Why Brutalism?

Brutalism is a term widely used in an informal and imprecise way to qualify certain architecture works of the mid- 20th century whose cliché is the use of rough exposed concrete structures. Brutalism and brutalist works are mostly ignored or disregarded by the canonical historiography of the second half of the 20th century. The use of the term Brutalism and the works it qualifies are frequently filled with prejudice and misunderstandings, and is avoided by many researchers interested in the subject.

Although Brutalism is a complicated and obscure term, frequently used until recently in a negative way, what we propose here is to rehabilitate its use, rather than other more elaborate or precise definitions. If for no other reason than that, the term operates as an easy and clear visual index. Besides its many shortcomings, the term Brutalism is quite able to qualify, or to tag, a very consistent architectural trend of the 1950-70 period. From a contemporary point of view, Brutalism may be seen as an architectural trend from a past historical moment which deserves to be better studied since it includes a considerable number of important and high quality buildings all over the planet whose importance as a modern heritage is still under construction. Besides, Brutalism was a trend that was by no means restricted, or belonged exclusively to any country or continent. Most importantly, we suggest that the fully understanding of this fact – its pervasiveness and hidden connections - will utterly change the appreciation of the trend, its works, and by consequence, will put forward a necessary reexamination of Modern Architecture historiography.

Based on a wide international range of Brutalist architecture manifestations and a careful analysis of the architectural panorama between 1945 and 1975, it is possible to say that Brutalism, as an architectural trend, makes its appearance in different parts of the world at roughly the same time, through works designed and constructed from 1949 onwards. Information collected about the works themselves and their correct dates of design clearly show that the neither Brutalist aesthetic emerges in any single country beforehand, nor it was an isolated phenomenon. Instead, Brutalist works (or more precisely, architectural works that can be seen as manifestations of a worldwide Brutalist architectural trend) appeared around the same time in several different parts of the world.

Considered from that point of view, the term Brutalism may be used to encompass several different but similar works of architecture, until now unconnected, and to understand them as a proper and consistent phenomenon. Brutalism as a historical event has been until now under-considered, forgotten or disregarded, due to the negative influx of previous biased narratives that hastily labeled Brutalist works under a prejudiced and incomplete point of view. That may be changed by a careful study of the works of architecture themselves, which may supersede incomplete and biased old narratives.

This research also aims to gather and process information able to confirm that Brutalism – as a term, a tag and a trend – cannot be narrowly defined as having had one single or main national origin, except for the study, consideration and transformation of the post-war contribution of Le Corbusier, accomplished by several architects all over the world. That initial momentum was mixed, in each case, with diverse local, historical, geographical, social, technological and political realities, resulting in varied detailing, conception and emphasis of Brutalist architectural works. But the term may still be used to qualify the relatively varied assortment of Brutalist works, since they maintain a high degree of similar constructive characteristics and share, in some cases, approximate attached discourses.