Brutalism, a controversial architectural style, surfaced in the mid-20th century as a part of a quick, economical solution to the urban destruction shaped by World War II. Between 1950 and 1980, the style was all the rage.
Exposed, daunting, and expressive structures with unpretentious visuals define the brutalist building. Its most basic features can be chalked into four divisions: rough surfaces, massive forms, unusual shapes, and expression of structures.
Examples of Brutalism can be seen in the UK, USA, most of eastern Europe (the former Soviet bloc), France, Italy and Germany, as well as Japan, China and India, especially in university campuses, council and city buildings, public housing projects, museums, churches and schools.
The Origins of Brutalism
Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier's love of concrete translated into a building that many consider the birth of Brutalism. The Unité d'Habitation in Marseilles, completed in 1952, was a mammoth complex that could house up to 1,600 people, and largely devoid of decorative elements. This laid the framework for future Brutalist projects. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016.
The word brutalism in relation to architecture was first coined by a Swedish architect, Hans Asplund, to describe a square brick home called the Villa Göth in 1949. The architecture was a rejection to the many heterogenous revivalist movements of the early 20th century that made contemporary buildings look like Gothic castles, Egyptian temples, and Moorish mosques, as well as of the superficiality of the immediate post-World War II styles.
The fall of Brutalism
Brutalism's popularity did not last longer than the 1980s. Its downfall is blamed not only on its functional shortcomings, expensive maintenance and inability to remodel, but also on the way the style came to be perceived as a symbol of urban decay. The grandeur of raw concrete was short-lived, with the exposure causing visible damage to the buildings and turning them into victims of vandalism.
No one knows exactly why Brutalism has become fashionable once again, but Brad Dunning, celebrity home designer and contributing editor of GQ, in his article The 9 Brutalist Wonders of the Architecture World, has an interesting theory. "Brutalism is the techno music of architecture, stark and menacing. Brutalist buildings are expensive to maintain and difficult to destroy. They can't be easily remodeled or changed, so they tend to stay the way the architect intended. Maybe the movement has come roaring back into style because permanence is particularly attractive in our chaotic and crumbling world."
In terms of new construction, American rapper Kanye West's Yeezy HQ, designed with Willo Perron, adopts brutalism in its concrete walls and furnishings.
Brutalist architecture is back in fashion and here to stay.