The Real Story Behind Brutalism

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The Real Story Behind Brutalism

The Real Story Behind Brutalism

Phaidon’s book This Brutal World is a photographic ode to one of the most polarizing modern architectural movements

“It’s hard to love a brute,” mused the podcast 99Percent Invisible in an episode that aired last year. The sentiment certainly rings true as Brutalist buildings are among the most polarizing and misunderstood structures built in the last century. Praised by architects—and often lambasted by the public—they’re the architectural equivalent of an acquired taste. In your face initially but nuanced as you get to know it better, like a ripened cheese.

Brutalism has its roots in the French term béton brut (literal translation: raw concrete), which Le Corbusier coined to describe his use of the material. While the exact genesis of Brutalism as a term is unknown—some credit historian Reyner Banham and his 1955 essay “The New Brutalism: Ethic or Aesthetic“—it has come to be understood today as a perceived personification of a building rather than a specific architectural expression. Brutalism has become synonymous with an austere, rough, hulking, and ugly aesthetic.

That Brutalism as a term evokes the word “brutal” and the negative connotations that accompany it has even sparked some clever architects to propose calling the style “Heroic.” To be fair, Brutalist structures aren’t beauties in the classical sense that they embody some kind of Golden Ratio in proportions, are composed of opulent materials, or sport eye-catching flourishes. Still, a great many of them have their own poetic sense, as shown in This Brutal World, a new book from Phaidon that chronicles how Modernist and contemporary architects have used the material. […]

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