Now that the lightshow is complete, welcome all of you to a discussion about Brutalist architecture. Given that you’ve all decided to do this on a Friday evening, I thought the least I could do is provide some films. So, what I’m going to do first before I proceed to my argument is show you three clips about Brutalism. All of them, and the talk in general is going to be entirely about the UK, the reasons will increasingly become clear, and I’m first going to show a very short clip from a 1974 film called “Living at Thamesmead”. This is a sort of a propaganda film on behalf of the Greater London Council trying to convince people to move to that new brutalist housing estate on the edges of London, named by a public poll as Thamesmead. Hopefully there is sound:
That short film which goes on for about another 40 minutes, encapsulates the sort of vision of brutalism that I think animated the people who actually designed and commissioned brutalist buildings. This is how they imagined it would be: there’ll be children playing, people hanging out - there will be sort of a wonderful jolly place, and this vision had already, at the time that film was made in 1974, been sublimed to now very, very familiar vision of Brutalism and for the one or two of you that I haven’t seen, this is what I’m referring to:
So, this is the sort of a very, very familiar part in sort of the way that the story of Brutalism generally gets told. They were idealistic about possibly totalitarian andevil architects who imagined that their buildings would kind of create this utopia and then all went bad, and it was full of violent kids and so now we have to do something about it. For an example of what’s been done about it, this is the third and last of my short clips, which I won’t show all of. I think about 2 minutes will give you an idea.
The first two were from Thamesmead, the Greater Council was very, very large, the brutalist housing estate on southeast edge of London. This is of Park Hill, which is Sheffield city Council, it’s somewhat smaller but equally monumental housing estate in the center of the city. This is a short promotional piece by Park Hill’s current owners.
Park Hill everyone thinks about as residential, but actually there’s a lot of commercial space and that started with Human and Über that are taking space here creating some really interesting spaces and then we’ve got a number of other creative companies, and some really good Sheffield companies and studios as well, and so we are looking to welcome these companies here. That is gonna give a real buzz to this place and a really exiting dimension. It’s gonna be probably about two hundred people working here when all of the commercial space is fully occupied. There’s some great potential for restaurant and leisure spaces. Park Hill has always had four pubs. We want to get one of the best pubs and restaurants back at Park Hill.
The space we have is a duplex space. I mean all the apartments here in the Park Hill, even the one-bedroom ones, they are all on two levels, so our studio spaces are like that as well. Downstairs we have a formation where we can all look at each other and we also have a great view at the city, and you know, a nice friendly space. Then upstairs we have a more cozy, meeting space and working space.
When we were looking to move, we didn’t want a typical office...
What we are talking is very much about what happens to Brutalism after people start liking it. I’m asked to talk about Brutalism in the series of talks in Belgrade, a city which, of course, has the enormous amount of Brutalism, and I thought it would be useful to discuss the particular fate that it had in Britain, as a sort of potentially interesting case study of how you should be careful what you wish for. So, the problem about what to do about people liking Brutalism is quite a novel one, I think. The conventional wisdom is that people hate this architecture, that this is the most hated architecture that has ever happened. The English language in particular has an entire repertoire of terms specifically devised for brutalist architecture: concrete monstrosity, carbuncle...you know there’s a lot of this sort of stuff. So the UK as a case study works, because it’s both a country which can probably be credited for coining the term . It derives from the Architectural Association at London County Council in 1950s and the various terms they devised because they all hated each other. Also, because of the fact that this is a country which has always been quite resistant to architectural modernism. It came very, very late to the UK, most of the major building are much later than they would be in France or Germany, or Sweden, or even Soviet Union. Modern architecture came to Britain almost as an export, when people started fleeing central Europe in the 1930s. So Brutalism kind of emerges out of these kind of quite contradictory positions. For decades, it’s considered the worst architecture that’s ever happened. The degrees to which this architecture was demonized in the 1970s, 80s and 90s cannot be understated, the amount of things for which this stuff was blamed, in particular. I think the only architectural style that has ever been considered to have caused crime. Nonetheless, in 2016, in London in particular, but also in Manchester and Sheffield, there is the very, very strange phenomenon of Brutalism being popular and Brutalism being popularized, and Brutalism giving way to its sort of a cult, its own particular kinds of kitsch and trinkets, as something, which at one point has been quite inconceivable I think, and I think another place is, where this architecture is still under threat or considered unpopular or dilapidated, it can be quite tempting to think: well over there, it’s becoming really popular.
