Brutalism – Definition, Examples, History & More – Art Theory Glossary

What is Brutalism?

Brutalism is a style of architecture that emerged in the mid-20th century, characterized by its use of raw concrete, geometric forms, and a focus on functionality.

It is often associated with a sense of honesty in materials and construction, as well as a lack of ornamentation or decoration.

Brutalism takes its name from the French term “béton brut,” which translates to “raw concrete,” highlighting the material’s importance in this architectural style.

Origins of Brutalism

Brutalism first gained popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, particularly in Europe and the United States.

It was influenced by the post-war era, with architects seeking to create buildings that were both practical and expressive of the modern age.

Le Corbusier, a Swiss-French architect, is often credited as one of the pioneers of Brutalism with his use of concrete in projects such as the Unité d’Habitation in Marseille.

Characteristics of Brutalism

Key characteristics of Brutalism include its use of raw concrete, bold geometric shapes, and a focus on functionality over aesthetics.

Buildings in this style often feature exposed concrete surfaces, with an emphasis on the texture and form of the material.

Brutalist architecture is known for its massive scale and imposing presence, with many structures appearing monolithic and fortress-like.

Key Figures in Brutalism

In addition to Le Corbusier, several other architects have made significant contributions to the development of Brutalism.

Paul Rudolph, a prominent American architect, is known for his Brutalist designs such as the Yale Art and Architecture Building.

Alison and Peter Smithson, a British husband-and-wife team, were also influential in the Brutalist movement with projects like the Robin Hood Gardens housing complex in London.

Criticisms of Brutalism

Despite its popularity among architects and designers, Brutalism has faced criticism for its stark appearance and perceived lack of warmth or humanity.

Critics argue that Brutalist buildings can be intimidating and unwelcoming to the public, leading to their neglect or demolition.

Additionally, the use of raw concrete in Brutalist architecture has been criticized for its tendency to weather poorly and require frequent maintenance.

Legacy of Brutalism

While Brutalism fell out of favor in the late 20th century, it has experienced a resurgence in recent years as architects and preservationists recognize its historical and cultural significance.

Many Brutalist buildings have been restored and repurposed for new uses, highlighting their enduring appeal and adaptability.

Brutalism’s legacy can be seen in contemporary architecture, with designers continuing to explore the use of raw materials and bold forms in their work.