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The Case for Brutalist Architecture | ARTiculations

The Case for Brutalist Architecture | ARTiculations


Everyday I ride my bike past this massive
beast of a building called the Robarts Library. A monstrous, multi-faceted complex with the
footprint of an equilateral triangle in heart of the University of Toronto’s downtown
campus. It houses the university’s main humanities
and social sciences library. And depending on who you ask, has been an
iconic architectural monument, or the biggest ugliest eyesore of the Toronto landscape for
over 40 years. You may have seen monstrous buildings like
this one yourself. These geometric fortress like buildings – usually
made of rugged, unfinished concrete – rose up all around the world during the mid 20th
century. Originating in Western Europe, it quickly
also spread to many cities in Eastern Europe, North America, and reaching as far as Brazil,
Israel, Japan and Australia. These types of buildings have since been collectively
defined by architectural critics and writers as “Brutalism.” The term “Brutalism” was popularized by
British architectural critics of the 1950s. While it’s obvious to English speakers that
the term was derived from the word “brutal” meaning crude and and harsh. It actually also originates from the French
words “Beton Brut” meaning “Raw Concrete”. Of course not all concrete buildings are brutalist. And in fact not all brutalist buildings are
necessarily made of concrete. But a defining principal of Brutalism is an
overt focus on material itself and attention to the sculptural form. But Brutalism is not just aesthetics, it’s
also a philosophy. In the mid-20th century it became associated
with the “anti-bourgeois” and “socially progressive.” And supporters of brutalist architecture saw
them as bold monuments of egalitarianism and democracy. During the post war decades of the 1950s and
60s, there was a strong reaction among many designers, architects and the general public
against both the overly ornamental styles of Beaux Art architecture, as well as the
rigid, “glass-box” forms of the International Style. Many associated “shiny glass towers” with
the wealthy, privileged elite. And to many progressive thinkers – Brutalism
was the more honest, unpretentious and egalitarian approach to architecture. For the most part, Brutalism was a favoured
style of public or institutional buildings such as government facilities, libraries,
universities, museums, and social housing. Concrete is a product that is relatively inexpensive,
plentiful and accessible. The heavy and enclosed building envelope with
limited glazing made it easier for climate control, thus making it economically sensible
and practical for institutional use, which in turn also symbolized a degree of modesty
and public accountability. Brutalists placed heavy emphasis on the exposure
of structural materials and celebrated the internal functional use of the building. This approach may not seem unique to us today,
but at the time it was a departure from previous styles. Many classical buildings are adorned with
elaborate facades that have no connection to the building’s function, and the International
Style of the 20s and 30s often aimed to conceal or deemphasize a building’s structure. The Boston City Hall is an example of where
the designers overly expressed the building’s functional volumes through heavily articulated
protrusions on the facade. It also aimed to link the exterior public
space with the interior by extending the paved brick material of the public plaza into the
interior atrium space. Brutalist architecture also often aimed to
connect with a building’s local context. The Kyoto International Conference centre,
situated on the beautiful shores of Lake Takaragaike – utilized a triangular base to compliment
the forms of the surrounding mountains, while its inverted triangle is inspired by the shape
of a traditional Japanese Pagoda. Gerhard Kallmann, one of the principal designers
of the Boston City Hall stated that “We have reacted against an architecture that
is absolute, uninvolved and abstract. We have moved towards an architecture that
is specific and concrete, involving itself with the social and geographic context … rather
than an uncommitted abstract structure that could be any place … without identity or
presence.” Whether Brutalist structures today still embody
the once promising utopian dream of social progressivism is debatable, and perhaps entirely
dismissible. In popular culture, especially film, Brutalist
buildings have been used extensively in futuristic, dystopic films such as A Clockwork Orange,
and Bladerunner. Toronto’s Robart’s Library was actually
used for exterior shots of the zombie film Resident Evil: Afterlife, while the University
of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus Meeting Place was used for Interior Shots of the Prison
scenes. In a way, Brutalism has become synonymous
with dystopian films – similar to how Gothic is synonymous with horror films. But just like how many Gothic buildings can
be breathtakingly beautiful despite being associated with the horror genre. Many brutalist buildings have become iconic
for being associated with the dystopian genre. Over the years, many once abhorred Brutalist
buildings have evolved into deeply treasured and loved landmarks by its citizens. Architectural critic Ada Louise Huxtable once
called the former Whitney Museum “the most disliked building” in the city when it first
opened in 1966. Later she would go on to praise it for its
“thoughtful planning and sensitive artistry in the use of materials” and as a “museum
raised to the level of architectural art.” Today – the legacy of Brutalist architecture
is complicated but its ideas and have lived on in the works of many contemporary designers
and artists. There’s a growing appreciation for Brutalist
works, but unfortunately there is also a growing risk of Brutalist buildings being demolished. Many already have been. And maybe you think they’re ugly and should
be demolished. But some of us grew up surrounded by its towering
walls and it has since taken on a historic and personal importance for us. And maybe if you look a little more closely
– you may begin to appreciate the artistic beauty in its rugged, monumental sculptural
form. Thank for
watching everyone. I would love to know what some of your favourite
Brutalist buildings are in the comments below. And if you’re interested in watching more
videos about art, design and architecture – feel free to hit the subscribe button right
over here and I will see you guys next time! Subtitles by the Amara.org community

