Consider Brutalism as architecture in the raw, with an emphasis on materials, textures and construction, producing highly expressive forms


Barbican Estate, City of London, 1970. © John Maltby / RIBA Library Photographs CollectionBritish Embassy, Madrid, 1966. © RIBA Library Photographs CollectionCanongate housing development, Edinburgh, 1969. © Henk Snoek / RIBA Library Photographs CollectionCounty Offices, Newton St Boswells, 1968. © Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs CollectionElephant House, London Zoo, 1965. © Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs CollectionSecondary modern school, Hunstanton, 1954. © Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs CollectionKeeling House, Bethnal Green, London, 1959. © RIBA Library Photographs CollectionQueen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank, London, 1967. © Colin Westwood / RIBA Library Photographs CollectionTricorn Shopping Centre, Portsmouth, 1965. © RIBA Library Photographs CollectionUlster Museum extension, Belfast, 1972. © Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Seen in the work of Le Corbusier from the late 1940s with the Unite d’Habitation in Marseilles, the term Brutalism was first used in England by the architectural historian Reyner Banham in 1954.It referred to the work of Alison and Peter Smithson’s school at Hunstanton in Norfolk because of its uncompromising approach to the display of structure and services, albeit in a steel building rather than reinforced concrete.

Also called New Brutalism, it encouraged the use of beton brut (raw concrete), in which patterns created by wooden shuttering are replicated through boardmarking, as can be seen in the work of Denys Lasdun, or where the aggregate is bush or pick-hammered, as at the Barbican Estate in London. Scale was important and the style is characterised by massive concrete shapes colliding abruptly, while service ducts and ventilation towers are overtly displayed.

What to look for in a Brutalist building:


  1. Rough unfinished surfaces
  2. Unusual shapes
  3. Heavy-looking materials
  4. Massive forms
  5. Small windows in relation to the other parts


Article by Suzanne Waters 
British Architectural Library, RIBA


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