MoBA has worked with local communities helping them define their interpretation of BRUTALIST architecture and these are represented by FIVE attributes each relating to a building feature.


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Brutalist architecture, which emerged in the 1950s, stands as a bold departure from the ornate styles that preceded it.

Brutalist architecture emerged from the ambitious vision of architects striving to forge an ideal society. These architectural trailblazers held a steadfast belief that the structures they designed could not only enhance but also pave the way for a more equitable and just social order. The essence of Brutalism lay in its bold approach, aiming to leave a lasting imprint on the urban landscape while embodying principles of functionality, strength, and communal inclusivity.

Let’s delve into its physical characteristics:

Authenticity of Materials [SURFACES]: Brutalism emphasises the raw, sculptural qualities of materials, particularly concrete. The term “brutalism” itself derives from the French phrase “béton brut,” meaning bare concrete. Architects intentionally left concrete unfinished, revealing the imprints and textures from wooden forms used during casting. While concrete is central, other materials like brick, glass, steel, and stone also appear in brutalist designs.

Form and Function [SHAPE]: Brutalist buildings exhibit simple, block-like forms with extensive use of exposed, unfinished concrete exteriors. Façades appear rugged and unrefined, often incorporating visible structural elements like beams and columns. The style prioritizes structural honesty, expressing architectural function through exterior shapes.

Monolithic Appearance [BOLDNESS] : These structures exude a massive, monolithic quality. Repetitive, modular designs contribute to their imposing presence. Architects like Le Corbusier pioneered brutalism, creating raw concrete housing projects such as the iconic Unité d’Habitation (1952).

Post-War Influence: The devastation of World War II significantly influenced brutalism. Ruined cities required low-cost, functional rebuilding, and modular concrete forms fit the bill. Architects sought to create buildings representative of the post-war era’s ethos—recovery and raw strength within constrained budgets.

[CONSTRUCTION]: There is a certain ethos of honesty of brutalist architecture which is reflected in the ability to exactly see the structure of the building, and to understand how it was put together and constructed. These strong bold and legible shapes of buildings, their boldness and the repetitive nature of many of result in a strong recognisable pattern (or rhythm) being seen in the building.

[CHARACTER] The post war reconstruction era became an opportunity to rebuild cities and buildings with a social purpose. Brutalist ideals were closely linked to creating accessible buildings, built for the people and for their use. This architectural style turned its back on the ornate and sometimes elitist architecture of the past; it recognised egalitarian and inclusive principles of design and the movement became a symbol of hope for many.

Brutalist architecture as a philosophy and architectural movement was largely initiated in the UK by British architects Alison and Peter Smithson, who’s first brutalist building is Hunstanton school in Norfolk. Built between 1949-1954. The phrase brutalist architecture was coined by Writer Rayner Banham in 1955 and was often referred to as The New Brutalism.

Why call it Brutalism?

But if Brutalist Architecture was so connected to the principles of a more human centric and ethical purpose, and its resultant designs were honest and humble, why was it referred to as Brutalist?

In artistic and design circles the ending ‘ism is often added to a movement to describe it collectively, for example Modern’ism depicting anything new of that time, or in art Expression’ism and there are many more examples.

In 1948 French artist Jean Dubuffet described his naïve, graffiti and primitive art as ‘ART BRUT’ which translates to English as RAW ART.

The word BRUT in French means RAW or Unadorned.

Famous Swiss/French architect Le Corbusier referred to features on several of his buildings as ‘Le Beton Brut’ or Raw Concrete. The word for concrete in French is Beton.

So we can see the origin of the word Brut al ‘ism effectively meaning unadorned or raw.

Another suggestion, albeit we can evidence it, was noted by the author Elain Harwood, which suggests that it was a combination of Peter Smithson’s nickname Brutus* merged with Alison Smithson’s first name so Brutus and Alison became Brutalism

*Brutus was the name of a roman emperor who Michaelangelo depicted with a rather large undulating nose, in his marble sculpture.


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