A Brief, Wondrous History of Brutalism
August 30, 2011
Le Corbusier, Unité d’Habitation under construction
Le Corbusier had originally designed the Unité d’Habitation (1946-52) with a steel-frame, but given the scarcity and expense of steel in post-war France, he had to look elsewhere for a suitable material. What he found was Béton brut–raw, unfinished concrete –which, through its material dexterity and brute presence, offered him an ideal medium with which to fully and physically convey the power of his new architecture. It is possible to pinpoint the Brutalist movement, which flourished from the onset of the 1950s through the 70s, with the the completion of the Unité d’Habitation, whose influence can be found in all parts of the world, from Western Europe to Northeast Asia, the Subcontinent to the tropics of South America. Click through for the micro-history of Brutalism.
London City Coucil Architect’s Department, Alton West, Roehampton Lane Housing, 1951-61
The English were among the first to adopt the nascent aesthetic, which by the end of its cycle, would become, as Reyner Banham suggested, an ethic. Spearheaded by Team 10–the successors to CIAM (International Congresses of Modern Architecture) who sought a break with the paternalism which governed the development of modernist architecture at the time–the new movement was to reinvigorate architecture, imparting it with a sense of social welfare and activism. Through the writings and work of Alison and Peter Smithson, who were more than a little under the spell of Le Corbusier’s idealistic Radiant City, the New Brutalism was founded.
Alison and Peter Smithson, Robin Hood Gardens, 1972
Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith, Park Hill Flats, Sheffield, 1957-61
Ernő Goldfinger, Trellick Tower, 1972