Brutalist architecture, or Brutalism, is an architectural style that emerged in the mid-20th century and gained popularity in the late 1950s and 1960s. It descended from the modernist architectural movement of the late 19th century and of the first half of the 20th century. It is characterized by simple, block-like structures that often feature bare building materials. Exposed concrete is favored in construction; however, some examples are primarily made of brick. Though beginning in Europe, Brutalist architecture can now be found around the world. There are plenty more examples of iconic brutalist architecture from around the world that are worthy of celebration too. Here are just 10 of them:
1. Cité Radieuse, Marseille
One of Le Corbusier’s seminal projects, Unité d’Habitation (translation: simply ‘housing unit’) is one of the earliest approaches to brutalist architecture as we now know it. Conceived as a ‘vertical garden city’ of self-contained units around communal areas, this design principle was the modernist architect’s response to an urgent need for accommodation in the wake of World War Two.
2. The Breuer Building, New York City.
The former home of the Whitney Museum of American Art (which relocated to the Meatpacking District last year), the hulking, top-heavy Breuer Building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side initially met with criticism when it opened in 1966. Named after its Bauhaus-educated architect Marcel Breuer, the building’s unornamented granite façade and concrete ceilings typify the brutalist insistence on raw materials and functionality.
3. Habitat 67, Montréal.
Habitat 67 began as Safdie’s McGill University graduate (Moshe Safdie) thesis and evolved into one of Canada’s most recognizable brutalist structures. His first design to ever be realized, the set of 354 interlockings, prefabricated concrete units, containing 158 one- to four-bedroom apartments, each with a roof garden. Situated along the Saint Lawrence River, the dramatic complex—with its cubic modules that jut out into the surrounding space—proposed the idea of an urban “village,” which Safdie considered a more humane and organic alternative to traditional apartment living.
4. Boston City Hall, Boston
Another example of brutalist architecture that attracted some flak at first, Boston City Hall was part of a drive in the 1960s to restore the US city’s former glory in the face of economic decline. Designed by Gerhard Kallmann and Michael McKinnell, it opened its doors in 1969. Le Corbusier’s influence is apparent in the building’s grid-like façade, which features angular, protruding modules that put a modern twist on the classic civic building style.
5. Trellick Tower, London.
Approaching London from the west, you can’t miss Erno Goldfinger’s distinctive example of brutalist architecture: Trellick Tower. the 332-foot-high concrete block features two distinct yet connected buildings, separating elevators and stairwells from the balconied apartments to maximize living space.
6. Buffalo City Court Building, Buffalo.
Designed by architecture firm Pfohl, Roberts & Biggie, the answer to the brutalist architecture movement in Buffalo, New York, is the city’s appropriately imposing law courts. Built-in 1974, its sheer façade gives very little away, with narrow, vertical strips of windows dwarfed by vast pre-cast concrete panels. The thinking behind it was simple: fewer windows means fewer outside distractions for the courts inside. Brutal, simple, effective.
7. Western City Gate, Belgrade.
Built-in 1977, the 35-storey Western City Gate in Belgrade is Serbia’s contribution to brutalist architecture. Architect Mihajlo Mitrović wanted it to resemble a domineering gateway, to greet new arrivals to Belgrade from the West. Western City Gate’s twin towers are linked at the top by a two-storey bridge, crowned by a revolving restaurant. Given that one of them plays host to engineering firm Genex Group, the building is commonly referred to as ‘Genex Tower’.
8. The Barbican, London.
Driven by the post-war housing shortage, and inspired by Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation project, architectural firm Chamberlin, Powell and Bon put forward a proposal in the 1960s for concrete ’vertical cities. The architects of the Barbican created the estate’s mottled façades by hammering away at cast concrete and enlivened the structure’s cantilevered balconies with plants. The massive multi-use complex contains an arts center, cinema, restaurants, and schools, as well as some 2000 apartments that began as council housing, intended to make inner-city living desirable to middle-class professionals.
9. SESC Pompéia, São Paulo
Italian-born Brazilian modernist architect Lina Bo Bardi was tasked with transforming an old drum factory in São Paulo, Brazil, into an art and cultural centre. In a bold, brutalist move, she chose to strip the plaster away and sandblast the walls, exposing the structure beneath, and the first phase was revealed in 1982. Adhering to brutalist architecture’s core tenets of simple exposed materials and harsh, angular forms, SESC (Serviço Social do Comércio – Business Social Service) Pompéia juxtaposes stripped red brick with stark concrete towers, linked with irregular, crisscrossing aerial walkways. In a final nod to its industrial heritage, the imprint from the original timber framework is still visible on the building’s exterior shell.
10. Bank of London and South America, Buenos Aires
Now owned by Banco Hipotecario Nacional, the building that once housed Buenos Aires’s Bank of London and South America stands both in concert with and contrast to its neoclassical neighbors. Echoing the surrounding Beaux-Arts buildings, the bank splays out to meet the area’s narrow streets, yet passersby can move among columns at its base, enjoying the impression of more sidewalk space. Visible at the building’s front is its primary structure—a sleek glass box encased on either side by a rugged concrete shell. Apertures in the concrete lend both levity and character, as well as exterior views from within.