They say that trends are circular and what’s old becomes new again. This is true for fashion, music, and art. In the case of architecture, there’s no architectural style that exemplifies this principle better than Brutalism. From the mid-20th century, this style rose in popularity before reaching its peak in the mid-1970s, when it came crashing down as a model of bad taste. But that’s all changing now, with a renewed interest and appreciation for this once derided architectural style.
Known for its use of functional reinforced concrete and steel, modular elements, and utilitarian feel, Brutalist architecture was primarily used for institutional buildings. Imposing and geometric, Brutalist buildings have a graphic quality that is part of what makes them so appealing today. The word Brutalist doesn’t come from the architecture’s fortress-like stature, but from the raw concrete its often made from—béton brut.
Associated with schools, churches, libraries, theaters, and social housing projects, Brutalism is often intertwined with 20th-century urban theory that looked toward socialist ideals. With the need for construction after World War II, Brutalism took hold around the world, but particularly in the UK and Eastern European Communist countries, where it was sometimes used to create a new national socialist architecture.
Monochrome shots of Brutalist buildings around the world, from the 1950s to the present day, make a solid case for memorability as image. The eye follows the contours of cultural centers, hospital extensions, airports and apartment blocks, enraptured by a now-lost architectural honesty. This collection extracts a few projects that share a tendency towards the curve, combining organic outlines with manmade materials in ways that might seem incompatible but never fail to inspire awe.
St. Joseph’s Hospital
St. Joseph’s Hospital by Bertrand Goldberg, Tacoma, Wash., United States, 1974
An extension of the Tacoma hospital complex, the undulating surface of Bertrand Goldberg’s design is an articulation of his theory of “nuclear design” in which each quadrant housed “villages” of patient beds clustered around nursing stations. The arrangement was conceived with the intention to optimize access to care, and the outward appearance of the earthquake-resistant structure honestly reflects its internal design.
Trans World Airlines (TWA) Terminal
Trans World Airlines (TWA) Terminalby Eero Saarinen and Associates, JFK Airport, New York, N.Y., United States, 1962
One iteration of the architect’s continuing investigation of curved forms, the TWA Terminal in Queens celebrated the onset of a future defined by air travel. Called “the Grand Central of the jet age,” the flight center is housed underneath a thin shell roof that creates a womb-like interior hall.
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Grand Central Water Tower
Grand Central Water Tower by GAPP Architects & Urban Designers, Midrand, South Africa, 1996
This striking architectural feature would have made Bernd and Hiller Becher, who began documenting industrial structures in the 1960s, swoon. Its cantilevered structure made of prestressed concrete supports a massive conical tower designed to hold 6,500 cubic meters of water on the outskirts of Midrand.
‘The Egg’ Center for the Performing Arts
‘The Egg’ Center for the Performing Arts by Wallace Harrison, Albany, N.Y., United States, 1978
Part of the Rockefeller Empire State Plaza in the state capital, the cultural center was designed to reflect Nelson Rockefeller’s penchant for sculptural architectural design. Fittingly, the inclined “Egg” appears to rest on a pedestal, which connects the structure to six underground floors.
Les Choux de Créteil
Les Choux de Créteil by Gérard Grandval, Créteil, France, 1974
Dubbed “the cabbages,” this residential development in the southeastern suburbs of Paris was built to address the metropolitan region’s growing need for affordable public housing. Its curvaceous design involves large round structures covered in smaller petal-shaped balconies that were designed to allow each inhabitant a private viewing spot. While built primarily in concrete, the vegetal reference point of the project makes it seem to sprout almost naturally out of the ground.
Categories:Art and Culture