IMPORTANT Website terms of use and cookie statement


Brutalism in architecture

Brutalism is a style with an emphasis on materials, textures and construction, producing highly expressive forms.

Seen in the work of Le Corbusier from the late 1940s with the Unité d’Habitation in Marseilles, the term was first used by Alison Smithson in 1953 for an unexecuted project for a house in Colville Place, Soho in which she described its warehouse aesthetic of bare concrete, brick and wood “as the first exponent of the ‘new brutalism’” in England. However, it was architectural historian Reyner Banham’s review in 1955 of Alison and Peter Smithson’s school at Hunstanton in Norfolk, with its uncompromising approach to the display of the steel and brick structure and its services, that established the movement.


Explore images of Brutalist architecture

Search and discover photos and images from the RIBA Collections in our image library. Images are available to download, purchase or license.

For the Smithsons there was a moral seriousness to their philosophy of Brutalism, yet during the 1960s, the architecture of Brutalism was dominated by the use of beton brut (raw concrete), in which patterns created by wooden shuttering are replicated through boardmarking. This can be seen in the National Theatre, or where the aggregate is bush or pick-hammered, as at the Barbican Estate. Scale became important and there was an emphasis on mass, characterised by large concrete shapes, textured surfaces, and overt display of service ducts and ventilation towers.

Features of brutalist architecture

Hayward Gallery, South Bank Arts Centre, London: the staircase

Rough surfaces

Old Vic Theatre Annex (now Royal National Theatre Studio), The Cut, Lambeth, London: detail of the workshop roof

Massive forms

Physics Building, University of Hull: the lecture theatre

Unusual shapes

Preston Bus Station, Lancashire

Expression of structure

Read more

keyboard_arrow_up To top