So what we have here is two fairly typical consumer items inspired by Brutalism. If you go to the shop at the enormous Barbican multi-level brutalist complex in central London, you will find enormous quantity of sort of brutalist plates, marks, posters, models, videos, books, postcards, cut-outs, t-shirts, bags, and so forth. Here you have just two of them. This is one of the series of mugs and plates produced by the company People Will Always Need Plates. You have since around 2009, this quite extensive series of mostly London-based modernist and briutalist buildings on to consumer items. So this is Trellick tower, this is high-rise council block in west London. Here below is a serious of models by the Polish designers Zupagrafica of brutalist London landmarks. So council blocks, you have Space House by Richard Seifert, Balfron tower by Erno Goldfinger, Robin Hood Gardens by Alison and Peter Smithson, and the Barbican, and you can have your own little brutalist building. And there are other ways in which you can have you own little brutalist building, which I will come to. Before doing that, I think it’s worth talking about exactly where Brutalism comes from, where it derives as a term. So, Brutalism is basically coined, depending on who you are listening to, either to describe a particular architectural style of quite blunt, quite aggressive modern architecture that one or two architects were doing in Sweden in 1959s, but this is I don’t think a very good explanation, or used as a nickname for the brutalist architect Peter Smithson, and from then on his nickname Brutus became description of his style, and another explanation comes from the French béton brut or raw concrete. Probably some combination of these three is why Brutalism becomes Brutalism. But really an essay in 1957 by Reyner Banham called the new Brutalism ethic or aesthetic. This particular estate here, I think, is probably the point where you can detect the emergence of Brutalism, not as an architecture style. As an architecture style it derives from Le Corbusier, so it derives form the Unité d'habitation, La Tourette and the Maisons Jaoul. That’s where it stylistically comes from. But if, according to Reyner Banham, it’s ethic and aesthetic, it derives from this place. So this is the Alton Estate in southwest London, an extremely large council estate, which was planned on basically someone’s country house. There should be stressed the radicalism of this. So, this is a huge kind of a garden for stately homes, two upper house homes. And so this land had been purchased by the London County Council, which was controlled by the Labour Party, and they proceeded to build council houses on that. Politically it could be considered extreme, or communist even to take over the private gardens of the extremely rich and build housing for working class people on it. Quite unusual even at that time. So, that’s what it is typologically and it received lots of the praise for the fact that the trees of these large private gardens were used in the housing estate. It was described by the American critic G.E Kidder-Smith as the best low-cost housing estate in the world, which it may have been at that time, but stylistically it was divided very much into two halves. So the one above is quite typical for English modern architecture in the first ten years of 1945, the style that was called at the time the new empiricism, and it was derived from Sweden, specifically. In the case of Alton East, this consisted of 12 story, brick, point blocks, as they were called, set quite informally, in this green tree-filled landscape. In Alton West you have a turn towards monumentality, formalism, the display of materials. Whereas both of these building are concrete framed, only on Alton West there’s the concrete on the facade, so there’s this kind of almost John Ruskin obsession showing you what building is made of. There is also the idea of Brutalism of “as found”, the sort of found objects, emphasized.So the chimney at the corner of the boiler house that runs power for the building is emphasized at the design, rather than tidied under the surface. So the ducting, the pipes, chimneys. Rather than covering up, they are kind of emphasized in the brutalist designs. Brutalist building would represent a memorable image, it would have the kind of obsession with treating materials “as found” and kind of aesthetic aggression, as Banham described as 'a brick-bat thrown in the public's face'. But there’s sort of clarity of the design, it’s also something very noticeable about it. And that’s where the idea of an ethic comes in. On one hand, there is sort of an architectural ethic, which is about finding truth of the materials, and so on, lack of pretention in design of the building, but also an ethic in terms of the belief that the people can take this, that people living in these building would understand those aesthetic choices and also in assumption that this would be for ordinary people. It would affront the pubic and yet the public would have to live in it, and the there is a contradiction that has never been fully resolved. So brutalism and modernism of any kind really fall into massive pubic disfavor in Britain in the 1970s and there are