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Brutalism. Term so loosely used it could mean anything intended by those employing it. It seems mainly to have meant a C20 architectural style where exposed rough concrete finishes and chunky, blocky forms coexisted, especially in works influenced by Le Corbusier from 1945 (in which béton brut was treated particularly uncompromisingly, with the formwork patterns not only visible, but deliberately emphasized, as in Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation de Grandeur Conforme, Marseilles (1948–54) ). Brutalism was widely fashionable from the 1950s, when the term appears to have been first used in England. Architects influenced by Brutalism included Kahn, Mayekawa, Rudolph, the Smithsons, Stirling & Gowan, and Tange, but there were many others as well.

What became known as New Brutalism, however, was particularly associated with British supposed disciples of Le Corbusier, perhaps not unconnected with P. Smithson's nickname, ‘Brutus’, whilst also providing an alternative to the ‘New Humanist’ and ‘New Empiricist’ architecture more influenced by developments in Scandinavia. The Smithson's Smithdon High (formerly Secondary Modern) School, Hunstanton, Norfolk (1949–53), was described (somewhat curiously) as ‘Brutalist’, even though it clearly owed more to Mies van der Rohe than to Le Corbusier, and its construction was exposed steelwork with panels of glass and yellow brick: Pevsner described the building as ‘ruthlessly perfect and ruthlessly symmetrical’, so the use of that term for a building not made of concrete would appear in this case to refer to supposed rigour, the exposure of structure and services, and work by or influenced by the Smithsons (who portentously described New Brutalism as an ‘ethic, not an aesthetic’, which conjures up associations with the ‘moral’ arguments put forward by Pugin and Ruskin). Critics pointed out that this ‘ethical’ approach overlooked potential maintenance problems as the exposed steel frame was subject to warping and the classrooms suffered from solar heat gain. The term New Brutalism probably came into use as a result of the ideas of the Smithsons: Peter Smithson claimed of one of his unexecuted designs (a house featuring brick, wood, and exposed concrete), that it would have been the first example of New Brutalism in England (as it was the intention to have the structure exposed entirely, without internal finishes), if it had been built. By what appears to have been a process of association, or even of osmosis, therefore, the school became associated with New Brutalism because of what its creators might have done, had their work been realized. Thus, if New Brutalism seems vague and a curiously catch-all term, loosely applied, it could nevertheless be a label attached to buildings in which raw, exposed concrete was used (e.g. the Yale University Art Gallery (1951–3), by Kahn, and the Ham Common flats (1955–8), by Stirling & Gowan— who loathed the term as it (unsurprisingly) put clients off), especially those where oversized rough concrete elements, crudely colliding with each other, were visible, while aspects of mechanical engineering, such as service-ducts, ventilation-towers, and the like, became overtly displayed. Examples would include the Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall, and surrounding walkways, parapets, and stairs at London's South Bank (1968–9). Critics such as Banham held that, 'the ultimate disgrace of Brutalism …[was] …to be seen in the innumerable blocks of flats built throughout the world that use the prestige of Le Corbusier's béton brut as an excuse for low-cost surface treatments'. The intellectual confusion surrounding New Brutalism damaged its reputation: rigour and ethics played small part in its suspect claims and shaky pedigree.


Anno Domini, xxiii (Dec. 1953) 342;
Architects' Journal, cxliv/26 (28 Dec. 1966) 1590–1;
Architectural Review, cxviii/708 (Dec. 1955), 355–61;
R. Banham (1966);
OED Supplement, i (1987), 371;
Smithson (ed.) (1968);
Jane Turner (1996);
M. Webb (1969)

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brutalism Architectural movement of the 1950s and early 1960s. It took its inspiration from Le Corbusier's pilgrimage chapel at Ronchamp and his High Court building at Chandigarh, India. Corbusier designed both buildings as a reaction to the sterility of the International style. A number of young architects, such as James Stirling, tried to extend Le Corbusier's experiments into aggressive and chunky designs of their own. It should not be confused with the 1950s movement of new brutalism, in which Alison and Peter Smithson adopted the uncompromising simplicity of Mies van der Rohe.

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bru·tal·ism / ˈbroōtlˌizəm/ • n. a style of architecture or art characterized by a deliberate plainness, crudity, or violence of imagery. The term was first applied to functionalist buildings of the 1950s and 1960s that made much use of steel and concrete in starkly massive blocks. DERIVATIVES: bru·tal·ist n. & adj.