Brutalism – concrete and steel

My studio looks like a building site. Which is not surprising given my research has turned to the use of concrete, in particular in construction and architecture.

Brutalism architecture is a movement in architecture that flourished from the 1950s to the mid-1970s, descending from the modernist architectural movement of the early 20th century. The term originates from the French word for “raw” in the term used by Le Corbusier to describe his choice of materia béton brut (raw concrete).

Brutalism became popular with governmental and institutional clients, with numerous examples in Britain, France, Germany,Japan, the United States, Italy, Canada, Brazil, the Philippines, Israel and Australia. Examples are typically massive in character (even when not large), fortress-like, with a predominance of exposed concrete construction, or in the case of the “brick brutalists,” ruggedly combine detailed brickwork and concrete. There is often an emphasis on graphically expressing in the external elevations and in the whole-site architectural plan the main functions and people-flows of the buildings. Brutalism became popular for educational buildings (especially university buildings), but was relatively rare for corporate projects. Brutalism became favoured for many government projects, high-rise housing, and shopping centres.

In its ruggedness and lack of concern to look comfortable or easy, Brutalism can be seen as a reaction by a younger generation to the lightness, optimism, and frivolity of some 1930s and 1940s architecture. In one critical appraisal by Banham, Brutalism was posited not as a style but as the expression of an atmosphere among architects of moral seriousness. “Brutalism” as an architectural critical term was not always consistently used by critics; architects themselves usually avoided using it altogether. More recently, “brutalism” has become used in popular discourse to refer to buildings of the late twentieth century that are large or unpopular – as a synonym for “brutal.”  (

I hadn’t appreciated that concrete and cement can be traced back as far as 12,000BC. In 3,000BC, the Egyptians used a gypsum mortar in the pyramids.

3,000BC, the Egyptians used a gypsum mortar in the pyramids

3,000BC, the Egyptians used a gypsum mortar in the pyramids

3,000BC, the Egyptians used a gypsum mortar in the pyramids

There’s no shortage of inspiration, as today it’s one of the most widely used materials in the world. It has contributed to social progress, economic growth, and environmental protection, providing sustainable housing, transport structures, power.

Construction of the Hoover Dam

Construction of the Hoover Dam

Construction of the Hoover Dam

The ingredients of concrete exist almost everywhere. It is resistant to wear and tear, severe weather, rot, insects and fire.

Concrete combines function and practicality with contemporary appearance and the ability to express complex and dynamic forms. Concrete is an essence contemporary life – a material with limitless possibilities. We have grown up with it.

It has a whole lifespan, from new to disuse and decay. It was the Berlin wall. It might be the Mexican wall. For me it provides much inspiration.

It can be recycled, for example, as aggregate for use in roadbeds or as a granular material.

“the long, low, concrete-faced buildings were remarkable solely for their brutalism”


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