Brutalist By Design

In describing Brutalist Architecture and Buildings there are some words that might come to mind such as ugly, hulking, concrete, monstrosities, grimy, raw, inhuman, cold intimidating and horrible but whatever your view of this form of architectural style, there has been a resurgence of interest in Brutalist Architecture in recent years. Sometimes its the people that refer to buildings that are in the brutalist style as being horrible who don’t always know about the innate aesthetics of it, who are making the decisions. It’s not hard to imagine a coterie of councillors, architects, design aficionados or critics thinking, ‘That’s a horrible grotesque building’, and yet they’re not the ones who are going to use it.  Some might want to break out the white paint and rollers and give the begrimed concrete a good going over. The results of which might ensue in protests and uproar at that notion and you could end up having your face shoved in concrete.

“Brutalism” is an appropriate moniker for this artistic style of bare plain concrete architecture popularized and pioneered in post-war Europe, by Le Corbusier. This brutalist style showcases dour exterior walls that are deep-set, exude plain rough concrete, have small windows (some which are curved), a sculptural or blocky form that is often top heavy. It was a somewhat cheap way of building that emerged in the 1950s and survived into the late ’70s but the constructions were often dismissed as urban eyesores but became  an international phenomenon and the aesthetics were fairly radical and which aimed at liberating and democratizing architecture and that the architecture wasn’t brutal as such – but it was honest about it’s use of materials and was sculptural and imaginative and wanted to be different and could almost be viewed as some sort of dystopian nightmare landscape of massive gray geometrical forms. This idea of dystopian nightmare was envisioned in films such as  “A Clockwork Orange”.

There were a series of events held at Trinity College Dublin to celebrate 50 years of the Berkeley Library and which were part of the Open House Dublin weekend (October 13-15, 2017). The library was designed and created by the renowned architect Paul Koralek, who was in his mid-twenties at the time and was officially opened by the then president of Ireland, Éamon De Valera. The library was built in the Brutalist style, or perhaps a more gentle Brutalist style, which is epitomized in the Berkeley Library at Trinity College Dublin. Paul Koralek entered and won an International open competition to design the building, there were 350 entrants in the competition. A huge bulk of the library is deep-set in the ground because at the time there was a problem with putting that amount of building on the site. One of the enduring qualities of the Berkeley library is its solidity and it’s a sculpted building. It consists of three vertical zones or categories; book storage – the basement, a reading area which is held in a another box shape held up off the ground, and then the middle floors between those that consist of catalogues and making the library work, all the function and management of the library. The library also demonstrated the use of light, of which buildings are made of as well as concrete and other materials. A lot of time was spent on how the light would enter the building and how the light could be modulated so you don’t get problems with glare but get a pleasant effect of soft gentle light instead.  The Berkeley library still  remains one of the most stunning buildings in Dublin and retains the power to arouse strong reactions in all who see it.

There are many examples of Brutalist style buildings such as Erno Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower in London. which was nicknamed the ‘Terror Tower’, synonymous with violence and crime and is now its one of the most desirable and much sought-after private housing to live in London. To some, it might not be a beautiful building, it might be better described as striking, interesting, powerful.

The Trellick Tower
The Trellick Tower in London.

Brutalism really is undergoing a resurgence and the Internet has provided an unexpected companion to long suffering admirers of this style of architecture. Popular photo sharing apps like Instagram #brutalism unleash endless streams of black-and-white images of gravity-defying buildings that are stark and show the industrial beauty of concrete:a utilitarian material without context from the world over.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s