Returning focus to Brutalist architecture,
Brutalist architecture made a strong comeback after falling out of favor by the end of the last century.
Enthusiasts celebrate the concrete giants of the 1950s and 1960s on social media,
in documentaries and in books.
Reasons for renewed interest in brutality
One reason is that 40 to 60 years after something goes out of fashion, it tends to come back again.
But the prevailing belief is that what attracts architects is that Brutalism is full of sexy taboos – things you’re not allowed to do now for environmental reasons.
Brutalism is the geometry of the beautiful cold bridge – the same material inside and out – which was fine when no one knew that using too much heating could cause any damage.
Now that we know the extent of the disaster, architects can no longer obtain this pure structural expression.
It’s a bit surreal, when you spend your time detailing insulation and cladding.
Brutalism had no intrinsic social values. In the UK,
this idea emerged at a time when the majority of social housing and public commissions existed,
so it is easy to link it to the agendas of the welfare state.
But a project like the Barbican in London carries values that are the opposite of what you might assume from housing built by local authorities.
The City of London Corporation wanted to defend itself from being taken over by the left-wing London County Council, so it built a final social housing scheme.
But it never supported flats, in order to preserve the electoral middle class and avoid voting patterns that could lead to left-wing councillors.
The National Theater on London’s South Bank was partly driven by leftist ideas about bringing art to the people.
But hereditary aristocrat Oliver Lyttelton was its biggest supporter,
partly because his mother had been a champion of an earlier version of the scheme.
Lyttelton was thrilled that, in an age when aristocrats could no longer pay for the arts themselves,
they could influence the government to pay for them.
Types of buildings that attract the most interest
One trend that is appreciated is maximalism – the more realistic the shapes are,
the better they are, and the stronger the shapes are, the more fans they will have.
There are buildings with thinner cladding and more traditional forms,
such as the Barbican, but they have fewer admirers because they lack their great expressive mass.
Lessons that contemporary architecture can draw from that era
Conditions at that time were so different that we should learn no more literally from them than we should from the Gothic builders.
What architects take away from that period is how Brutalism changed the conditions of the day, and the development of an integrated art form that responded to the conditions of the time – for example,
cheap energy and the associated abundance of concrete and steel.
Now, there is a need to reduce energy consumption,
yet it often seems that architects design buildings of the type that modernists built,
and then superimpose environmental elements on them.
If they emulate Brutalists, they will design something that looks different from the start, the way Brutalism looks different from Victorian offices, for example.