Brutalist Buildings - Beasts or Beauties

Veronica R

Hyatt Regency Embarcadero Center   View this Block

The brutalism movement of architecture that became popular all over the world from the '50s to the '70s was started by Le Corbusier. This became the style of choice with governmental, educational, and institutional buildings as well as low-cost housing, libraries, and shopping centers. Brutalist buildings were thought by many as unfit for purpose, ugly, rugged, and brutal, hence the term, brutalism. Characteristic to this style is "beton brut", or raw concrete used to build structures that were heavy in mass and scale, and on a social level, represented a desire for a standardized society.

Popularity and Decline

Since concrete was a relatively cheap material, Brutalist architecture, which also made use of brick, glass, steel, and stone, gained popularity. Numerous buildings were built in this style, and some examples include Le Corbusier's Unite d'Habitation in Marseille, France; the Embassy of the United States in Havana, Cuba; Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany; and The Ohio Historical Center in Columbus, Ohio. Though many admired brutalism architecture, there were also many detractors. The concrete was thought by some to weather poorly and the style was called "intrusive," "cold," "hideous," "monstrous," and "piles of concrete." Many of these building fell into disrepair, were squatted, and like the Miami Marine Stadium in Florida, vandalized. Brutalism became synonymous for poor urban planning and many were demolished to never be seen again, including Tricorn Centre in Portsmouth, England; Morris A. Mechanic Theatre in Baltimore, Maryland; and Cumbernauld Town Centre in Cumbernauld, Scotland.

Making a Comeback

Today, many consider Brutalist buildings as works of outstanding architectural innovation. In 2015, architects AHMM, won the RIBA Stirling Prize for the UK's top architecture for designing the Brutalist style Burntwood School in London. Moreover, recent trends in concrete in architecture and design, such as polishing, coloring, and stamping concrete, as well as having a reputation for being understated and unpretentious, have helped shed a positive light on Brutalism. Several Brutalist buildings have been listed as historical, and there have been conservation and renovation campaigns for many other Brutalist structures in recent years. One example in the United States is The University of Washington's More Hall Annex. Built in 1961, efforts have been made by several organizations to declare the Brutalist building a historic city landmark.

Are Brutalist buildings worth preserving?

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