two major moments when that happens, where it goes from being architecture of social progress and equality to futurism, to architecture of totalitarianism, ugliness etc. Two places where this sudden shift occurs are Ronan Point and Covent Garden. One of these building is actually brutalist and other is a building that never actually got built, so brutalist architects would defend their rights not to be blamed for these two things, but blamed for them they most certainly were. This is Ronan Point, a 22 story prefabricated tower in east London, which collapsed after gas explosion in May 1968, killing several people. Gas explosion in one of the higher flats led to the panels just coming straight down. Of course, the other thing that Brutalism is not, other than it’s not Swedish design, is that it’s not prefabrication. It’s very much about concrete, poured concrete, concrete surfaces, joy of concrete, while panel constructions were quite different thing. Precast things are quite different tradition I think, much closer to the sort of mainstream international style, but given that modern architecture was quite brutal, and facts of many badly built buildings starting to leak and in one case collapsing, the one case only, the term brutalism became increasingly unfortunate. The other example is a little bit later in early 1970s, which is the Greater London Council’s proposal for Covent Garden. Any of you that know London, would know Covent Garden as an area you don’t really go to unless you are an American tourist, but the reason why it became that is quite complicated. Covent Garden was an area having, on one hand a fruit and vegetable market and work class housing, and also having an Opera House, so there is kind of a conflict I guess of the upper class and working class. Initially, the idea was that the market would be moved to a different site, in south London, which it was, and all of the buildings apart from those that were recognized for having historic value would be demolished and multi-level brutalist complex would be built on top of it.
Next to this we have the former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and a well-placed policeman, touring the Aylesbury Estate, another large, Greater London Council housing estate, in between the Elephant and Castle and Peckham in south-east London, which are still there, partly cleared. When elected in 1997, the first place that Blair went to as the Prime Minister was the Aylesbury Estate and gave his speech about what he described as "social exclusion". It wasn't called "poverty" anymore. Poverty was a thing that happened to people. Social exclusion was kind of their fault, a little bit. He gave this speech in which he said that there will be no forgotten places. So, places like the Aylesbury Estate for Blair were places that have sort of fallen off the map. Actually, the Aylesbury Estate is right in the center of London. It's very, very well placed. The bus will take you to the Houses of Parliament in 10 minutes. It's about 45 minutes walk from the center of London. There are several stations nearby, it's very, very well connected, and yet somehow it's fallen off the map. People there are socially excluded, as a ghetto. I mean, it's odd to consider it a ghetto because it's one of the most multi-cultural places on earth, but this was the idea. So, again something had to be done. Rather then just letting these places rot, which has been very much the idea of the government of the 1980s, where they would just be left to decline and die, some action should be taken. An important background in this, that really, really can't be avoided, is the effect of a policy brought in 1980 called "the right to buy". So essentially, most of this housing was constructed by elected local authorities and then rented out at quite low rent to people on a waiting list. From the 80s onwards you could as resident buy your flat and you could buy at lower rate, so you would be buying for much less than its market value. The money from that was then kept by central government, it was not given to the local governments who would actually build the stuff, and it was a quite deliberate policy to kind of spread market values into an area which was previously socialized and initially to kind of buy off a section of the working and middle class who left the council housing, that they could become property owners. It was assumed they'd vote Conservative. Given that something very, very similar happened to housing in 1991 in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, this is an issue, which I imagine you face. So, what this essentially did was made the least popular housing increasingly full of people that were just poor. So council housing before 1980 actually housed quite a lot of different kinds of people, but from then on the stuff that was most popular and appealed to people that were aspirational, increasingly was in the private sector, leaving in the public sector mainly those estates which were least popular. And in the 1980s, 1990s that meant Brutalism, and that meant high-rises, walkways, maisonettes, all of the things that kind of went along with Brutalism. The temporality of this is a bit lapsed, suddenly from 1997 to now.
