Living in a Brutal World | Peter Chadwick on Brutalism

The author of a new book on Brutalism selects his ten favourites from around the world

by Elias Redstone
Jul 16 2016, 8:14am

Photo: Zvi Hecker synagogue in the Negev desert. 

Brutalism has been having a moment. After emerging as a radical style of architecture in Britain in the ‘50s, and sweeping across the world in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Brutalism’s colossal concrete structures were all too often written off as ugly, cold and alienating. Despite earning more than its fair share of haters, this severe style of building is winning new admirers who are unashamed about declaring their love for all things concrete and severe.

Graphic designer and Brutalism enthusiast Peter Chadwick just released This Brutal World, presenting a global survey of Brutalism’s greatest hits throughout the 20th century and showing how its influence lives on today.

'The Egg,' Center for the Performing Arts, Albany, New York, USA, 1978 by Wallace Harrison. Photo: Courtesy Phaidon Press
Buffalo City Court Building, Buffalo, New York, USA, 1974 by Pfohl, Roberts & Biggie. Photo: Vik Pahwa

According to Chadwick, his love of Brutalism was ingrained in him from an early age. “Growing up in Middlesbrough in the late 70s and 80s I was surrounded to the North, East and West of the town by steel works, chemical plants and industrial concrete.”

In the introduction to This Brutal World, Chadwick recalls: “On a bitterly cold day in the winter of 1974… I noticed for the first time—through the rear window of my father’s white Ford Anglia—the Dorman Long Coke Oven Tower in South Bank.

This industrial monolith, designed by the engineering firm Simon-Carves Limited, was the first concrete building to make a lasting impression on me. Uncompromising and faceless, the structure fuelled my imagination.”

Chadwick went on to develop a taste for Brutalist buildings including such icons as the Barbican Centre in London and Paul Rudolph’s Faculty of Art and Architecture building at Yale.

Over the years he has built an extensive collection of photography of Brutalist and Modern architecture, both famous buildings and under appreciated gems, which he has been sharing on his popular twitter account.

Nakagin Capsule Tower, Tokyo, Japan, 1972 by Kisho & Kurokawa. Architect & Associates. Photo: Courtesy of Dreamstime
National Monument to the Resistance, Plateau des Glières, France, 1973 by Émile Giliolo. © William Edwards / Alamy Stock Photo

Most of these buildings present clear political and social ambitions, from Le Corbusier’s Assembly Building in Chandigarh to art galleries, housing projects, churches and synagogues.

For Chadwick, what attracts him to this style of architecture is clear: “The ambition, the risk taking, the soaring and imposing concrete towers that lord it over their neighbours, the challenging facades, the public spaces, the optimism and the sheer bravado of these visionary buildings.”

While the term ‘Brutalist’ is no longer used by contemporary architects to describe their work, designers such as Peter Zumthor, Daniel Libeskind, Tadao Ando and the late Zaha Hadid clearly exhibit its traits in their buildings. And through these architects, and enthusiasts like Chadwick, the legacy of Brutalism lives on.

This photo shows the exterior of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
Praxis, Mexico City, Mexico, 1975 by Agustín Hernández. Alamy Stock Photo
Assembly Building, Chandigarh, India, 1962 by Le Corbusier. Courtesy Fondation Le Corbusier. Courtesy DACS
Church of Sainte-Bernadette-du-Banlay, Nevers, France, 1966 by Claude Parent and Paul Virilio. © Collection Artedia/Parent Claude Virilio Paul /Artedia/Leemage Publicite soumise a autorisation prealable
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