There are many modernist styles which have greatly impacted skylines around the world. In this lesson, we’ll explore the style of Brutalism, and see examples of Brutalist architecutre in Boston, India, and Serbia.
What Is Brutalist Architecture?
What is a building made of? Marble? Plaster? Gold? Not often. These are generally decorative elements, added over the walls to hide the actual building materials, which are not always considered to be as attractive. This is common around the world, but there are some who have decided to stand up for the rights of building materials to be seen. Brutalism is an architectural style that was in vogue between roughly 1950 and 1980. A form of modernism, it stressed the exposure of a building’s basic elements and materials. This meant that rather than covering up the frame, the mechanical systems, and the support structures, these components were designed to be seen and celebrated.
The Brutalist Style
Brutalism in architecture is both an aesthetic and an ideology. Ideologically, it represents the concept that structural components should be made visible. But what does this actually look like in terms of aesthetics? Brutalist architecture is recognizable by the prominence of basic building materials – most notably concrete. In fact, the term ‘Brutalism’ is actually derived from the French phrase béton burt, which means raw concrete. So, most Brutalist structures will emphasize a solid, unadorned and undecorated flat, concrete exterior.
Concrete is a solid, strong material and so to best utilize it, many Brutalist architects create buildings that look strong and solid. Brutalist structures tend to give off a monolithic feel, appearing almost as if they were carved from a single, concrete block. The uniformity of the exterior materials creates the effect. They also tend to feel imposing, fortress-like, and visually heavy.
Overall, Brutalism follows the modernist cry that form should follow function, or that architects need to pay less attention to decorative facades and let buildings simply resemble what they are. This was a rejection to the many eclectic revivalist movements of the early 20th century that made contemporary buildings look like Gothic castles, Egyptian temples, and Moorish mosques, as well as a rejection of the brightness and frivolity of the immediate post-World War II styles.
Origins of Brutalism
The origins of Brutalism can really be traced back to French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier. Corbusier was one of the preeminent modernist architects of the 20th century, with a career spanning 50 years and touching nearly every continent. Corbusier worked extensively in unadorned raw materials, which was praised by many as pure honesty in architecture. He also developed a novel system of reinforced concrete columns that bore the weight of buildings, allowing interior walls to be load free and thus preserve the option of removing them to create more open interiors. This system of reinforced concrete was the basis of his aesthetic, proudly displayed in many of his buildings without being covered or decorated.
Today, there are examples of Brutalist architecture all over the world, including London, New York City, Sydney, Boston, and Russia.
Brutalist Architecture Examples
The Mill Owners’ Association Building
The best way to appreciate this style, of course, is to see it. Let’s start with one of Le Corbusier’s buildings. The Mill Owners’ Association Building is a Brutalist edifice in Ahmedabad, India. Corbusier was commissioned to design the building by the mayor of Ahmedabad in 1951, and completed it in 1954. The concrete frame dominates the aesthetic, and again seems to come from a single, monolithic block of concrete. In this building, Corbusier used the solidness of concrete to play with the balance of private and public spaces, also a commentary on the association’s role in supporting family networks in the community. The building is composed of harsh, angular forms that are juxtaposed by soft, curvilinear ones- all made of concrete and most provided structural support to the building.