This is one of several short case studies I’ll go through, of different fates of sort of famous brutalist buildings. So, this is, I assume some of you would know, Robyn Hood Gardens designed by Alison and Peter Smithson, who were arguably partly responsible for coining the term Brutalism. Not that great as actual architects, but great as theorists, most of their ideas were much better used by the other architects, such as the architects of Park Hill in Sheffield, which I will come to again in a moment. So, this one was a really straightforward case. This was really, really simple. Robin Hood Gardens was two blocks, quite textured complex concrete around an open space surrounded with very, very loud main roads. Because of that, there’s kind of green central space and quite hostile to the area around it, because the area around it was hostile. About 7 years ago, the owners of the building, Tower Hamlets Council, so one of the poorest councils in Britain, one of the poorest local authorities in western Europe, decided to sell the site of Robin Hood Gardens to developers and the developers would then provide a percentage of social housing, which it was assumed the residents would be able to move to, actually in practice this was usually, the stuff was usually, too expensive, and the density would be massively increased. There’d be much more flats on the side, Tower Hamlets would make some money and they would still manage to rehouse the people that lived there. When this was announced, a petition was begun by the architectural weekly building design, that was immediately signed by almost every famous architect in the world-Richard Rogers, Zaha Hadid, Peter Eisenman, Daniel Libeskind...you name them, they signed this petition demanding that Robin Hood Gardens be saved from the bulldozer. And this was, perhaps, not the best way of saving Robin Hood Gardens, because immediately Tower Hamlets Council phrased the question as being middle class architects, who loved this architecture but would never dare lived in it, demanding that people live in this awful, dilapidated, miserable, damp-filled building and trying to stop them from moving into their wonderful, new homes. Actually very little of them were going to move into these new homes, anyway and they weren’t that wonderful, but the way it was all phrased was the question of architecture, often the question of social policy. The council managed to quite convincingly argue that they represented the people’s wishes, against the wishes of a bunch of middle class aesthetes. Now, when this is actually juxtaposed to what’s going to be built there, I think the argument is a little less simple. It was always going to take place in the abstract. This quite worn building, that hadn't been renovated in about 35 years was quite difficult to kind of see what the architects liked in it, unless you were already interested in Brutalism, but what was not usually shown was the incredibly banal ultra-high density kind of generic architecture that would be built on the side. This was never usually juxtaposed.
Another example, Thamesmead, which we’ve already looked at in the form of the propaganda film, another example of ...you know the sort of stuff, allegedly in favor of something for ordinary people, but which again was much, much higher in density from what was proposed, of much less architectural interest, the flats were usually smaller and it was much, much less likely that anyone that lived in one of the original buildings at Thamesmead, was going to get to live in the new ones. Again a very, very kind of populist campaign legitimized this. When they first started demolishing bits of Thamesmead, the local press, the South London Press had a banner headline saying “No more Clockwork Orange”, which I think is very interesting. The portrayal of this area as a sort of science fiction dystopia, sort of stuck to it so much that this is how it was seen being demolished, this was Clockwork Orange, so it was a good thing that it was being demolished. Whether this extended to other parts of London, I don’t really know, whether areas where people get killed, in 19th century novels would be demolished because of this, I don’t really know, if imagine some sort of a 19th century gothic house being demolished because it features in Dracula or something... This was not likely to happen. But in the case of Brutalism, a kind of fiction, a fictional portrayal of these buildings and the actual buildings sort of merged together in the eyes of the media. Another thing that’s probably work trying giving attention to is that the housing association that kind of developed Thamesmead, the head of it specifically said “ When you drive through Thamesmead you see nothing of architectural quality”, which is interesting given that Thamesmead features I think every single history of 20th century British architecture but anyway..So, those are two kind of causalities and others you can talk about as well, but there’s really high profile two causalities, sort of iconic and famous brutalist buildings facing the bulldozer.
