The early 1950s marked the beginning of the post-war era. The aftermath of the lethal war was characterized by substantial casualties, dwindling economies, and the mass destruction of cities. The shortage of resources and inadequate finances wiped out the ornate estates of the pre-war era and were replaced by affordable, concrete buildings. The new architectural interventions were inspired by the marvelous machines and functional factories.
Reinforcing the principles of the Industrial Age, the post-war designs focused on quick construction, bare facades, and less labor. The new aesthetic first emerged in France and was slowly implemented in the United States and many parts of Central Asia.
Early Origins of Brutalism in France
While designing the Unité d’ Habitation in 1947 in Marseille, France, architect Le Corbusier coined the term ‘Béton brut’ – meaning ‘raw concrete’. Beton brut refers to the patterns and motifs cast by formwork on unfinished concrete. Here, the status of concrete is elevated from a material to an architectural expression.
The style treats structural systems and sheathing mechanisms as design elements thus revealing the process of construction of a building. It also aims to unveil imperfections involved in the fabrication process, thereby refraining from age-old stucco cladding. These endeavors transformed into Brutalism, a school of art that remained in vogue till the early 1980s and influenced the modern movement.
Characteristics of Brutalism
The Brutalist buildings were minimalist constructions showcasing devoid of fancy embellishments. During this age, architects continued their experimentation with pure forms. Hence, the resulting structures were geometric compositions of exposed brick and concrete facades. Additionally, glass panels, steel, and timber frameworks were treated as design elements. The use of colors was restricted to the monochrome color palette, which gave the buildings a somber effect.
Brutalist architecture also promoted the construction of high-rise buildings, as an attempt to accommodate more pedestrians. The utilitarian philosophy and equitable approach were popularly applied in low-cost social housing, institutional buildings, and city halls in disintegrated Russian states and the Indian Subcontinent.
Brutalism in Former USSR Nations
Following the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, the former Soviet Republic States, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan abandoned the Soviet style. Hence, the newly formed states investigated new postulates for representing novel identities. They found crude concrete and affordable construction techniques promoted by Brutalist pioneers as sensible and appealing.
a. Blended Brutalism in Uzbekistan
The ancient country of Uzbekistan has persisted despite the cultural transitions, changing demographics, and uncertain economies. Amongst the bygone mosques, mausoleums, and minarets, the region is a center of iconic brutalist buildings. Drawing from the Persian and Islamic influences, the brutal buildings are a beautiful blend of eastern and western philosophies.
Sometimes, a balance has been achieved by incorporating symbolic elements like pointed arches as in the case of the Exhibition Hall of Uzbek Union Artists. The facade of the hall is a reinterpretation of non-figurative Islamic patterns, supported by pointed arches. At other times, like in the Circus of Chorsu Bazaar, a massive dome is added to the massing of the structure acting as a source of inspiration even today.
b. Brutalist experimentations in Tajikistan
Tajikistan, the traditional homeland of the Tajik community, borrows its architectural language from the neighboring nation Uzbekistan. As a result, the advent of Brutalism in the latter was appreciated and swiftly implemented in the former. The National Museum of Tajikistan is an exposed brick and concrete building, featuring classical facets. The state is also famous for its vivid illustrations of space travel, popular during the nineties.
The stark contrast between three subdued concrete frontages and one striking graphic frontage opened new avenues of experimentation. Furthermore, in edifices like the Hotel Avesta, an attempt to achieve curving forms led to the creation of a consistent architectural image.
Brutalism in India
A decade after India’s independence, the nation began a quest to revive the age-old traditions and to invite upcoming courses. Hence, two architectural movements Critical Regionalism and Brutalism gained momentum of which the latter was gladly implemented in various cultures and contexts.
a. Brutalist Schools in Ahmedabad
Situated on the banks of river Sabarmati, the historic city of Ahmedabad is home to ancient Hindu temples, Sultanate-style mosques, and immemorial interventions of Corbusier and Khan. The city is a patron of brutalist institutions like CEPT University and IIM-A.
Founded and designed by B.V.Doshi, the CEPT University campus is a blend of built and unbuilt environments. The exposed brick and concrete edifices of the campus are a model of the humility of a sophisticated building. Apart from centers of education, the city hosts numerous raw concrete residences like the Shodhan House, Sarabhai House, and the Mill Owners Association Building.
b. Laying Brutalist Foundations in Chandigarh
The city of Chandigarh was the first city developed after India’s independence. Therefore, the new urban townscape was envisioned as a symbol of the freedom of the newly founded nation. Designed by the legendary architect Le Corbusier, the city of Chandigarh is an interplay of brutal concrete dominated by intermediate brightly colored facades. The novel establishment not only showcased remarkable architecture but also exemplary urban planning.
The city utilizes India’s native architectural language of semi-open verandas, central courtyards, front and rear porches in manifesting order. The Palace of Justice, the Open Hand Monument, and the Capitol Complex are mere remainders of an ambitious organization.
Decline of Brutalism
In its pioneering years, Brutalism was appreciated for its adaptability, universality, and equitable approach. However, few critics denounced the philosophy by calling it cold-hearted and inhuman. The philosophy was heavily condemned for contributing to large-scale urban decay. After receiving widespread praise and criticism, the Brutalist ideologies evolved into two new schools of thought: Structural Expressionism and Deconstructivism revealing the construction of buildings and the true nature of their materials. Hence, Brutalism was an architectural movement attributing to the honesty of materials and humility of a building.
Wikipedia. (2004, October 12). Brutalist architecture. Brutalist architecture -Wikipedia. Retrieved June 8, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brutalist_architecture#Brutalism_today
Andreea Cutieru. “Brutalism in Central Asia: The Eastern Influences that Shaped Soviet Architecture” 19 May 2021. ArchDaily. Accessed 8 Jun 2021. <https://www.archdaily.com/960487/the-eastern-influences-that-shaped-soviet-architecture-in-central-asia> ISSN 0719-8884