100 comments found

  1. This architectural style creeps me out. It’s too large, too cold, too utilitarian and dystopian.
    Great video.

  2. Says guy below: "Buildings like that always make me think of authoritarianism and oppression" – Indeed, as the lady says – we associate stuff with how we see it in the movies. (like horror/gothic). If Hollywood had decided brutalism represented romance that's what we'd associate it with.

  3. while ugly & I hate them their better then most Modern Architecture
    at least they have character, ugly oppressive & authoritative character…but at least SOME character none the less

  4. Anybody else here because they only recently came across this architectural style by reading about Control? The game is set in a Brutalist building called the Oldest House. After seeing many different designs, I really want MY future house to have a Brutalist design. It's an awesome style: it looks like they built the buildings by stacking the slabs with Tetris.

  5. Great video! Part two could include more buildings from Brazil. Oscar Niemeyer wasn't an overtly Brutalist architect but some of his buildings fall into the category. Let's just consider the whole city of Brasilia and you'll find some Brutalist gems.

  6. Good brutalist buildings are the only places where I feel truly "at home" inside a building. There's a sense of safety, strength, and in many cases creativity that comes from brutalist shapes. That sounds ironic, but I think most detractors are mixing up ugly appartment buildings with true brutalism.

  7. Love Brutalism, yes some were oppressive blocks of concrete, specially housing (with some exceptions). Here in Costa Rica we have a beautiful Brutalist building, the CCSS building.

  8. Heard the poetry that comes from these buildings are one of the highest forms of torture in the universe

  9. How "involved with the social and geographic context" these buildings may be, the fact is that everyday people hate them, and there are very specific reasons why. Humans are attracted to symmetry and colors by nature. Brutalism ignores that in favor of some artistic statement an architect wants to make. If you want to make something artistic, or make a statement, fine, but keep it on a canvas in a museum. Buildings are places we cant avoid, where we have to spend most of our lives.

  10. I like the quote at the end its basically a pretentious way of saying "I Like overly emotional but at the same time completely souless buildings because im too lazy to make something that actually looks good"

  11. There’s this government skyscraper that looks like that first building but way taller, QUT looks about the same from the highway

  12. Brutalism, for all of its “buildings of the people” malarkey, was only ever an elitist and institutional movement. It’s forms are ugly and hostile. There’s a reason it’s the vocabulary of dystopia. I realize there are examples that have crossed the line into the historically and socially important. But the demise of the decided majority of these hideous lumps into piles of rubble is only worth celebrating.

  13. Here in Mexico in the 90's a kind of 'joyful' brutalism came. Itr had the blockyness and geometric sense of it, but it used colorfull walls. Take a look at the Papalote Kids Sceince Museum, or the CENART national Center of Arts. Colorful Brutalism.

  14. Regardless of the social context of these buildings, the raw concrete simply doesn't age well. All these buildings Ive ever seen have been covered in horrible giant dark stains and streaks from rain.

  15. It's quite ironic that a style purportedly associated with "egalitarianism", "progress" and "democracy" is being tyrannically imposed upon us citizens throughout the world despite the fact that the vast majority of people hate those buildings, and I'm one of them. Those buildings look ugly, depressing, oppressive, unwelcoming and inhumane. "Maybe you think they're ugly and should be demolished…" YES! If you let people vote for which architectural style they want to see in their city, there's NO WAY those buildings could have existed.

