I love Brutalist Architecture. I love it. I love the size and the shape and the colours (or lack of colours) of it. I feel strongly about it. To me, it is anything but brutal. It is sublime and sculptural, and makes me feel immediately fascinated yet humbled whenever I see it. As an appreciator of this unusual approach to building, I actually find the very label of ‘brutalism’ to be misleading. As a title it is in fact a distortion of ‘béton brut’, or ‘raw’ stone. Concrete being the principal building material. Concrete has connotations of ugliness for the most part, but I always try to see beyond the ugliness. I see a great deal of things.
Contrary to the hulking massiveness of most Brutalist structures, many of them bear a quirky secret, and share it only with those who truly look at them. Built in situ in wooden plank moulds, the exterior and interior walls and pillars bear the mark of the wood grain that formed the planks. The planes and surfaces thus resemble fossilised trees, or a subtle print, all veined and flowing with contours. I vividly remember running my hands over a wall in Birmingham Library, fascinated by the shapes. Far from brutal, I actually admire the subtle grace that many of the buildings have. There is usually a stray curve or a sweeping roofline that gives the whole building a Science Fiction-like ambience, and often grants the space a human scale. The flowing car ramps and wing- like ornamentation of Preston Bus Station ( in the image above) are a beautiful example.
Another aspect that I feel drawn to is the inversion of the standard approach to functional aspects of the buildings. Far from screening off or hiding stairwells, water tanks and walkways, Brutalist buildings show them off as features to be proud of. They may look like they come from outer space, but they blast out a Clarion Call: namely that they were built for human occupation and endeavours. Whilst we are on the topic of space, perhaps it is this aspect of them that I love so much. As a child, I remember being driven up, around and beneath the splendidly nicknamed ‘Spaghetti Junction’ Motorway. Staring at a very functional but fascinating multi-layered sculpture. I recall expecting to see giant shiny balls rolling over the roads, all part of some massive machine or alien craft. In fact, whenever I watch Alien, with its massive hulking mining ship Nostromo, I am reminded of Brutalism. The buildings are behemoths, and behemoths are built to last. To withstand and to protect. As the recent exhibition that reignited my passion for them says, these unusual buildings are the legacy of six decades ago. Of ‘Yesterday’s Forgotten Future.’
© Tom Tide 2016