Brutalist Architecture, originally surfaced in the middle of the 20th century, as a quick and cost-effective solution to the urban devastation caused by World War II. At first, centered in England, the style spread across the world in the following decades, introducing a radically new form of Modernism, steeped in socialist concepts that adopted hard lines and a lack of ornamentation. Long reviled but recently revived, Brutalism is nothing if not striking, with its massive, imposing buildings in raw concrete that privilege function over form. Here are 10 of the world’s most iconic buildings of Brutalism:
1. Telecommunication Center
Location: Skopje, Macedonia
An indispensable part of Kenzo Tange’s plan for the reconstruction of Skopje after the earthquake in 1963, the Telecommunication Center, has been designed by architect Janko Konstantinov. Brutalist in its architectural language, the building uses unplastered concrete in a way that abolishes the conventional distinction between structure and cladding. The reduction in terms of material and color compensated with a wealth of expressive elements and capricious forms is a contemporary sculpture in concrete with high architectural and aesthetic values.
2. Geisel Library
Location: La Jolla, California
Established in 1970, the futuristic, almost alien design of the Geisel Library is the brainchild of architect William L. Pereira, who has several notable buildings to his name. The library is named in honor of La Jolla native, Theodor Seuss Geisel, and houses a vast collection of Dr. Seuss’s drawings, books, audio recordings, and memorabilia. The success of the vivid brutalist language present in the current design, which incorporates Breuer-like flares at the bases of the piers and an intricate lattice system on the underside of the floor plates, reveals a remarkable material and syntactic versatility on the part of the architect.
3. Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption
Location: San Francisco, California
Designed by architects Pietro Belluschi and Pier Luigi Nervi, the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption has become a distinct monument in the cityscape of San Francisco. The design process for the building was as challenging as it was controversial with features such as impressive cantilevers, a saddle roof segmented into hyperbolic paraboloids, and dramatic interiors. With the fascinating blending of the traditional Catholic faith and modern technology, using what was considered the most top of the line engineering, the form of the chapel attracts visitors from all over the world, belonging to the diverse religious spectrum.
4. Economist Plaza
Location: London, England
Formerly the offices of The Economist Magazine for 52 years, Economist Plaza was designed by Alison and Peter Smithson in the brutalist style and completed in 1964. Located at 22 Ryder Street, close to Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace, the building marked a significant breakthrough in tall building design. It replaced the traditional street front of a podium and tower design with stairs and a ramp leading to an elevated plaza from which three buildings of varying heights would rise. The Grade II listed building is currently under refurbishment.
5. Royal National Theatre
Location: London, England
Designed by Denys Lasdun and completed in 1976, the Royal National Theatre stands on the South Bank of the Thames, just downstream of Waterloo bridge. The design for the building takes inspiration from Lasdun’s idea of ‘architecture as the urban landscape.’ It is a layered concrete mural formed from two towers rising from horizontal terraces that envelope the building, cascading to the river level. From its conception, when it was compared to a nuclear power station by Prince Charles, to today’s debates surrounding a £70 million transformation and renovation of the building by Haworth Tompkins, the National Theatre has divided opinion.
6. Sirius Building
Location: Sydney, Australia
Designed by architect Tao Gofers in 1978–1979, the Sirius Building is a residential complex in The Rocks district of Sydney, Australia, for the Housing Commission of New South Wales. It is among the few quality examples of the Brutalism style in Australia, demonstrating the style’s objective of ethical design based on social concerns, as well as its focus on the honest expression of materials, function, and structure. Notable for being the only high rise development in The Rocks, Sirius housed 79 apartments with one, two, three, or four bedrooms, generally with single-story apartments to two and three-story walk-ups.
7. Paul Rudolph Hall
Location: New Haven, Connecticut
Designed by architect Paul Rudolph, Yale Art and Architecture Building in New Haven, Connecticut, is one of the earliest known examples of Brutalist architecture in America. The design for this building was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Larkin Administration Building, in Buffalo, NY, and the later buildings of Le Corbusier. It is an imposing, fortress-like building that juxtaposes masses of textured concrete with layers of steel-framed glazing. The structure, completed in 1963, comprises intersecting volumes of bush-hammered, smooth concrete, and horizontal glass elements supported by a sequence of towers that protrude above the roof in a series of turrets.
8. Tripleone Somerset
Designed by Group 2 Architects, to be the headquarters of the Public Utilities Board (PUB), the building’s function played an integral role in its conception. The building stands out because of its horizontality and complex volumetry. The inverted ziggurat masses which lend the facade a mighty depth are a reaction to the functional distinctions of departmental subdivision, revealing the working hierarchies of the public service. The design is a splendid example of composed forms imposing a perceptual solidity. It is intriguing to note the stylistic similarities of the building to Boston City Hall by Kallmann, McKinnell, & Knowles, a distant resonance echoing the same structures.
9. National Assembly Building
Location: Dhaka, Bangladesh
The National Assembly building not only stands as one of Kahn’s most notable works but also as a symbol to the government of Bangladesh. The structure, completed in 1982, is unique in the sense that it is Brutalist in principle, but it is a project deeply rooted in its context, the citizens, and Bangali vernacular. The entire complex, built out of in situ concrete with inlaid white marble, is a statement of power and a covenant to the local materials and values. The absolute volume of the building and the artificial lake surrounding it naturally insulate the building and devise a cooling system, also creating an engaging spatial and lighting conditions.
10. Wotruba Church
Location: Vienna, Austria
Located in Mauer, on the outskirts of Vienna, the Wotruba Church was the zenith of the life of sculptor Fritz Wotruba. Designed by architect Fritz G. Mayr, the project, constructed in the mid-1970s, was completed post one year of the sculptor’s death, enlarging the clay model made by Wotruba to create a functional walk-in concrete sculpture. The result is a chaotic brutalist ensemble that challenges the boundaries between art and architecture and realizes Wotruba’s dream of designing a sculpture that is in perfect unity with the landscape, the architecture, and the city.