The others I’m going to talk about are buildings that were actually faced with sort of renovation and have been restored into something like their original form. So, the one at the top is Keeling house, which was designed by Denys Lasdun, in the late 1950s. It’s interesting because its form was dictated very much by social function. It was a building which attempted to use the aesthetic to express the ethic. Lasdun did sociology on the site, and he believed if you build a kind of standard tower enclosed, that you wouldn’t get a proper community in the block and the sort of close family community life you get in the east end of London would be disrupted, so allegedly the cluster of the design would allow people to have community spaces. So each of these sort of little cubes is instead of house within a grid and within the central part of it with the lift. That’s quite large spaces where people would be encouraged to do the washing, to talk to other residents, and so forth. The idea would be that these would kind of put into the tower blocks something of this kind of life of the street. By the time it was closed, the building was inhabited mainly by elderly residents, who did find the area had a community spirit. They lived there for a long time and they knew the neighbors, and so forth. The building was listed in late 1990's. So because of the listing process you cannot really legally demolish the buildings. This is the standard of historic protection law. Apart from exceptional circumstances, you can't demolish a listed building. But, what you then have to do is any changes that are made on the building, any upgrades, have to be in accordance with the listed buildings guidelines. So, you can't put cladding on it, you can't do the straightforward things on a lot of places, when you renovate a modern building, a kind of brightly colored insulation panels, or stereo phone, you can't do that on the listed building. So, the council that's owned it, again Tower Hamlets claimed that they couldn't afford the renovation. They themselves would not be able to do this on their own budget, which was probably true. So, they sold the building to the property developers who then renovated it, built two very small penthouses on the top, which you can just about see on the top, and gated it. That's really, really crucial. I think, gated it. So, gone for being a place with kind of space to express the eastern community being the place which is literally walled off from the eastern community. But in the process it became very, very appealing to what was then known, so this is 2000/2001, as the creative class. It was specifically marketed how people there want the media, the arts, design, music. Persistent rumor says that Damon Albarn lives at the top. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know. So that in many ways is the sort of thing that those that were signing the petition to save Robin Hood Gardens believe should happen to the Robyn Hood Gardens. The philosopher Alain de Botton, specifically mentioned it the petition, you know: Keeling House and the Brunswick Centre show what could be done with brutalist buildings. These were the things that could happen. Not very likely to appeal to residents, because what happened to Keeling House is that the people who lived there were moved out and then new people moved in. Not that appealing. What happened in the Brunswick Centre is more complicated. So the Brunswick Centre is another brutalist building in London, which appears in cinema. It features briefly in Antonioni's film ”The Passenger”. Jack Nicholson actually sits on one of these benches, waiting for Maria Schneider. It’s roughly one half a council housing scheme and one half a shopping center. So, the housing based partly on the futurist products of Antonio Sant'Elia was owned by a council, by sort of local authority and the shopping was owned by the shopping developer. Around 2006, this was bought by a large shopping developer, who intended to have a high-end shopping center, with boutiques and kind of slightly posher than usual chain restaurants and that sort of thing. Of the obvious effects is that those flats that were still owned by the local authority could potentially be enormously expensive. So, if you are living in a council flat, one of these, or one publicly owned flats, you’ll be paying fairly low rent, probably not more than EUR 400/month. But, the private flats were sold for very large amounts of money, indeed. A flat in the Brunswick Centre was sold for nearly a million pounds. So, kind of a social classification happens within those buildings now and the design quality of them becomes one of the reasons they are so expensive. You know, you are not just moving to any old council estate, you are moving to some iconic place, an architectural icon, that’s listed and that’s important, and so forth.
The place where this happens most spectacularly is Park Hill in Sheffield, which is kind of an incarnation of the story. The story of Park Hill is enormously complicated and I can go about it for ages, so I'll try to not to. Similar thing to Keeling House of it being a housing estate that was supposed to sort of design into the fabric of the building that kind of community life allegedly existed on the kind of original terraced streets. And this is very much a component of ethic part of Brutalism. There was very much against this kind of garden city idea, of kind of large open green spaces, and quiet order and instead a space for noisy street life. This is very much part of what Brutalism was about. Park Hill was enormously famous and imitated in its time, also got listed in late 1990s, and rather than being bought by developer was actually given to a developer, because it was considered impossible anymore to actually buy it, who has been undergoing and undertaking a kind of progressive, block by block refurbishment of it, in which the new private flats are marketed specifically to creatives. The form kind of had to change in the process. The original building was a bit too gray, a bit too rough, so some sort of brightly colored panels were put into it, there were some sort of shiny additions, not all of this was actually built, but this is for the vision of the Park Hill. It’s worth stressing something really interesting that happened it Park Hill when they renovated it. For the first time there was concrete inside the flats. In the kind of refurbished and new parts of Park Hill, there’s concrete in the interior, and I think that’s quite crucial. The concrete of the buildings had become kind of the fetish object, it’s part of the deal and part of what you’re buying. You’re buying this kind of particular concrete chic.
These two show two quite contrasting ways of going about renovating a brutalist high-rise. So these two are occasionally claimed to be the inspiration for the Genex tower in Belgrade, don’t think it’s actually true, not much evidence for it, but you could see what they mean. There’s a quite similar approach to form and expression of services in particular, the kind of brutalist thing- expression of services.