  16. Would the Montparnasse tower in Paris qualify as "brutalist" ? I mean it's a 200m high black monolith

  17. i like brutalism i grew up in a country with many brutalist structures and they remind me of my childhood

  18. https://youtu.be/KVxMFwbWmz4

    A brutalist building of historic importance in Scotland. For many an ugly looking building, but not in my opinion.

  19. Love your videos! Keep up the good work!
    Brutalist buildings have a unique sense to them; they have an identity. Unfortunately, as you have mentioned, many buildings are on the verge of being demolished. I believe the public/municipal brutalist buildings are worth keeping. Residential buildings are truly an eye-sore

  20. I guess your next video will be a defense of the hidden architectural beauty of turds, with their honest organic materials and nuanced textures.

  21. I love the power of brutalist buildings. The Musical Art Center and Indiana U Bloomington is a favorite. Also there are many handsome brutalist churches.

  22. I can think of photos my parents have of University of Alabama in the 70s, and of the "front" of my hodgepodge high school (built originally in 1921, added to later, and since torn down). Both to me do represent progressive & egalitarian ideas.

  23. I want to challenge the idea that brutalism is “Stalinist”. Wikipedia is not the best source for anything related to Stalin but this seems ok. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalinist_architecture I’m no expert on architecture but I have appreciated a diverse array of sources on the USSR. Stalin era architecture was pretty and expensive. The architecture many people are thinking of is probably the arcgitecture of the Khrushchev era which was simple, bland, grey, square and cheap. I’d actually say that it was the Khrushchev era where capitalism was restoring itself that created “inhuman” or “oppressive” architecture. I’m not the only person who has noticed this. I cannot remember the YouTube channel’s name but he’s from former Soviet Ukraine and he also points this out. If you can, show me a “cruel” building which was constructed during the Stalin era. To me, from what I’ve looked at, the Stalin era had rather lively buildings. Look at the main building of Moscow state university or the Moscow metro.

  24. Thank you so much for this excellent video!

    Brutalist buildings were harshly criticised as soon as they appeared, hot on the heels of modernist buildings. I am tempted to say that brutalism evolved naturally from modernism, but there is no proof of its inevitability. Many buildings combine modernist and brutalist elements as defined by academic architects, so one should label them as “mostly modernist” or “mostly brutalist”. When people say they like a “modernist” or a “brutalist” building, you should ask which features they like. Sometimes people like a brutalist building for its modernist features, and vice versa! Many people do not know the difference between modernism, brutalism, and postmodernism, so when they claim to like one of these styles, they are not saying what they mean: they actually like a set of architectural features that might correspond with a recognised style, but probably doesn’t. In any case, many, or even most architects are keen to move away from the pure styles as defined by academics, because they restrict creativity and stand in the way of optimal solutions.

    Before I judge brutalism, I must tell you what I understand by it, and modernism. Modernist buildings are characterised by the use of reinforced concrete, plate glass, steel, and aluminium to create buildings with wide rooms and windows. They have thin reinforced concrete floors, which also permits cantilevered balconies, jetties, and rooms that project far from the side walls without being supported from above or below. However, many modernist buildings have floors perched high above the ground on amazingly thin reinforced concrete columns. Where balconies and jetties are impossible, a modernist building will often have glass curtain walls that are transparent and/or reflect the sky.

    Such features interrupt what would otherwise be big solid blocks. You can often see parts of the background between, or even through the structure of a modernist building. In many modernist buildings “inside” and “outside” are blurred; open-plan areas extend through large plate glass sliding doors onto balconies and platforms, there may be big skylights and/or courtyards, and flat roofs may have sundecks, barbecues, and even swimming pools. Natural light streams into a modernist building. If it seems to you that the architect has tried to make a building look light and airy, it is probably modernist. (Curved walls also appear in modernism, although their use is much more marked in post-modernism.) Buildings that display three types of modernism to perfection are Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Falling Water”, Le Corbusier’s “Villa Savoye”, and the “Seagram Building” of Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson.
    All schools of architecture use these as examples for their students.

    Modernist buildings have two big problems: many are difficult and expensive to heat in winter, and builders construct their flat roofs without the slight gradients requested by the architects, so that rainwater pools and seeps down into the building. It is also true that some architects push the characteristic elegance of modernism into minimalism, and their great desire to remove clutter results in attractive buildings that are not functional, and which can even be unsafe, e.g. due to a lack of balustrades and banisters, or overstressed concrete. (Read about the problems of “Falling Water” – they are common in modernist buildings.) The open architectural style can also make it difficult to provide privacy, e.g. in a modernist housing complex. Modernist buildings are happiest on sunny, stable slopes in Mediterranean climates.

