I like Brutalist architecture, mainly because it is an expression of human capacity for newness. Having attended the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Walter Netsch-designed “Instant Campus“, I also have a pretty good window into the deficiencies of the raw concrete mode of creating human space.
Everywhere I go, I try to see and capture examples of Brutalism. One of the characteristics of the style is that it is international– bricks and concrete formed in practical forms with a focus on the human structure of the occupants tend to repeat their forms all over.
I’ve found concrete wonders in Paris, Dublin, and Rome in the last year or so. In have a very loose criteria of documenting Brutalist buildings:
- Poured concrete as a major component of its structure
- Interesting geometric shapes formed by poured concrete or well-cut brickwork
- Architectural elements like repeating patterns in brick or concrete and an emphasis on a particular interior space
The loose criteria allows me to capture many of the hidden structures of the 60s and 70s. I can find some dating to the 80s, but these are usually only as a co-incidence of a desire for affordable construction or retrofitted circumstances. What I like to do best is go past the superstar buildings built by the masters descendant from Le Corbusier and see how the techniques, forms, and materials of Brutalism serve people today.
Toward that end, here’s what I’ve harvested from walking about 60 miles in the city of London with my wife over the last week:
Dowgate Fire Station on Upper Thames just west of the London Bridge is a real favorite:
If all were right in the world, the extended window on the second floor would contains the office of the fire chief (sort of like how the Mayor’s Office protrudes from Boston City Hall):
I like the faux flying buttresses here:
This fire station is actually just a small portion of a larger structure, the Mondial House, which was criticized by none other than Prince Charles as “the dreadful Mondial House”. The only thing dreadful about it was that they pulled their punches and clad the place in white polyester, so as to hide its concrete goodness. Here’s an amazing page on the Internet with more detail on the fire station.
Just south of the fire station is One Swan Lane, a pretty classic Brutalist structure with an exaggerated presentation of the building’s physical plant:
Bonus: One Swan Lane is also the HQ of Groupon UK (cc/ @andrewmason):
Here’s a view of One Swan Lane from London Bridge at dusk:
Just for the heck of it, here’s a car park in Spitalfields, included just because I like it:
The London College of Fashion has some brutalist tendencies in its use of vast fields of concrete:
I’m pretty sure this is where Rick Astley stays when he is in London:
Here’s a great example, on the corner of Gloucester Road and Canning Place, of how one can mimic styles using multiple materials. There are three types of rounded balconies in this shot: one with detailed brickwork, one in poured concrete, and the original reference (in Kensington Gate, dating to 1894), in the background:
Here is a true hidden Brutalist wonder– the Lancaster Hall Hotel/ YMCA. Exquisite decorative concrete:
Poured concrete sections stuck together to form an awning entrance that is so common in London:
This isn’t exactly a hidden wonder, because it is the last work of a relatively famous Scottish architect who specialized in brut, Sir Basil Spence. It is the Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall, tucked into a residential area:
Here’s a great detail that shows the care given to the brickwork and also exposes some of the maintenance issues you can have with this type of building:
An example of a Brutalist building next to a classic ancient piece of architecture is St. Pauls Station, just north of St. Paul’s Cathedral (in background):
Nice touch: some concrete benches across from St. Pauls Station building:
A concrete building on the North Wharf with decorative pebbles in the mix. The building cantilevers nicely over the sidewalk and a staircase that heads to the basement in a way that evokes both Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van Der Rohe:
Lastly, a shot from a passing taxi on the way to Charring Cross