Geisel Library - Image courtesy oobject.com
One of my favorite styles is characterized by concrete, monolithic pours, and a connection to surroundings. It was born out of a post-WW2 era in a European industry that had been largely destroyed. Steel in particular was hard to come by. Concrete was a readily available alternative. Le Corbusier began using it to underline his view that the structures be inhabit should be built on a human scale and conform to our needs. There should be a focus on what would assist us in leading a fulfilling life. He designed the Unité d'Habitation, or the Marseilles Block, in France to provide interaction with the sun, and be a leading example for a new style of building. There was a focus on providing a self-sufficient environment in which tenants could meet their daily needs with little input from the outside.
Marseilles Block – Image courtesy http://itsybitsythings.wordpress.com
Brutalism attracted me because of the monolithic nature employed to present solutions. The massive structures, expansive public spaces, and highly focused connections to nature are appealing. Unfortunately when many people think of Brutalism they narrow their vision to concrete blocks that lack style. The unique forms that can be made are capable of conforming to any geography to meet any need. One of the more prominent uses of this style in the United States is in dam construction. The more striking details though are how these buildings relate. Often there is an emphasis on framing the natural environment for those inside without obstructing access to that environment. The Bank of Georgia Headquarters in Tbilisi Georgia is a striking example that allows foliage to grow around and on the building. It provides a pleasant working environment while minimizing the footprint.
Bank of Georgia - Images courtesy worldarchitecturemap.org and Aries L. flickr
I was not keenly aware of the style until I spent a semester abroad in the Czech Republic, and later traveled to Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Ukraine, and Russia. It was embraced by the socialist movement as a way to embody the idealized version of a government run by the people. While that particular form for governance has proven unreliable, the structures it fostered were successful. The Bulgarian Natural History Museum (below left) is nestled near a mountain range surrounded by forest and gardens. The large boulevard approaching forces you to take in your surroundings. The Bulgarian Palace of Culture (below right) is the center sits at the end of an expansive public square that contains gardens, sculptures, and people enjoying their day.
Images by Ryan Kinports
One of the more unique abilities of this style is the ability to adapt to any use. The project does not necessarily need to be meant for daily human interaction. Dams are most commonly concrete, and while many are not designed they do lend well to Brutalist influence. In fact it may be the best use of the style as there is such purposeful connection to nature.
Bartlett Dam, Arizona – Image courtesy teachengineering.org
In contrast to nature often there are unique requirements that must be met without being disruptive to the surrounding built environment. One of these is the former AT&T Long Lines Building at 33 Thomas in NY. It is a building designed for vacuum computers, and now server infrastructure. It is also not meant to be inhabited by humans for any significant time – hence why there are no windows.
33 Thomas – Image courtesy Wikipedia Commons
Purposeful design elements and a connection to environment are what attract me to this style. As I have begun looking for it I have noticed many poor attempts to imitate that forget the core principles, or ignore them altogether. I feel like these attempts are why many people view Brutalism as negative.