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Brutalism

Brutalism

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

Barbican Estate, City of London: Cromwell Tower, 1970, (Chamberlin Powell and Bon) John Maltby / RIBA Collections

Consider Brutalism as architecture in the raw, 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 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

  • Rough unfinished surfaces
  • Unusual shapes
  • Heavy-looking materials
  • Massive forms
  • Small windows in relation to other parts

Article by Suzanne Waters
British Architectural Library, RIBA

Secondary modern school, Hunstanton, 1954 (Alison and Peter Smithson) Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Collections
Ulster Museum extension, Botanic Gardens, Belfast, 1972 (Francis Pym) Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Collections
Halls of Residence, University of Sussex, Falmer, 1966 (Sir Basil Spence) Henk Snoek / RIBA Collections

Find out more

Explore more images of Brutalist architecture from the RIBA Collections.

View, download, purchase and licence these images on RIBApix

  1. Barbican Estate, City of London: Cromwell Tower under construction, 1970 (Chamberlin Powell & Bon), John Maltby / RIBA Collections RIBA2661-15
  2. Secondary modern school, Hunstanton: the changing room in the gymnasium, 1954 (Alison & Peter Smithson), Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Collections RIBA18329
  3. Ulster Museum extension, Botanic Gardens, Belfast: the entrance on the north front, 1972 (Francis Pym), Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Collections RIBA42580
  4. Halls of Residence, University of Sussex, Falmer, 1966 (Sir Basil Spence), Henk Snoek / RIBA Collections RIBA74578

All these images are part of the RIBA Library and Collections. Admission is free, and everyone is welcome to visit.

Discover and purchase more images at RIBApix, or contact us if you have any questions about architecture.

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