The notorious architectural style known as Brutalism grew out of the rigorous principles of European Modernism and dominated British architecture in the 1950s and 60s. Brutalism gave us the 1960s tower blocks and estates that are now so unpopular with the public. Britain suffered a large amount of destruction during the Second World War and its towns and cities needed rebuilding once the conflict had ended. Post-war reconstruction had to be achieved quickly and cheaply: this was not a time for esoteric debates about taste or style. A new architecture developed that was based on pre-formed concrete. The buildings were cheaply-built and utilitarian in character. As the name suggests, Brutalism was a very stern, macho style that had a bloody-minded commitment to the principles of Modernism. Visually, it constituted a kind of ‘fossilisation’ of Modernism. The light, ethereal forms of Modernism were replaced with heavy, solid masses interlocking in complex, abstract patterns. The finish was deliberately harsh and rugged. Brutalism was practised by young architects who had studied Modernism. The key influence was Le Corbusier, who was the most prominent architect in the world. In his later years, Le Corbusier began to explore the expressive and structural possibilities of concrete. He designed the Unité d'Habitation (1947-53) in the south of France. This is a megalithic structure in exposed concrete. The whole edifice is lifted off the ground on stilts in order to elevate it above the 'decay' and 'disorder' of the city.
Le Corbusier, Unité d'Habitation
This had a strong influence on post-war architecture in Britain. Le Corbusier described his choice of material as béton brut or ‘raw concrete’. The British architectural historian Reyner Banham adapted the term béton brut into ‘brutalism’ to define the emerging style. He published a book called The New Brutalism: Ethic or Aesthetic in 1966.
Aerial view of Park Hill, Sheffield
Park Hill, Sheffield