up look better, they were designed by better architects.


Glass and steel dates to about the same time as brutalist concrete, maybe a few years earlier. International style is still going strong, brutalism came to be a abhored years ago.

Some ideas are just bad, not merely out of fashion, and history recognizes them as such.


My feelings exactly,but I have never come accross a profession more obsessed about winning awards than architecture.

They will continue designing in a style that wins awards and professional recognition, while the public are stuck with them for decades.


Are you sure there isn't an element of selection bias in that opinion?

I mean, sure, the designer of the Stata Center [1] at MIT might have been aiming to impress other architects and win awards. That's why we've heard of it. The designer of Knox Road Multistorey Car Park in Cardiff wasn't aiming for architecture awards - which is why you've never heard of the place.

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


Google "architect award winning car park".

(I am pretty sure that every architectal project over a certain number of million dollars is guaranteed to win one or more awards)

I don't think it's selection bias. It's the same in software. User hostile faddish resigned are common, backed by some BS narrative. But other than the few times it had destoryed shareholder value (Snapchat) it doesn't really matter because the entire site/app will be redesigned in a couple of years. But a terrible concrete monstrosity can be around for decades and decades.


And yet the Cardiff car park is likely more pleasant to park in than building 32 is to work in.

We used a semi-fancy architect to design our house, and while I'm glad we did we had to push's a lot to design in things like closets, much less other "habitability" features. Many award-winning buildings aren't actually as functional as the awards would imply (just think of the open office trend, which photographs well but is hardly good for productivity!). Ironically that same architect designed...a car park, which is actually quite nice.

(I object to MIT's relatively recent decision to start using names of donors for buildings rather than simply the building number -- building 32 is the stata building).


> And yet the Cardiff car park is likely more pleasant to park in than building 32 is to work in.

I can find pictures of the outside of the Cardiff car park, but I can't find anybody showing off the inside. What's so nice about parking in it?


I don't know, but building 32 is pretty terrible.


brutalism does not mean "brutal". It comes from "béton brut" which means "raw concrete" in French. Source: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/b/brutalism


The bland glass and steel "international style" aesthetic largely overlaps with and arguably predates the "brutalist" style though, and seems to have attracted rather less of a backlash.


Glass has a tendency to reflect the sky, while concrete only blocks it out.


another poster mentioned a recent article on similar buildings in Poland. For me it comes down to, is it perceived as an expression of the government and times for when it was built or was the expression of a people and times when it was built, the latter is much more forgiving.


Brutalism is a uniquely bad-looking part of architectural history - you can look anywhere in the world at any other point in history and you'll never find the same ugliness. My pet theory is that it's a style that was made to look good in black-and-white photographs at the expense of looking good in reality.


Barbican is one of the best examples of Brutalism in the UK and I love it! Its far from Ugly. Its functional and interesting, far more so than the bland glass builds down the road in the city.


The Barbican is popular with a) architects b) people who endorse the political movement that built it. Even in your post you don't seem to be able to bring yourself to describe it positively in aesthetic terms - "functional" and "interesting" are usually euphemisms for ugly.

The fundamental bottom line is that hardly anyone likes grey, and - in real life rather than black-and-white photos - no amount of interesting texture makes up for that.


As a resident of the Barbican I'm in this minority that likes grey then. I love it and I'm neither a) or b), and I'd say the majority of the residents no longer match b)


Next time you are in Singapore, go check out the Park View building. Make sure to explore the statues outside and go into the ground floor and be amazed.


I love the look of that one, it really stands out.

Though I have heard that some of the companies there have trouble retaining staff due to rumours of haunting!


I remember seeing this building and thinking the building would fit for Wayne Enterprises. Didn't know one could go inside!


I had exactly the same thoughts when I stumbled upon it wandering around the downtown late at night. It was dark, I was alone in the patio and the building front looked amazingly scary.


Apparently one of its slang names locally is "Gotham City".

(My dad lived and worked in Singapore for a few years and told me this when I pointed it out on a visit)


Those Singaporean buildings look quite good and you can tell that they at least cared enough to build them properly and take care of them. I've seen some buildings built in that era in the UK, while travelling and I always found that they stood out, painfully, most of them eyesores.

