The emergence of Brutalism in the ruins of post-war Britain is one of the most fascinating parts of modern design. The name suits it; brutalist architecture knows what it is and doesn’t care if you like it or not. Done wrongly, it can look rather depressing. Think of 60s era council flats with dirty, water stained concrete. However, done correctly, it can be powerful, unassuming, and beautiful, all at the same time.
The other day, I had the pleasure of wandering around the Barbican, a massive complex of buildings in central London. I was meeting some friends nearby in Old Street, and the route I found on Citymapper told me to walk from Barbican station. I never really visit this side of the city, so I didn’t really know what to expect.
It’s impossible for the Barbican to not catch your eye. It’s there, blocking the horizon in its brutal, brutalist way, as soon as you exit the station. I had time to burn before meeting my friends, and my curiosity was piqued. I decided to enter this cavernous sprawl, one so important as to lend its name to its very own train station.
As soon as I walked in, I was greeted by grey; lots of grey. Massive concrete monoliths rose forebodingly into the skyline, and balconies bedecked with small potted plants greeted my eyes in every direction I looked. It was stark, unapologetic and in-your-face. It was beautiful.
In a way, it’s even more true to the nature of the concept of a building than anything. Brutalism doesn’t pretend to be anything else, to integrate into the environment around it, because that’s impossible. There’s no paint or glossy facades, it just is. It’s simply a building, built for and by humans.
If you were describe an ideal building on paper, it would not be a brutalist one. It’s too easy to enjoy bright, smooth surfaces and big windows, but then again, that’s what we’re conditioned to like in a way.
Bold, unapologetic, and undeniably urban; people are quick to dismiss brutalism, but it’s just another type of beauty.