These two were built consecutively in very, very different parts of London. This one, Balfron Tower, was built in the east end and then slightly later Trellick Tower ,which is quite similar in form, not identical, sometimes wrongly considered to be identical, was built in west London, in an area which at the time it was built, was quite poor, but near to several very wealthy areas and by the 1990s was a rich area. Particularly there's a Richard Curtis film starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, about the area Notting Hill, in which there were astonishingly no black people. So, the process by which Trellick Tower was renovated and became a success, was actually, anyway, quite worthwhile, quite interesting I think. In the 1970s, Trellick tower was very match demonized, it was referred to by the tabloid press as the tower of Terror, and basically what happened to it in the 1980s is that they had a very powerful tenants association, and that tenants association managed to convince the council that owned it, Kensington and Chelsea, to pay for a concierge, so there is a concierge all hours on the ground floor, and they also introduced the policy that people would be re-housed on the Trellick Tower only if they wanted a flat on Trellick Tower. So, if you came up on the council waiting list and you didn't want to live in Trellick Tower, you wouldn't be rehoused on Trellick Tower. You would be there if you actually and particularly wanted to live in that building. Which it turned out, to their surprise, some people did. You had fantastic views, the flats were huge, the materials were very good, it was very well connected. Actually there were all sorts of reasons why people wanted to live in Trellick Tower, and already in the '80s and '90s people were quite surprised by this. Actually it worked and it's probably the first brutalist building, which became kind of popular, both to the general public and the estate agents. This is a tranformation that came very much from the residents, themselves. Now, I think it's 70% council housing, so 70% publicly owned, people paying really low rents. Other 30% , again flats, go for a million. So it's partly private, kind of slow privatization.
What happened to Balfron Tower, and what’s happening to it now is a much faster privatization, much more dramatic privatization, and I think it shows in many ways, in sort of effects, the possible effects of popularity of brutalism. Although again some others are simply questions of money, Kensington and Chelsea council have lots of it, Tower Hamlets council who owned Balfron Tower do not. So they gave a building to a housing association, who initially claimed that they would renovate the building, there was part of the promises to residents, who would have to vote for it to be transferred. Then when they assessed it, they found out how much it would cost to restore the building, they decided they would sell the flats, to pay for renovation of other buildings in the area, so other housing estates. There would be some kind of cross-financing, people would buy the flats for million pounds and so on, but then always the entire housing area could be upgraded.
But what's really funny about what happened to Balfron Tower is that they had a little interim stage in this, so for the last three years they've been moving out actual residents of the tower, the actual council tenants, and moving in artists. An artist could get cheep studios there, in many ways it was an offer that you couldn't refuse, basically told by housing association: '' Do you want a studio that has some of the best views in London in one of the best buildings in London, and do you want to pay very, very little money for it?". I don't anybody for saying yes, but this kind of way accelerated the process of gentrification, and I think that's quite interesting in being that kind of top-down. Usually an area gradually, it's assumed, becomes popular with artists, people in media, designers. Gradually that happens, and gradually the rents rise, and gradually the real rich to the actually rich start being attracted to the area, and you know what happens. But here, this was all condensed to like about three year period and directed. It worked out when this happened and they wanted to force it to happen in orders to make sure that the new flats would sell for sufficiently large amount because people would be attracted with that kind of cultural cachet created by this transformation into an artist space.
Most of what I've been talking about is housing which I think is not entirely fair, as there are many other examples in Brutalism, not only about housing, although I think housing was more important in Brutalism than the other typology was. So, just quickly, here are two buildings in Britain, both of which were initially refused listing. The one on the top, which is very famous, is the Southbank Centre, a part of the kind of a cultural complex which was built up quite gradually, with Royal festival Hall and National Theatre, parts of it. This is Brutalism at its most Brutalist, I guess. It’s a very, very aggressive form, completely anti-symmetrical, the materials being very, very deliberately rough, this is not that kind of crafted concrete you get on the Erno Goldfinger building, Trellick Tower. This is a really, really rough, deliberately quite cheap concrete. And again it was hated for years and years, until it actually became popular, and currently the main idea of what to do with it is to turn it into a place where fun happens. In many ways that’s probably quite close to the original idea. Some of the architects who designed it were also in Archigram, famous for their walking cities, and other kinds of such hippie ideas, and here you could see two of relational aesthetics. So that was the kind of response there, make it quite jolly and still keep some of the original fabric. Below that is a briutalist building of a much higher quality, in terms of materials and architecture, in the northern industrial town of Preston. So, this immense bus station was a sort of combined bus station and car park, and various sorts of things, with cafes and so forth, hairdresser inside...It was later to be demolished about five years ago and replaced with a shopping mall. The effects of the 2008 economic crisis meant that the shopping mall no longer got built, and mysteriously, after having been refused several times, suddenly, the government agreed to list it, which might have something to do with commercial interests, when they were no longer interested. In many ways this one is quite a success and actually it was saved form the bulldozer. There’s still that kind of enormous question of what then happens to it. I was there about few months ago and its state was a quite advanced dilapidation, it’s not as bad as Belgrade’s bus station, but around the same kind of level of dilapidation. There’s been an architectural competition recently to kind of work out what to do with it, how to renovate it, and so on, and at the moment it’s still kind of in between. It’s been saved, but it can’t actually be cleaned.
