BRUTALISM 101

Photo by Carlo Navato 

Brutalist Architecture: 

Emerging in the mid-20th century, Brutalism gained popularity in the 1960s and 1970s. The word "brutalism" comes from the French words "bréton brut" meaning "raw concrete." Known for a utilitarian feel, Brutalist buildings have a graphic quality and are often institutional buildings. Post-WWII nations worldwide were looking to rebuild, and concrete was affordable. Brutalism lacks a clear set of principles and takes a different form in different regions. In Eastern Europe, the style was associated with socialism and authoritarian power. Still, in warmed post-colonial climates like Brazil, India, and Kenya, Brutalism seemed to assert new freedom with a simultaneous sense of strength and handmade design.

"BRUTALISM WAS AN ATTEMPT TO CREATE AN ARCHITECTURAL ETHIC, RATHER THAN AN AESTHETIC. IT HAS LESS TO DO WITH MATERIALS AND MORE TO DO WITH HONESTY: AN UNCOMPROMISING DESIRE TO TELL IT LIKE IT IS.

-NIKIL SAVAL, New York Times 

Monument Linden, Krushevo Macedonia. Photo by Jan Kempenaers

 

Miodrag Zivkovic's monument to the Battle of Sutjeska

Brutalism fell out of favor in the 1980s due to its cold and austere nature, often associated with totalitarianism. Furthermore, raw concrete does not age well, so many brutalism structures became symbols of urban decay and economic hardships. However, Brutalism is now making a surprising comeback, heralded by an unexpected source: Instagram. Brutalist architecture lends itself perfectly to the social media aesthetic favoring bold, striking visuals. While large-scale brutalism buildings may stay a thing of the past, the aesthetic has embedded itself into our present in a multitude of ways.

CHARACTERSITICS:

  • Excessive use of concrete
  • Blunt geometric forms
  • Massive monolithic and blocky appearance
  • Rough and unfinished surfaces
  • Modular elements
  • Other materials: brick, glass, steel, and rough-hewn stone

 

Met Breur, NYC. Photograph by Ezra Stoller 


Geisel Library, San Diego. Photo by Erik Jepsen

 

Boston City Hall. Photo by Ezra Stroller

 
ARCHITECTS TO KNOW:
  • Le Corbusier
  • Paul Rudolph
  • Paolo Mendes da Rocha
  • Alison and Paul Smithson
  • Moshe Safdie
  • Lina Bo Bardi
  • Marcel Breur

Paul Rudolph's Borroughs Wellcome. Photo by JP McDonnel

Le Corbusier's Notre Dame du Haut 

 

Brutalist Art and Design:

Brutalist art and design differ from Brutalist architecture in many ways. It is more ornate, organic, and uses a multitude of materials. However, what it has in common are strength and rawness. Characterized by a bold and imposing look, brutalist design favors striking geometric lines and distressed materials. You are meant to see the age in vintage brutalist furniture, art, and objects. That is part of the appeal. I love how brutalist art and design's strength and sharp lines pair with soft, curvy organic pieces later became popular. For me, it is always about the mix.

Design by Kelly Wearstler

 

CHARACTERISTICS:

  • Bold geometric lines
  • Distressed materials
  • Raw industrial feel
  • Hard edges
  • Jagged shapes
  • Rough surfaces
  • Asymmetrical Design
  • Patinated Finishes
Chandelier by Tom GreeneChairs by Paul Evans

 

Paul Evans Console

 

Cabinet by Paul Evans

MATERIALS:

  • Bronze
  • Brass
  • Iron
  • Glass
  • Concrete
  • Stone
  • Steel
ARTISTS AND DESIGNERS TO KNOW:
  • Tom Greene
  • Curtis Jere
  • Paul Evans
  • Adrian Pearsall

Design by Kelly Wearstler