    And now for brutalist buildings. Much of their surface area is raw concrete, pebbledash, or chipped stone. The windows are often small and resemble dark holes when seen from the outside. Many brutalist buildings seem to squat heavily on the ground. The edge of a brutalist building is not broken up by spaces to the extent seen in a modernist building. Brutalist buildings absorb and block sunlight as opposed to letting it shine through, or reflecting it. Internally, there is a huge emphasis on functionality. They require much artificial lighting.

    So why would anyone want a brutalist building? If you are living in a place with long, cold, dark winters, you will be spending almost all your time indoors. A dark exterior helps to absorb rather than reflect what little sunlight there is, thick walls and small windows conserve heat, and the lack of natural light doesn’t matter, because you will need artificial light, even between sunrise and sunset. People tend not to go outside for short breaks if they must put on thick clothes and boots, so the building must be very easy to live in – it must be completely functional. Brutalist buildings are happiest in places with cold winters having long, dark nights. The exteriors of brutalist buildings remind many people of grim castles and prisons, but they truly ought to be judged on their interiors, which are of overriding importance.

    The big problems of brutalism are the difficult of integrating such buildings into natural environments without dominating and/or degrading them, and the demoralising effect of their prison-like exteriors, which can even exacerbate depression and antisocial behaviour. For this reason, many architects design buildings for cold climates that are essentially brutalist, but which incorporate features of modernism that “soften” the building. You will often see much use of light-coloured wooden floors, ceilings, and panels in brutalist buildings, as they bring the natural world and warmth into what would otherwise be unacceptably cold, hard, and austere. Natural wood surfaces are aligned with brutalism. Light coloured exterior cladding is also very common.

    Aesthetically I much prefer modernism to brutalism, (which is typical), but if I lived in a cold, dark climate, where I spent many hours indoors, I think brutalism would be the winner! And one must also bear in mind hybrid and evolved forms. Pure naturalism has never evolved beyond a tiny niche, but “organic modernism” – in which architects design modernist buildings to accommodate plant and animal life ab initio, is booming. Some of the deconstructionist (or unconstructionist) forms of postmodernism are too glitzy and clever-clever for my taste: rhinestones designed by architects to show off their own talents and/or the wealth of their clients. A complex, interesting, or even fascinating building is not necessarily beautiful and/or functional, but merely an exercise in intellectual conceit and self-aggrandisement. A rather simple and humble house can be both beautiful and functional. It is a good to think about how people will view a building 100 years in the future!

  25. That building at 0:46 is a couple km from my place and I pretty much grew up there. Its a beautiful, inviting and wonderful place in a city that can be harsh at times. Check it out, its called Sesc Pompeia and the project is awesome.

  26. Most of buildings of this style dont even look like they could survive a single earthquake. The style is ugly and is something only a metropolitan socialist could tolerate.

  27. My favorite brutalist building is every brutalist building that has been teared down. Brutalism in religious term is satanism, and nothing else.

  28. Sorry, as much as I love you content, I am diametrically opposed to you on this one. Brutalism it ugly, harsh, and oppressive. I work in the West Loop of Chicago. So, I get to see wide variety of architectural styles. Maybe you can argue that the few examples of Brutalism within Chicago are not the best representations, but I find every one of them (with the possible exception of Marina City) to be oppressive eye-soars. (The Daily Herald Building in particularly looks like someone dropped a massive cinderblock in the middle of a parking lot and called it a day.)

  29. The 9 Cleveland, a modular Brutalist building designed by Marcel Breuer, and rescued from demolition as one of the few surviving modernist buildings in downtown Cleveland, Ohio.

  30. Perhaps simply because of familiarity, I enjoy the U.S. Federal Building & Courthouse-Fort Lauderdale, Florida and the Broward County Main Library nearby.

  31. Depressing eyesores inside and out. I used to work in one of those uninspired monstrosities. No thanks

  32. For me much of this modern art involves a lot of theory to defend something that would otherwise just be considered ugly and destasteful.

