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How "Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston" Hopes to Reclaim America's Concrete Heritage

Paul Rudolph, Government Service Center (1962-71). Image © Mark Pasnik
Paul Rudolph, Government Service Center (1962-71). Image © Mark Pasnik

In 2007, when the late Mayor Thomas Menino announced his intentions to demolish Kallmann, McKinnell and Knowles' iconic Boston City Hall, he gave voice to a tragic but all-too-common popular discomfort with midcentury concrete architecture. Concerned that this threat was only the latest symptom of a pervasive misunderstanding of the significance of the concrete tradition, three architects - Mark Pasnik, Chris Grimley, and Michael Kubo - joined forces shortly thereafter to launch "The Heroic Project" and share their appreciation for this unfairly maligned chapter of architectural history. In addition to creating an internet web archive, Pasnik, Grimley, and Kubo jointly authored a forthcoming historical survey, Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, scheduled to be released by The Monacelli Press in October 2015, which recasts the cultural and political story behind America's concrete heritage.

I.M. Pei & Partners and Araldo Cossutta, Associated Architects, Christian Science Center (1964-73). Image © Mark Pasnik Kallmann, McKinnell, & Knowles, Boston City Hall (1962-69). Image © Mark Pasnik Paul Rudolph, Government Service Center (1962-71). Image © Mark Pasnik Marcel Breuer & Associates, Madison Park High School (1966-77). Image © Mark Pasnik

Monocle 24 Investigates Playful Design and the Role of Luck in Shaping our Cities

For this week's editions of Section DMonocle 24's weekly review of design, architecture and craft, and The Urbanist, their weekly "guide to making better cities," the Monocle team investigate the how the act of playing can shape design and the role of luck in our cities.

In Section D, David Plaisant meets artist Simon Terrill at the new Brutalist Playground, currently on display at the RIBA in London. Terrill, along with Assemble, have reimagined a concrete childrens' playground from one of the UK's Brutalist housing estates, in foam – plus more. In this week's edition of The Urbanist, Andrew Tuck explores the role of luck (and misfortune) in our cities, from how architects apply the philosophy of feng shui to their work to a Brazilian district that it was given the name of Boa Sorte ('good luck' in Portuguese). The show also visits Moore – the city dubbed as "tornado alley of Tornado Alley" – in Oklahoma, US, to understand how best to build in such intense climactic environments.

Listen to both episodes after the break.

Richard Rogers Appeals for Public Support to Save Robin Hood Gardens from Demolition

When it was announced in 2012 that London's Robin Hood Gardens – Alison and Peter Smithson's world-famous Brutalist housing estate – was to be demolished, there was outrage among the architectural community. Since then, many have called for the profession to act in order to protect "one of Britain’s most important post-war housing projects," which led to a fresh bid to save the scheme in March of this year. Richard Rogers, Simon Smithson (a partner at RSHP and son of Alison and Peter Smithson), and academic Dirk van den Heuvel have now called upon members of the public to voice their concerns to the UK Ministry for Culture, Media and Sport, before the end of the week:

"Previous efforts in 2009 to have the building listed failed, but the case has now been re-opened and we understand that the new Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage will be reviewing the arguments at the end of this week [w/c 15th June 2015]."

Gallery: Assemble's Brutalist Playground Opens at RIBA

An exploration of "post-war design for play," The Brutalist Playground by Assemble and artist Simon Terrill has opened to the public at RIBA's Architecture Gallery. The immersive installation draws on a number of historic London estates - Churchill Gardens, Pimlico; the Brunel Estate, Paddington and the Brownfield Estate in Poplar - where playgrounds were once made from concrete and cast into sculptural forms to offer children an abstract landscape for play. Now deemed unsafe, these playgrounds no longer exist. Thus, The Brutalist Playground was envisaged to explore play, "the Brutalist way." 

Images of the complete installation, after the break.

© Tristan Fewings / Getty Images for RIBA © Tristan Fewings / Getty Images for RIBA © Tristan Fewings / Getty Images for RIBA © Tristan Fewings / Getty Images for RIBA

The Chemical Brothers "Go" Brutalist in Paris for Their Latest Music Video

In The Chemical Brothers’ “Go” music video, seven women carrying two poles march through Paris’ Front-de-Seine neighborhood in perfectly synchronized choreography by Michel Gondry. The area is located in the 15th district, beside the Seine river, and is characterized by its Brutalist buildings, the result of an urban project in the 1970s that rehabilitated the former industrial area through the construction of 20 towers nearly 100 meters high. 

The buildings were designed by Henri Pottier and Raymond Jules Lopez, and rise around an elevated platform, which features a series of geometric patterns that are best seen from the top of the towers. The video not only highlights several of these buildings, but also integrates the choreography into the remarkable urban setting. 

This post was originally written by José Tomás Franco for Plataforma Arquitectura. 

