Brutalism in the UK

© Andy Spain

is the term coined to describe the raw architecture often made with concrete during the 1950s and 1960s (with a later resurgence). I’m an architectural photographer and my fascination with these concrete buildings has led to me document a number of them across the (an on-going project).

© Andy Spain

When you go into a gallery a painting might cause you to stop and look, it isn’t the spectacle but the aesthetics ability to hold the viewer. Concrete buildings have this ability. They don’t fit into the streets and city centres where they appear (they are by their very nature brutal rather than accommodating) but there strength and power speak of a time when people had a belief in architecture as a force for civic good. These structures were solid spaces to create a solid and strong world emerging from the gloom of the second world war. The buildings represent what was great about building a society, universities, hospitals, local governments as opposed to the steel and glass of contemporary retail and office complexes. These buildings were about real people and real issues and they wore this realism brutally on the outside.

© Andy Spain

But it’s more than that. The form is itself appealing (beyond what that form represents). Simplicity in architecture is rare and to strip back so much of the adornments and leave the bare walls is somehow sensual, the opposite of what so many critics claim. The way lines are created and cut against the sky or interact with other buildings. The regularity of shape and form caused by the shutter process of creating the concrete, the ability to go up to the building and feel the roughness of the concrete matching and creating an indexical link with the way the building was made.

© Andy Spain

Sometimes a book is hard to read or a film is hard to watch but by completing it you know it was something important and worthwhile which deserved your perseverance. These buildings also deserve your perseverance. They are evidence of a modernism, a time when we didn’t dress up architecture but left it cold and honest for all to see.

You can see some more of my photographs in here.

© Andy Spain
© Andy Spain
© Andy Spain
© Andy Spain
© Andy Spain
Cite: Spain, Andy. "Brutalism in the UK" 29 Jul 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 18 Apr 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=70676>

21 comments

  1. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    I never like the brutalism. They distroy everything about the people fillings, life stile. They are like scars in the city or landscape. I don’t like to see concrete everywere. I would like to hear a psihologist opinion about the impact of this style in human, day by day life: work, living, etc. In my contry the concrete wall block distroy the life style and fellings. I live in a ex-comunist country.

    • Thumb up Thumb down -4

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

  2. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    I have to agree with R Goldschmidt. On one hand it’s OK, but on the other, concrete burnt itself into the history of the people of post-Soviet countries as the default construction material of socialist realism, and therefore long years of Soviet suppression.

  3. Thumb up Thumb down +8

    Some of these are actually pretty awesome. Others are just plain ugly.

    In Germany, the concrete industry in the 80s and 90s used to advertise with the slogan: “Beton. Es kommt drauf an, was man draus macht.” (“Concrete. It depends on what you do with it.”) After reviewing these photos, I couldn’t agree more.

  4. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    Hey.

    Brutalism is indeed an outdated architectural style… I live in an comunist cuountry and most of the buildings constructed in behalf of the state where made in a very poor brutalist manner, and the style is usualy associated with: dislike of the aristocratic means, poor materials, built after hysorical buildings where forcibly demolished …etc.

    but then again we have to thank the brutalist architects for creating a style that inflicted in younger designers the need of a better architecture: deconstructivism

    also the pictures are quite very nice.. i like the lines. On some, did u use a tilt and shift lens?

    chhers.

  5. Thumb up Thumb down +4

    I live in London and have seen some of these buildings. In real life, these brutalist buildings don’t look anything as appealing as these gorgeous, artfully composed black and white photographs.

    You might argue that stopping to look at a building through an artist’s eye reveals a beauty you may not have noticed before.

    To me though, Brutalist architecture represents the architectural ideal of “truth to materials” taken to the extreme. The result is not an elegant or appealing simplicity, but buildings that are cold and unfriendly, and often ugly too.

  6. Thumb up Thumb down +3

    Personally I hate brutalism. But your writing is so elaborate and sincere and photos are so stylish and professional that I might re-consider… Just joking, but it is always a pleasure to see beautiful work even on the topic which is not so close to your heart. Thanks for the images… Gorgeous indeed. Way better than reality.