  33. I think Belgrade has the best brutalism buildings (apartment buidlings). They are so wierd, unique and now many of them are old. They are not beautiful, but show's their power, how strong they are and massive. Type Kijevo Knezevac, Julino Brdo, Blokovi novi beograd 1970 i 1980ih, Banjica to see these structures. I really like them even with ugly looking, but they are made with great ideas, many places for parking, parks, fields, trees and a lot more. I used to live in Soviet apartment building with white plates facade, built in 1968. I will never forgot my childhood, there is no mansion in world or any other place that could replace this.

  34. Brutalist buildings just look depressing, it sucks being in a University campus(University of Toronto Scarborough) with a bunch of them.

  35. Brutalism: A great example of how a society that becomes too leftist leads to degeneracy and dystopia. It might as well be renamed Uglyism.

  36. Brutalism is the architecture of being institutionalized. Education, Military, Prison/Jail, and Mental hospitals. All of which I have been involved with personally. I have a love hate relationship with this architecture.

  37. Preston Bus Station by BDP (Lancashire, UK). Saved from demolition and just been renovated. https://www.itv.com/news/granada/update/2019-03-21/preston-bus-station-and-alder-hey-hospital-shortlisted-for-architecture-awards/

  38. If you're going to raise your voice every time you start a sentence, please try and find a microphone that can handle that.

  39. Better than the all glass, rounded, white and blue modern buildings, that usually come with a modern "art" sculpture like some twisted metal shit or a plain metal sphere.

  40. I find it difficult to believe that anybody treasures these ugly slabs of concrete, although I suppose it could be true.

    Architecture should not only serve its purpose, it should also ease the mind and delight the senses. Brutalism does the opposite.

    It's ugly and oppressive and such structures should only exist to provide examples of what to never, ever do again.

  41. Love this kind of buildings looks perfect for government spots, there is a 2019 game called control u are inside a fbi agency in New York, all the architecture of the building is brutalist

  42. My favorite brutalist building is Teatro Teresa Carreño, in Caracas. It’s an amazing structure. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teresa_Carre%C3%B1o_Cultural_Complex?wprov=sfti1 https://maps.apple.com/?ll=10.499000,-66.897800&q=Teresa%20Carre%C3%B1o%20Cultural%20Complex&_ext=EiQpc2iR7Xz/JEAxU5YhjnW5UMA5c2iR7Xz/JEBBU5YhjnW5UMA%3D

  43. A very good analysis, but to me brutalism is like a raw, unseasoned potato. It's practical as a source of calories, but lifeless and bland as a food experience. There are 300-500 year old buildings that look timeless and majestic, even if they're only restored every 80-100 years or so. But a 10 year old brutalist building will look at least 20 or 30 years old, unless it's meticulously powerwashed from top to bottom every other year. I can see the egalitarian intentions there, but all I see are cold, lifeless buildings that suck the color and personality from cities like leeches. To me it's an overly literal, almost deliberately bleak interpretation of egalitarianism as architecture. Equating egalitarianism with an absence of ornamentation, color, or other evidence of individual character feels like a spiteful, intentional misunderstanding of the concept. It's saying that achieving equality means giving up beauty and identity. Perhaps this is just hindsight, but brutalism comes across as an argument against egalitarianism, not for it.

  44. Also gone 2010 – Technisches Rathaus, Frankfurt, Germany. A phenomenally ugly yet imposing, hugely weighty set of buildings built in 1972 by Bartsch, Thürwachter and Weber.

  45. The most beautiful and utopian brutalist architecture I have ever seen is Walden 7 designed by Ricardo Bofill, not so much out of beton brute and maybe thats why its not so dystopian…

  46. Love it! Anti bourgeois it is! I sincerely hope these arent demolished because it inspires me alot. Just by looking at the architecture it gives me a feeling to go inside these buildings. Beautiful!

  47. I lived in Toronto and studided sooo many times at the Robarts Library. This video brings so many nice memories.
    Brutalist buildings have always intrigued me, and I don't even understand if I like them or not! Brutalism is a really interesting type of architecture, that's for sure…

  48. As Art Nouveau is feminine and Art Deco masculine, or maybe you could call it Art DECO on steroids or modernism streamline from the mid-century But I away called these buildings
    HANDSOME BRUTE::: such example in Chicago across city hall is the cook county and sheriff building and state federal Correctional building on Clark Street it's more of a form to function then function to form.As us ugly are gorgeous.

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