Panoramic of Front-de-Seine neighborhood, in Paris. Image via Wikipedia CC
Panoramic of Front-de-Seine neighborhood, in Paris. Image via Wikipedia CC

Assemble to Construct a Brutalist Playground at RIBA

Starting June 10, the RIBA will present The Brutalist Playground - an exhibition that is part sculpture, part architectural installation, which invites people of all ages to come and play, the Brutalist way. Occupying the entire Architecture Gallery, the immersive landscape is a new commission by Turner Prize nominated design and architecture collective Assemble and artist Simon Terrill. It explores the abstract concrete playgrounds that were designed as part of Brutalist housing estates in the mid-twentieth century, but which no longer exist. They became playgrounds unsuitable for play.

Park Hill Estate, Sheffield - 1962. Image © Arch Press Archive RIBA Library Photographs Collection © John Donat RIBA Library Photographs Collection © Assemble and Simon Terrill Churchill Gardens - 1956. Image © John Maltby RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Spotlight: William Pereira

Courtesy of UC Irvine Special Collections and Archives
Courtesy of UC Irvine Special Collections and Archives

Winner of the 1942 Acadamy Award for Best Special Effects, William Pereira (April 25, 1909 – November 13, 1985) also designed some of America's most iconic examples of futurist architecture, with his heavy stripped down functionalism becoming the symbol of many US institutions and cities. Working with his more prolific film-maker brother Hal Pereira, William Pereira's talent as an art director translated into a long and prestigious career creating striking and idiosyncratic buildings across the West Coast of America.

Transamerica Pyramid. Image © Flickr user John Zacherle Thene Building, LAX. Image © Flickr user Arch_sam Jack Langson Library at University of California (Irvine). Image © Wikimedia user TFNorman Geisel Library. Image © Darren Bradley

Fresh Bid To Save Robin Hood Gardens From Demolition

It has been reported that London's Robin Hood Gardens housing estate, which was thought to be finally condemned in March 2012, has re-entered a state of flux due to governmental indecision. The former UK Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham, gave the housing scheme an immunity from listing certificate in 2009, meaning that no concerned party could bid for it to gain protected status under British law. This certificate, designed to ensure that the buildings would be swiftly demolished, has now expired. This has led the Twentieth Century Society (C20) to launch a new bid for the estate to be both saved and protected.

"Classic Japan" Episode 2: Sachio Otani's Kyoto International Conference Center

The second episode in "Classic Japan" features the 1966 Kyoto International Conference Center by Sachio Otani. The site of the signing of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, Otani's waterfront conference center unfurls onto nearby Lake Takaragaike via a series of concrete pathways that offset the centre's Brutalist weight. Filmed and edited by Vincent Hecht, a French architect and film maker currently living in Tokyo, the series focuses on Japanese architecture from the 1950s to the 80s.

Before working on the conference center, Otani had previously worked in the office of Kenzo Tange, whose Yoyogi National Gymnasium was featured in the first episode of the "Classic Japan" series.

Zupagrafika Honors London’s Brutalist Architecture with Paper Models

Polish studio Zupagrafika has released a collection of five paper cut-out models representing London’s brutalist architecture from 1960s and 70s. Scattered around the districts of Camden, Southwark and Tower Hamlet, the “raw concrete (paper) tour begins with iconic tower blocks (Balfron Tower and Space House), leads through council estates doomed to premature demolition (Robin Hood Gardens and Aylesbury Estate) and concludes with a classic prefab panel block (Ledbury Estate).”

The series, "Brutal London" is Zupagrafika’s unique way of cataloging London’s modernist architecture at risk of demolition. 

© Zupagrafika © Zupagrafika © Zupagrafika © Zupagrafika

Video: Drone Tour Inside St. Peter's Seminary

Scotland's Grade-A listed Brutalist St. Peter's Seminary, abandoned for the past 25 years, is being rediscovered through drone technology. The building, which was originally designed by Gillespie, Kidd & Coia in 1966 and heavily inspired by the work of Le Corbusier ("with Scottish inspirations"), has recently been offered a new lease of life. London-based Avanti Architects, along with Glasgow-based  and NORD Architectsrecently released the first images of their plans to breathe new life into the iconic building. This filmed footage not only gives a sense of how dilapidated the structure is in its current state, but also hints at the exciting possible future it has as an arts venue.

St. Peter's Seminary: 'La Tourette' With "Scottish Inspirations"

In an article for The Guardian, Rowan Moore explores the state and future of the Grade A listed Brutalist Seminary of St. Peter, "where the influence of Le Corbusier’s monastery of La Tourette combines with [...] Scottish inspirations." Although the building is often seen as wholly unique in the canon of religious buildings, it is still comprised of traditional elements - "cloister, chapel, refectory, cells - but rearranged over multiple levels in unexpected ways, alternately enclosing and opening up to its surroundings."

Defining a More Purposeful Architecture: A Guide to Current Architectural Trends

The current state of architectural design incorporates many contemporary ideas of what defines unique geometry. With the advent of strong computer software at the early 21st century, an expected level of experimentation has overtaken our profession and our academic realms to explore purposeful architecture through various techniques, delivering meaningful buildings that each exhibit a message of cultural relevancy.

