Brutalist Architecture or Brutalism

Definition

Brutalist Architecture or Brutalism is an architecture style that emerged in the 1950s until the early 20th century. It was British architects Alison and Peter Smithson who coined the term “Brutalism” which was later on popularized by Reyner Banham, an architectural historian in 1954. It was derived from the term “Béton brut” which means “raw concrete”, and was commonly used for universities, shopping centers, government projects, car parks, and high-rise flats.

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Brutalism has both the purpose of ideology and aesthetics. Its concept promotes that structural components should be visible; whilst its “aesthetics” show the prominence of building materials, particularly concrete. 

This movement was criticized for its unwelcoming and inhuman characteristics and therefore started its decline in the 1970s. 

Brutalist architecture definition, elements, and examples

Elements of Brutalist Architecture

Characteristics of Brutalist buildings include their appearance that’s monolithic and massive, and with a lot of blocks. It has a rigidly geometric style and uses a lot of poured concrete. It has rough and unfinished surfaces, heavy-looking materials, with straight lines and unusual shapes, and small windows. It also has modularity where elements form masses of specific functional zones grouped forming a whole. 

Aside from the use of concrete, Brutalist structures also use steel, glass, bricks, and rough-hewn stones. These structures are expensive to maintain but difficult to destroy and therefore can’t easily be remodeled. They tend to stay the way the architect intends them to be.

Because of the materials used in these buildings, it creates a solid look and feel, fortress-like, imposing, and also visually heavy. It follows the modernist cry of “form follows function”, where architects pay less attention to decorative aspects of the design. 

Brutalist architecture definition, elements, and examples

Iconic Brutalist Architecture

Some of the iconic architecture that uses the concept of Brutalism include:

Geisel Library

Giesel Library as an example of Brutalist Architecture or Brutalism
Editorial credit: Felix Lipov / Shutterstock.com

Built-in 1970 by William L. Pereira & Associates

Located in La Jolla, California

Boston City Hall

Boston City Hall as an example of Brutalist Architecture or Brutalism
Photo by Jorge Salcedo

Built-in 1969 by Architects Kallmann, McKinnell & Knowles

Located in Boston

Unité d’Habitation of Berlin

Unité d’Habitation of Berlin as an example of Brutalist Architecture or Brutalism
Photo by furkansoyturk

Built in 1958 by Le Corbusier

Housing concept used throughout Europe

SESC Pompéia

SESC Pompéia as an example of Brutalist Architecture or Brutalism
Editorial credit: Jo Galvao / Shutterstock.com

Built-in 1986 by Lina Bo Bardi

Located in São Paulo

Habitat 67

Habitat 67 as an example of Brutalist Architecture or Brutalism
Photo by Adwo

Built-in 1967 by Moshe Sadie

Located in Montreal

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