So those are the case studies I wanted to go through about Brutalism, but I want to add some examples of recent marketing of brutalism and recent way of popularity of brutalism and what that means. So, there are two typical images from the tumblr, Fuck Yeah Brutalism. If you are not familiar with it, it’s address is very straightforward. So, they have a very, very simple formula, which is, you have a black and white photo of brutalist building, from the original time. It’s always from the original time. There are hundreds and hundreds of images now on Fuck Yeah Brutalism and there’s even a book. There’s a special issue of CLOG about brutalism which was basically Fuck Yeah Brutalism as a book. So, there’s always an image from the original time, and kind of a glorious monochrome. It has no signs of what’s happened to the building in the interim, they don’t weather, age, and most of all they don’t have people. That’s a really crucial thing. IF you see a person on Fuck Yeah Brutalism, I will personally buy you a drink. It’s completely sort of depopulated and science fiction landscape. I think it’s in many ways quite strange, and sort of try to stress quite a lot of ideas brutalism was about. First of all that they would be architecturally quite rough and very much about taking buildings as you find them. They’re supposed to whether and have some dirt and be socialized, have the street light and noise and so forth. But in these, it’s always just a pure image of architectural elegance and concrete fetishism. The concrete’s always in monochrome. So, what’s this for? So, what’s this about? It become purely about formalism, particular historical form completely without any social context. In the British examples certainly, there’s still on-going social issue.
These are two pages from a book called “This brutal world”, published recently by Phaidon. Shops will have it. It will be one of the hits of the 2010s I think, in architecture publishing. There’s another thing based on the tumblr. It’s very interesting how many of these things are based on tumblr, because tumblr is so much about constant rush of images. Context is really, really the enemy of tumblr. They just recently turned material to a book, and what it consists of is buildings which sometimes are brutalist, not always, juxtaposed with quotes. So here, you have a concrete factory from the 20s, with the quote from Nick Cave:
“Out of sorrow entire worlds have been built,
Out of longing great wonders have been willed”
Next to it you have various concrete buildings including bizarre hydroelectric structure in Scotland, and Ayn Rand, not someone you imagine a fan of public housing, social projects, labor governments, given her entire philosophy was about the denial of the existence of the social, purely as form of repressing great geniuses like herself. The fact that she is being used as a quote on brutalism is quite weird. Anyway, there she is. The question isn’t “Who is going to let me?”. but “Who’s gonna stop me?. There’s sort of a decline in which debate on brutalism is often taking place. It’s very much about deliberate de-contextualization, not an accidental de-contextualization. That’s really the point. To be fair to Peter Chadwick, I think he is quite explicit about this in his book. He’s like “I’m redefining the world ‘brutal’, to mean any architecture that’s really big and aggressive”. Ok, fine. So the consequences of what happens when you strip out all of that social context are that you don’t have to feel uncomfortable about what’s happening to these buildings now. You don’t have to feel uncomfortable about the fact that they are at heart of literal social cleansing, that thousands of people are being moved out, either by hook or by crook, or for brutalist buildings to make way for richer incomers.
Here is a flat, currently offered for sale in Brunswick Centre for about a million and here’s a recent advertising slogan for Par Hill, which is much more what it currently looks like than the other one.One of the architects says on this transformation: “We wanted to capture more permanently that moment of vision, optimism and personality that seemed to have been lost.”. I think that’s great. That explains exactly what this is about. The way of capturing the moment of vision, optimism and personality of brutalist architecture is tor remove the people that live there, the people that don’t have enough personality, that don’t have optimism, and they don’t have vision. The vision is to get them out. There I stop. I’m not sure of the relevance of this on Belgrade’s buildings. You may be facing these particular issues in future, so be careful.