These new movements are not distinct stylistic trends, but modes of approaching concept design. They often combine with each other, or with stylistic movements, to create complete designs. Outlined within this essay are five movements, each with varying degrees of success creating purposeful buildings: Diagramism, Neo-Brutalism, Revitism, Scriptism, and Subdivisionism.

Demolition Begins On John Madin's Brutalist Former Library in Birmingham

Work has begun on the demolition of the UK city of Birmingham's former Central Library, designed by home-grown Brutalist architect John Madin. The move by Birmingham Council to not retain the structure of the library, in spite of ideas and petitions put forward by numerous public groups (including one titled Keep The Ziggurat), has been widely met with disappointment among the architectural community. The BBC recently compiled some of the most interesting ideas for reuse which included, among others, transforming the concrete structure into a new English Parliament, an international trade centre, and an enormous space for rock climbing.

Madin, who passed away in 2012, had at least three of his major Modernist projects demolished during his lifetime. His design for Birmingham Library had been met with criticism from the likes of the city's Director of Planning and Regeneration of the time who described it as a "concrete monstrosity." Prince Charles famously described it as "looking more like a place for burning books than keeping them."

See photographs of the former library under construction and in use after the break.

View of the former lending library Interior perspective view of the proposed library (date unknown) John Madin's Library under construction (1971) Aerial view of the completed former library

Start the Year the Right Way With 18 Illustrations of Architecture Classics

To celebrate the start of 2015, Xinran Ma, a New York-based architectural designer and illustrator, has created this brutalist-inspired greetings card. Based on his work illustrating over 50 of the classic projects of modernist and brutalist architecture, this card features pieces of these recognizable buildings, remixed and adapted to create a typeface.

Xinran says that the buildings he illustrates all have one unfortunate thing in common: "they are extremely attractive and inspiring to me," he says, but "ironically they have been somehow gradually forgotten." As a result, the illustrations he produces are not just a hobby, but part of an obligation he feels "to defend, memorize and deliver the classics that I believe are immortal." Xinran has shared 18 of these illustrations with ArchDaily to spread the word about these buildings; check them out after the break, and click on the images to find out more about each one.

House-monument of the Bulgarian Communist Party. Image © Xinran Ma Makedonium / Jordan Grabulovski and IskraGrabulovski. Image © Xinran Ma Central Research Institute of Robotics and Technical Cybernetics. Image © Xinran Ma St. John’s Abbey Church / Marcel Breuer. Image © Xinran Ma

Avanti and NORD Selected to Revitalize St Peter’s Seminary in Scotland

Restored chapel visualisation. Image Courtesy of James Johnson
Restored chapel visualisation. Image Courtesy of James Johnson

London-based Avanti Architects, along with Glasgow-based ERZ Landscape Architects and NORD Architects, have released the first image of their design to revitalize one of Scotland’s modern masterpieces: St Peter’s seminary. Designed by Gillespie, Kidd & Coia in 1966, and built on the former Kilmahew estate, the Category-A listed Brutalist structure was voted as the best modern building in Scotland by readers of Prospect Magazine in 2005. However, the building has been abandoned for the past 25 years, leaving it dilapidated and facing numerous problems.

Public art charity NVA is leading a  £7.3 million initiative to rehabilitate the building and its surrounding landscape to create an art, heritage and educational site. The designs include a performing arts venue with a 600-person capacity, informal indoor and outdoor teaching spaces across the 144 acre site and over 4 kilometres of woodland paths. In addition, the site will contain a heritage exhibition and a locally-led productive garden.

Historical 1967 View towards the stepped glass roof. Image  Chapel rooflight detail. Image Courtesy of GKC Archive Processional Ramp 1967. Image Courtesy of GKC Archive Side altars 1967. Image Courtesy of GKC Archive

An Homage to London Brutalism by Thomas Danthony & Michael Abrahamson

National Theatre by Thomas Danthony. Image Courtesy of Black Dragon Press
National Theatre by Thomas Danthony. Image Courtesy of Black Dragon Press

Black Dragon Press has shared a set of prints and a booklet on Brutalist architecture in London with illustrations by Thomas Danthony, complemented by text from "Fuck Yeah Brutalism" curator Michael Abrahamson. See Abrahamson's intro to the booklet reprinted below. 

Brutalism is an unusually evocative word. Like the architecture for which it’s used as a descriptor, it can elicit a powerful, bodily discomfort or psychological repulsion. Standard dictionary definitions itemise the materials (exposed concrete, but also brick and block) and describe the physical character (forceful, unadorned, imposing) of this type of building, and would likely also mention the time frame during which it was the dominant tendency in architecture (from the late 1950s to the early 1970s).

Spotlight: Paul Rudolph

Paul Marvin Rudolph (October 23, 1918 – August 8, 1997) was a leading American architect known for his contributions to modernism during the International School and Postmodernism eras.  He served as the Chair of Yale University’s School of Architecture for six years and famously designed the Yale Art and Architecture Building, one of the earliest examples of Brutalist architecture in the United States.