Brutalism is a style with an emphasis on materials, textures and construction, producing highly expressive forms
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
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- Barbican Estate, City of London: Cromwell Tower under construction, 1970 (Chamberlin Powell & Bon), John Maltby / RIBA Collections RIBA2661-15
- Secondary modern school, Hunstanton: the changing room in the gymnasium, 1954 (Alison & Peter Smithson), Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Collections RIBA18329
- Ulster Museum extension, Botanic Gardens, Belfast: the entrance on the north front, 1972 (Francis Pym), Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Collections RIBA42580
- Halls of Residence, University of Sussex, Falmer, 1966 (Sir Basil Spence), Henk Snoek / RIBA Collections RIBA74578
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