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Fighting the Neoliberal: What Today's Architects Can Learn From the Brutalists

In this second installment of his revamped “Beyond London” column for ArchDaily, Simon Henley of London-based practice Henley Halebrown discusses a potential influence that might help UK architects combat the economic hegemony currently afflicting the country – turning for moral guidance to the Brutalists of the 1960s.

Before Christmas, I finished writing my book entitled Redefining Brutalism. As the title suggests I am seeking to redefine the subject, to detoxify the term and to find relevance in the work, not just a cause for nostalgia. Concrete Brutalism is, to most people, a style that you either love or hate. But Brutalism is far more than just a style; it is way of thinking and making. The historian and critic Reyner Banham argued in his 1955 essay and 1966 book both entitled The New Brutalism: Ethic or Aesthetic that the New Brutalism began as an ethical movement only to be hijacked by style. Today, it is a mirror to be held up to the architecture of Neoliberalism, to an architecture that serves capitalism. More than ever, architecture relies on the brand association of the big name architects whose work has little to do with the challenges faced by society, which are today not unlike the ones faced by the post-war generation: to build homes, places in which to learn and work, places for those who are old and infirm, and places to gather. We can learn a lot from this bygone generation.

Dunelm House student union building in Durham, by the Architect's Co-Partnership. Image © <a href='http://www.geograph.org.uk/more.php?id=2935919'>Geograph user Des Blenkinsopp</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/'>CC BY-SA 2.0</a><a href='http://www.archdaily.com/791939/ad-classics-park-hill-estate-sheffield-jack-lynn-ivor-smith'>Park Hill</a> in Sheffield: left, in its original design; right, a section of the renovation. Image © Paul Dobraszczyk"Streets in the sky" at Robin Hood Gardens by Alison and Peter Smithson. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevecadman/3058342144/'>Flickr user stevecadman</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/'>CC BY-SA 2.0</a>St Peter's Seminary in Cardross, Scotland, by Gillespie Kidd and Coia, here shown in its original state. Image Courtesy of GKC Archive+ 10

Why Architecture Needs Less London-Centrism and More Ideas in the Wake of Brexit

<a href='http://www.archdaily.com/421970/library-of-birmingham-mecanoo'>Library of Birmingham / Mecanoo</a>. Image © Christian Richters
Library of Birmingham / Mecanoo. Image © Christian Richters

Between March of 2013 and December of 2014, Simon Henley of London-based practice Henley Halebrown wrote a regular column for ArchDaily titled “London Calling,” covering architectural topics of note in the UK's capital. Now, Henley is returning to his column – but in the wake of 2016's shock political developments, his column is re-branding. Thus, here he presents the first of his column “Beyond London” – a look at architectural topics around the UK. Here, Henley presents his opinion on those political developments, and the role architects should play as the UK embarks on a new period in its history.

Post-Brexit, British architects need to think hard about the profession’s London-centric position. There has been a policy of inclusion of non-London architects on panels, their work in magazines and on awards shortlists, but this is not enough. It was quite clear on June 24th when the London design community awoke to the realization that Britain will leave the European Union, that a “Remain”-minded bubble had formed within the capital. The same may be true of the other large cities around the country which voted largely in favour of “Remain.”