While some praise the Brutalist revival, this article details why the design style (with a few exceptions) should be left to rest.
If you haven’t read 360Modern’s recent article, “Five Reasons to Love Brutalism“, you should do that right now before going any further. This is merely a—humorously intended—response to that much better-written piece, and likely won’t stand on its own in a light breeze. Once you’ve read the author’s justification for jumping on the Brutalist bandwagon (err, cement truck), come back to this spot.
You read it? Great! Now feel free to proceed.
Truthfully, the pro Brutalism article made me gasp. It claims that Brutalism is making a comeback and the buildings are becoming “revered” again. What the-? When were they revered? Below, I illustrate four of the hundreds of reasons why Brutalism is, just like Starbucks, entirely overrated.
Origins of Brutalism’s name.
It’s true that Brutalism gets its name not from its aggressive brutishness, but from the term béton brut, but “Five Reasons to Love Brutalism” got the translation wrong. It’s not French for “raw concrete”, it’s actually French for “Bruh, we ordered WAY TOO MUCH concrete, where do you want us to put it?”
Brutalism reflects a moment in time–and should stay there.
Brutalism is basically a movement created out of necessity. Don’t have a lot of money but have a ton of construction to do? Build away with concrete, like Great Britain did after WWII. After Germany’s relentless bombing raids, the country was forced to create something like a kajillion buildings in just a few weeks. I get it, desperate times like this required fast, cheap construction, and huzzah, they did it! A bunch of ugly, prison doppelgänger towers went up in record time, providing citizens immediate housing. But it was okay to tear those buildings down once the economy recovered and replace them with more elegant, refined structures that were friendlier to humans, like real architecture.
Brutalism was dropped by any self-respecting Modernist years ago.
It’s true that Brutalism reflects a moment in time, and it should stay in the past. Traditionally, the United States has sucked at this design style, unless you count the Hoover Dam—now that’s a great use of concrete. The best Brutalist buildings from it’s initial heyday are in fact the eastern block’s gigantic sculptures from the sixties. For example, the Croatian Monument to the Revolution of the People of Moslavina, which is awesome with its Death Star with wings motif, even I have to admit this is bad-ass. They did construct a number of gravity-defying, elevated concrete buildings as well in Brutalist form, but I’m pretty sure that’s just because they were expecting massive flooding.
Concrete only is boring.
The main component of Brutalism is a jaw-dropping mass of concrete, with a few steel beams thrown in for a little structural support. Do you want to create a building where the ceiling, walls, and stairs all look like the floor and devoid of character? A building where you can’t tell if you’re looking at the exterior or interior? Well then, Brutalism is there for you. However, I can’t help but think Brutalist structures end up looking like earth-sized paperweights.
Brutalism revival flag bearers and honorable mentions.
Despite all my criticism, I have to admit there are a few recently built Brutalist buildings that work for me, like the Timmelsjoch Experience Pass Museum in Timmelsjoch, Austria by Werner Tscholl. It’s rough, like other Brutalist buildings, but it reflects and frames its alpine surroundings, mimicking a rock facet teetering on edge.
In a similar manner, On The Cherry Blossoms House by Junichi Sampei in Tokyo, Japan completely reacts to its environment. The home elevates and opens up to two beautiful cherry trees in the park across the street while remaining closed off from its surrounding urban environment. In truth, there are a number of quality Brutalist homes I’ve found here, and actually, they are all worth exploring.
All in all, Brutalism does suck, but I guess there is room for appreciation on a case-by-case basis. If you’re building a dam, a minimalist, big-windowed single-family home, or a federal prison, Brutalism may still be useful—but that’s it! Although there is a lot to hate, I guess Five Reasons to Love Brutalism is not totally wrong, I just think another design element besides concrete helps lighten the load.