  7. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    I think good brutalist architecture is possible. Like some Kahn and Ando buildings, or Le Corbusier. So I think It’s not the style’s fault.

  8. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Personal note: why do I love brutalism so much, when I know the chances of a client ever wanting something like that again are so slim…. Heres to hoping.

  9. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    Interesting to hear how political experience can shape ones view of architecture. If i grew up under the oppressive weight of Communism i might not feel the way i do..
    I personally love the visual strength and unapologetic boldness of brutalism. Tadao Ando is an excellent example Token had brought up of a modern master that demands perfection from his concrete finishers to create surfaces that could never be fairly compared with that of cold-war era infrastructure.
    Closer to home, Arthur Erickson has shaped my view of architecture with a couple diverse examples: His Macmillan Bloedel building in downtown Vancouver is classic brutalism and the Museum Anthropology could be considered an example of a more elegant, west-coast brutalism.

  10. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    I’ve always loved Brutalist architecture. Perception and taste are subjective…these comments remind us of that much.

    As an architect I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard clients describe concrete as ‘ugly’, and yet our architecture magazines cherish the raw, earthy, sensual concrete walls of many projects (Ando, et. al.).

    Just as there is often a disconnect b/w ‘popular’ and ‘professional’ taste, there’s often disagreement b/w professionals as to what constitutes good desgin.

  11. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    You should stop by this place if you visit Oslo, -office of ministry:

    http://blogg.nrk.no/byen/files/2009/09/Y-blokka_38max-500×333.jpg

    Carl Nesjar developet a method of modelling a relieff in the surface of the concrete, this made architect Erling Viksjø and Pablo Picasso go bananacake..

    Otherwise its pretty much a blueprint of Le Corbusier siteplan for the United Nations Headquarters, -a good one.

    Another good norwegian, in venice:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/seier/2987840608/in/photostream/

  12. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    There’s a fundamental question here that everyone seems to be ignoring: who chose brutalism? Architects did a great job in convincing city departments allover the world that brutalism was the architecture of the future, but the people whose communities were destroyed were never asked.

    That’s why brutalism is totalitarian, even in free countries — it was built by disregarding democratic principles such as the voice of the people. Who here would live in a brutalist building if you had a choice? I certainly wouldn’t.

    • Thumb up Thumb down +2

      This discussion is so interesting..whenever I see police shows from the UK I notice that the investigation always ends up at some soulless estate…although I’ve been to Britain a few times I haven’t seen any residential complexes of this type in person…so my impressions are indirect.

      But what does strike me is that these structures are so not conducive to community. It isn’t so much the concrete as the scale. The scale dwarfs humanity and stacks people like sardines. I shudder when I see these buildings and can easily believe that they contribute to societal decay. It must have been a great challenge to rehouse so many left homeless after the bombing of WW2, and I understand the desire to bring amenities like central heating and indoor plumbing to the entire population. Nonetheless, I question the thinking behind “tower blocks” and agree with Axel that they are the embodiment of totalitarianism.

  13. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Inspired by 1960′s Brutalist Architecture, I think readers of this blog may be particular interested in this show.

    The Battersea Arts Centre are proud to present their performance of Machines For Living by Let Slip and Crank.

    4 – 8 Dec | 7pm
    £10, £8 concs

    Machines for Living is a striking piece of physical theatre with a spectacular set. Fusing playful dark humour with tragic scope, up-and-coming Let Slip and Crank use their irreverent and visually arresting style to explore the legacy of Britain’s tower blocks.

    Immersed in the social idealism of the 1960’s, two architects believe they can design life. They move into the tower block they have created, engineered to encourage kinship and social harmony. As the building degenerates and Community breaks down, who should be held responsible?

    This promises to be a really interesting show and we would love to see you here.

    Thanks.

  14. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    ROUNDY BUILDING AWESOME, BUT YOU DIDNT STATE WHERE IT IS ETC, AS WITH ALL HUMAN NEUTROPATHS YOU ARE CLEARLY DECREPIT MENTALY.

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