|Front view Camden Flats, London. Separated from its original context and reduced in meaning, [Brutalism] became an all-too-easy pejorative, suggesting these buildings were designed with negative intentions. --BrutalistDC.com|
Brutalist architecture, such as the Camden (London) units seen in the photo above, began in the 1950s, post-war in the United Kingdom. Typically, this style is constructed with minimalism in mind, sticking mainly to brick and or concrete and exposed materials such as steel, glass, or wood for design.
|Rear view Camden Flats, London. The obvious lack of windows on the side facing busy railroad tracks, which adds to a stadium look, but achieves noise reduction. Function over form.|
While some have picked up the opinion that this style is "cold," others, such as architectural critic Reyner Banham leaned into the infrastructure's history. Whether or not it remains popular today, there's no denying that these homes stand out from the rest in Camden.
Brutalism is an architectural style featuring bold, structurally innovative forms that use raw concrete as their primary material. At once recognizable for their massing and materiality, Brutalist buildings often reveal the means of their construction through unfinished surfaces that bear the imprints of the molds that shaped them.
The name for the style is most commonly attributed to Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier (born Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris), who specified béton brut (concrete that is raw or unfinished) in his Unité d’Habitation apartment buildings, the first of which was completed in Marseille in 1952.
Architecture critic Reyner Banham spread the term more broadly through his writings on the work of British architects Alison and Peter Smithson, whose work focused on raw materiality and an industrial aesthetic.
The brusque Anglicization of the term brut into Brutalism as a name for the style has led to an ease of mis-association with the adjective “brutal.”
Despite sharing Latinate roots, the negative connotations that come along with the word brutal (defined as cruel, harsh, and unpleasant; worse still, as savage and barbaric) tend to reinforce aesthetic dislike of the style, although the architects who employed it had no intentions of frightening people with Brutalism.
Scholars Mark Pasnik, Michael Kubo, and Chris Grimley also argue that Brutalist is an inaccurate descriptor in Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston (The Monacelli Press, New York, 2015), writing:
Brutalism’s Comeback. Geisel Library by William Pereira, 1970, the campus of University of California, San Diego. CLICK HERE.