We already anticipated in a previous article the current situation of the constructions of the s. XX in relation to the architectural heritage and with regard to the its salvage. We talked about the ignorance on the importance of these works that often end with a demolition sentence because apparently on most occasions it’s imposed temporality criteria rather than assessing their uniqueness or their ability to become icons of space it belong to. If it’s possible, this gap between building or architectural set and the fact that it’s recognized as historical heritage becomes even wider when it comes to a work whose aesthetics is controversial. This is what happens today with Brutalism.
The Brutalism movement
Before continuing with this problem, we want to clarify the basic characteristics of Brutalism. It is an architectural movement whose apogee took place between 1950 and 1970 and that was inspired by the Eero Saarinen and Le Corbusier works; In fact, the term comes from the French one béton brut and was used by the latter to name his favourite material, the raw concrete; although the term itself was coined by the English architectural critic Reyner Banham. The expression of the raw materials, especially the concrete, and the fact of appreciate the aesthetics of the constructive elements and structures, is the saint and sign of the style.
Although today it is a style often reviled, when it emerged in Britain had almost revolutionary dyes, since it was linked to young architects who sought to build a socialist utopia after the Second World War facing up bourgeois modernism and architecture approved by the British state. A utopia that aimed to improve the lives of people through architecture and urbanism.
It is precisely in Britain that one finds some of the most significant examples of the brutalism of the time. Conceived by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, the Barbican State is a housing complex built in a bombed-out place; although its brutalist aesthetics, it was listed as a protected building as it was considered not aggressive to the environment, since it respects the surrounding religious buildings and it’s considered to be linked to the site’s history.
Alison and Peter Smithson were in charge of designing Robin Hood Gardens incorporating the concept of “streets in the sky”, that is to say, wide corridors in the upper floors so all the people of the building could socialize; In addition, a garden area serves as a recreation space. The complex consists of two large, elongated concrete blocks divided into 213 floors that are about to be demolished.
The London-based National Theatre was designed by Denys Lasdum and is regarded as one of the iconic examples of brutalist architecture, as it relates to public buildings. It is located on the Thames and fulfils its author’s idea who conceived architecture as part of the urban landscape. It consists of two towers that intersect with the horizontal terraces built by horizontal layers.
In Japan, the work of Kenzo Tange, the architect who was the greatest author of Tokyo’s transformation after the Second World War, stands out without a doubt. In their buildings are mixed the traditional Japanese aesthetics and western functionalism; This is the case with the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, home of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, in which the volatile and simple air of an ancient temple is present thanks to the roofs supported by pillars.
Brutalism in Spain
At national level, Miguel Fisac was one of the greatest exponents of this trend. Its use of concrete and geometric shapes is unique. For example, in the Jorba Laboratories building, known as “La Pagoda” for having a similar structure, each plant is rotated 45º with respect to the previous one creating a spectacular geometric pattern. Incomprehensibly this Spanish Brutalism masterpiece was demolished in 1999.
Another example is the Cultural Heritage Institute of Madrid building known as the “Crown of thorns” and project of architects Fernando Higueras and Antonio Miró Valverde. An aggressive façade hides the friendly, bright and vegetated interior of this building that was abandoned for 16 years.
Although many people still do not appreciate the value of brutalist constructions, the truth is that since the 90’s we’re witnessing the emergence of several recovery movements. For example, the Twentieth Century Society has campaigned against the demolition of these buildings and foundations like Docomomo, both in its global and Spanish versions seek to study and document modern architecture so it can be recognized as part of the twentieth century culture and, consequently, proceed to its protection and salvage.
It’s curious that this protest movement has been spread through social networks, in many cases, via #SOSBrutalism hashtag. There are even certain accounts exclusively dedicated to sharing the love for these constructions. Fuck Yeah Brutalism or This Brutal House are some of the more relevant examples.
In view of these considerations, we ask ourselves, what do you think about this type of buildings? Should it be demolished or, on the contrary, considered as part of the universal cultural heritage?