Unfinished concrete. Geometric forms. Unconventional propositions. Brutalism is one of the most divisive architectural forms in history. Developed in the 1950s, the term was particularly associated with the work of English architectural duo Alison (1928-1993) and Peter Smithson (1923-2003). It was quickly adopted across the world – favoured for its simplistic, functional form. We highlight 5 Brutalist buildings to know.
Robin Hood Gardens, London │ Alison and Peter Smithson
The social housing development was designed in the late 1960s and completed in 1972. A vision of utopian ideals, the housing complex held 214 flats and featured noise-reducing concrete fins and elevated walkways. The Smithsons regarded the estate as “a demonstration of a more enjoyable way of living… a model, an exemplar, of a new mode of urban organisation.” In 2008, global architects, including Zaha Hadid, campaigned for the preservation of the building – citing its influence on design history. The V&A Museum, London, acquired a three-storey section of the estate before it was demolished in 2017.
Geisel Library, California│William Pereira
The Geisel Library was constructed in 1968 and sits at the head of a canyon in San Diego, America. William Pereira’s (1090-1985) original steel skeleton design was replaced by reinforced concrete – a key feature of Brutalist architecture. The futuristic “lantern” shape references historic forms, including pyramids, ziggurats and domes. Hundreds of tall glass windows slot into the bones of the building – utilising natural light and creating a mysterious, translucent façade. The landmark has been used by the University of California since 1970. In 1995, the structure was renamed to honour Dr. Seuss creator Theodor Seuss Geisel and his wife, Audrey.
Western City Gate, Belgrade │ Mihajlo Mitrović
Mihajlo Mitrović’s (b. 1922-2018) multi-use skyscraper comprises of two connecting towers and is crowned by a spherical restaurant. Built in 1977, the gate-like structure is at the centre of the New Belgrade neighbourhood, Serbia. The bold design is the second tallest building in the city – standing at 140m. The lower block, formed of 26-storeys, was formerly occupied by a state-owned company, affording it the nickname “Genex Tower”. The taller tower is 30-storeys and continues to house residents. Large, overhanging advertisement often adorn the exterior, adding some colour to the concrete façade.
Habitat 67, Montreal │ Moshe Safdie
Modular masterpiece Habitat 67 was Moshe Safdie’s (b. 1938) first built project. The development was presented at the 1967 World Expo in Montreal, Canada, and offered a new, experimental vision of high-rise living. 354 prefabricated cubes are stacked in an irregular arrangement, forming 12 storeys and 158 apartments. Each flat is complete with a roof-top garden and connected by external, interlinking “streets”. The disjointed concrete block design continues to influence global architects, including Richardo Boffil (b. 1939) and Danish collective Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG).
Park Hill, Sheffield │ Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith
Jack Lynn (1926 – 2013) and Ivor Smith’s (1926-2018) brutalist design was one of the most ambitious inner-city developments of its time. Opened in 1961, the estate adopted the “streets in the sky” philosophy and offered new life to the area. A rigid, concrete frame was infilled with a gradient of red, orange and yellow brick – drawing inspiration from Le Corbusier’s (1887-1965) Unité d’Habitation, France. In 2001, graffiti was scrawled onto one of the rooftop walkways, stating “I Love You Will U Marry Me”. This became a landmark of the city. Hawkins\Brown and Studio Egret West began redeveloping the Grade II* listed site in 2007. In 2013, the project was shortlisted for RIBA’s Stirling Prize.
Lead image: Habitat 67, Montreal. Photography: Marc Cramer + Thomas-Miau
1. Robin Hood Gardens, photographed in 2014 by Luke Hayes
2. Robin Hood Gardens, photographed in 2014 by Luke Hayes
3. Geisel Library / William L. Pereira & Associates. © Darren Bradley
4. Western City Gate, Belgrade © BACU
5. Western City Gate, Belgrade © Matthijs Kok
6. Habitat 67, Montreal. Photography: Marc Cramer + Thomas-Miau
7. Park Hill estate. Photograph: Paul Dobraszczyk
8. ‘I Love You Will U Marry Me’, Park Hill estate. Image: Matthew Taylor / Alamy Stock Photo