Brutalist Architecture 

Brutalist Architecture, or Brutalism, which rose in the middle of the 20th century as a cost-effective solution to the post-world-war devastation, is an architectural style that accentuates the material, texture, and construction defined in highly expressive forms. 

Alison Smithson was the first to use the term ‘Brutalism’ in the 1953 project for a house in Colville Place, Soho. She described the bare concrete, brickwork, and wood aesthetic as the first proponent of new brutalism in England. But the movement took place by architectural historian Reyner Banham’s review in 1995 of a school at Hunstanton in Norfolk by Alison and Peter Smithson. 

The features of Brutalist Architecture include:

  1. Rough Surfaces
  2. Massive Forms 
  3. Unusual Shapes 
  4. Expression of Structure 

Le Corbusier used this style in the 1940s with the Unite d’Habitation in Marseilles.

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Brutalist Architecture_©nick rochowski
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Brutalist Architecture_©stephen sherman

Brutalist Architecture in London 

Brutalist Architecture or Brutalism in London began in the 1950s till the 1990s. Some structures stand out as concrete examples of Brutalist Architecture in London. Here’s a look at them – 

Trellick Tower, Kensal Town 

Between 1965 and 1972, two towers, the Trellick Tower, rose to the East and West of the London Skyline. Both these two towers were designed and built by the Hungarian Architect Erno Goldfinger. 

The first building of the two towers, Balfon Tower, was built in East London. After the construction, Erno Goldfinger and his wife, Ursula Goldfinger, moved in for two months to learn the pros and cons of it. He then built a second tower that looked equally tall, with 31 floors. 

The Brutalist design has been perceived as a meticulously detailed practice in high-rise living and social positiveness and denounced as a forgotten socialist investigation blighted by poor supervision and crime. 

The return of Brutalism to fashion comes with the cost of some flats being in the private market, priced far beyond their means. 

But the importance of building as a standard of high-rise social accommodation, the conclusion of Goldfinger’s design philosophy, is now recognized. Its Grade II listed status has stopped its unique hammered concrete façade from being clad, which some have claimed might have resulted in a tragic fire.

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Trellick Tower_©brutalism online
Trellick Tower_©riba collections
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Erno Goldfinger_©theguardian.com

Hayward Gallery, Southbank 

Built by Higgs and Hill in the 1960s, Hayward Gallery in the South Bank shines through its enormous and vast exposed concrete construction typical to the Brutalist style. The structure adorned the collaboration of mushroom-shaped columns, shuffled geometries, cantilevered cubes, and percipitous terraces. The grey board-marked concrete portrayed in the South Bank structures defies the age-long perception of concrete being uniform, ugly, and alienating. 

The concrete was poured into a wooden mold that gave a rough texture-like appearance to the final finishing. Hence, the process is described as a wooden building; but cast in concrete. 

The Southbank central structures also brag about the external precast panels made with crushed Cornish Granite, Cast anodized doors and window frames, aluminum seats formed using a technique borrowed by aircraft industry and cushioned with elegant black leather, crystalline white Macedonian marble floor, and polished brass handrails. 

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Hayward Gallery_©london-se1.co.uk

Royal National Theatre, London

Completed in 1976, designed by Denys Lasdun, The Royal National Theatre stands on the banks of the Thames river. Inspired by Ladsun’s idea of architecture as the urban landscape, the structure is adorned with layered concrete murals formed by two towers that rose from the horizontal terraces encompassing the building. The concrete facade resembles the wooden plank texture as a mold for the casting process. 

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Royal National Theatre_©britannica
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Denys Lasdun_©arquitecturaviva.com

Economist Plaza, London 

Designed by Alison and Peter Smithson in 1964, Economist Plaza formerly housed the offices of Economist Magazine for 52 years. It is located at 22 Ryder Street, close to Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace. The structure elegantly stands out, showing off its concrete facade. It had a unique entrance that led through the podium to an elevated plaza from which three buildings of varying heights would rise through a stair and ramp. The building is currently under refurbishment. 

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Economist Plaza_©estate-office.com
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Alison and Peter Smithson_©iconeye.com

Pimlico School, Pimlico 

The original Pimlico School, designed by John Bancroft of the Greater London Council’s architecture department, was built in 1967-70. It was a noted example of brutalist architecture, constructed of concrete and glass without decorative claddings or ornament, and its appearance had been controversial since it opened. Over time, the deterioration of the building’s fabric and the drawbacks of its glass construction led to complaints that the building was often hot in the summer and cold in winter. 

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Pimlico School_©theguardian.com
John Bancroft_©theguardian.com

Concluding the article, here were the five striking examples of Brutalist Architecture in London. Brutalist architecture is exciting, vast, sculptural, and tactile. Currently, the demolition of these brutalist buildings is taking place, endangering the environmental impact by the alarming increase in the damage caused by it. Looking at the sustainability and heritage perspective, the risk of losing these structures can not be taken. 

Brutalism represents a crucially important snapshot in the history of London and its people – and of course, it is not just the capital. It is interesting because of the values and hopes it represents – and because it was relatively short-lived. It represents a moment of unprecedented construction built with energy-guzzling materials on a scale that will never recur.

Works Cited

“10 Examples of Brutalist Architecture around the World.” RTF | Rethinking the Future, 16 Sept. 2020, www.re-thinkingthefuture.com/rtf-fresh-perspectives/a1756-10-examples-of-brutalist-architecture-around-the-world/.

“Brutalist Architecture London | a Guide to Brutalism.” 20 Bedford Way, 23 June 2014, 20bedfordway.com/news/guide-to-brutalist-architecture-london/.

Choi, Haeseung. “.: Pimlico School, John Bancroft.” ., 12 Sept. 2012, haeseungchoi.blogspot.com/2012/09/pimlico-school-john-bancroft.html. 

“Concrete Dreams: Celebrating the Southbank Centre’s Brutalist Buildings | Southbank Centre.” Www.southbankcentre.co.uk, www.southbankcentre.co.uk/blog/articles/concrete-dreams-celebrating-southbank-centres-brutalist-buildings

“John Bancroft Obituary.” The Guardian, 20 Sept. 2011, www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/sep/20/john-bancroft-obituary. 

“Understanding Brutalist Architecture in London.” Blue Crow Media, bluecrowmedia.com/blogs/news/brutalist-architecture-in-london-today.

Author

Sanvitti Shetty, an aspirant in the architecture field, has a keen interest in reading, writing, and researching. She is strongly opinionated and headstrong with her beliefs. She believes words can bring about a revolution in the field of architecture.

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