On the opposite side of the spectrum to Singapore, as a Hungarian who had the bad luck to be born and grow up in Romania, I hope that one day it will be financially worth it for the country for these buildings to come down and be committed to the graveyard of bad memories. Imagine brutalist architecture built to be exactly the same, shoddily and cheaply, repeating endlessly across the landscape. Buildings where the goal was to stuff as many people in as cheaply as possible, buildings where each of them was built not according to plan but according to what materials were left when every worker and official stole their tiny bit.

For most people in the west, it would be one of the most severe types of punishment imaginable, having to be born, live and die in a depressing, prison-like environment like that.


Something about the stairs of the building in the main photo looks extremely dangerous, like one could easily fall off a side, or if someone were standing at the top of the stairs, they would have a clear shot into the open space if they jumped off.


Honestly those don't look as awful and oppressive as a lot of the european examples. This may be because the sun shines in Singapore from time to time... also they seem to at least have some concessions to form that is not pure function.

But still pretty ugly. I can't grok the mindset that asks for these to be protected, other than as a weird form of contrarianism.


Brutalism is a lot more interesting when you have a vague idea of the background of it => it's a kind of socialist/communist philosophy in architecture, pretty buildings are the enshrinement of social hierarchies into architecture, so build something that is egalitarian by nature - lots of identical units, function over form. Open spaces, honesty in the sense that the architecture shows you how it's really made with exposed concrete etc, not a facade. I guess you could argue that it's the lisp of architecture - no hiding the construction. I guess the point is that it's not mindlessly ugly, it's a statement about priorities and honesty in aesthetics.


But you have to look at the results - ugly monoliths that create oppressive spaces.

Having grown up around the results in the towns and cities of England, it's hard to see these ideals when a grey-brown lump of concrete is blocking out the already weak winter sunlight, unbroken straight lines make the wind howl through and chill you, and dark spaces accumulate litter and urine and seem to just encourage social problems.

So that's why I don't grok the mindset - can people not see what it actually becomes? I get that egalitarianism was there in the intent, but intent is not really relevant. Results are relevant.


As with all architecture there are good and bad examples (with bad examples usually lost over time - leaving only the good), and with brutalism in particular issues with poor maintenance. Maintain any building of any age and architectural 'school' poorly and it will become rundown, shabby, and unpleasant to live in/around.

I walk through the Barbican frequently, which is rightly a much celebrated building, and find it an extremely elevating experience. I also recently visited Royan Cathedral which is honestly one of the most beautiful I've ever been in. I think many brutalist buildings have been blighted by decades of neglect almost from right after they were built. That's not going to leave the best impression on anybody.


I don't think you can just blame poor maintenance - the material and style choices are just poor to start with.

The cathedral looks to me like a gun emplacement, or some relic of a forgotten war.


Funny you mention relics of wars. Have you seen the ruins of the Oslobođenje building in Sarajevo? That war ruin somehow manages to capture the aesthetic of well maintained brutalist architecture almost perfectly. Brutalist buildings on their best days look like ruins from a city under siege. Walking into a neighborhood with brutalist architecture feels like you've walked into some alternate timeline where WWIII is raging.

The cynical side of me suspects that brutalist architecture is a reflection of the psychological damage WWII inflicted on a generation of architects. They experienced an ugly world, then sought to recreate that ugliness in their work. Experiencing war corrupted them. Their legacy, their still standing buildings, are not unlike the iron harvest French and Belgian farmers experience every year when they till their fields and find bombs from WWI.


Personally, I find the ideological background of that style does very much align with the kind ugliness it evokes. Creates a feeling of a hopeless, purposeless world where nobody cares about you.

Aesthetically I don't think it's universally that bad. The real ugliness comes in when you actually look inside the units[0]. Quickly becomes apparent how at odds this style is with the way real people want to live. People go to great lengths to differentiate their seemingly identical unit. As if trying to maintain identity in a jail cell.

[0] or at attempts to "prettify" common areas


> I guess the point is that it's not mindlessly ugly, it's a statement about priorities and honesty in aesthetics.

Indeed, it’s not mindlessly ugly, it’s deliberately ugly. It’s like the difference between someone accidentally smashing fine porcelain and taking a hammer to it.




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