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Old Posted Jan 15, 2021, 3:59 PM
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FT: Beauty and the Brutalists

This one is for Steely:

Beauty and the Brutalists: why the most maligned style in history should be preserved

Brutalist buildings around the world are endangered or lie derelict — even Donald Trump dislikes them

Donald Trump might now forever be associated with classical architecture, just not necessarily in the way he would have wanted. The image of rioters storming the Capitol building in Washington, DC, this month, snapping selfies and stealing souvenirs, will be the indelible final memory of his tempestuous presidency.

But one of his last acts in office was to issue an executive order that new federal buildings must be built in a classical style. What they should not be, it specified, is Brutalist. This is how it was defined:

“Brutalist means the style of architecture that grew out of the early 20th-century Modernist movement that is characterised by a massive and block-like appearance with a rigid geometric style and large-scale use of exposed poured concrete.”

For a big builder, Trump seems to have misunderstood the moment. Brutalism has been over as a way of building for about 40 years. No new US government buildings are in danger of being Brutalist. Perhaps he was thinking of the J Edgar Hoover Building, the FBI HQ a block away from the Trump International Hotel. The chunky concrete building has always been unpopular.

Not only is Brutalism no longer an applicable style, but hundreds of its best buildings are in danger of being lost forever through neglect, ignorance and laziness. Many have been demolished or are currently threatened. Trump’s executive order ingrains (at least temporarily) a prejudice against modern architecture’s most maligned moment, a utopian approach which aimed to reconcile the monumental with modernity.

The housing estates and libraries, town halls and theatres, parking garages and apartment blocks that were the fruits of this concrete explosion are being lost at an alarming rate, in the US and beyond.

However, in the midst of this visceral destruction and loss, Brutalism has been enjoying a revival of interest in other media. There has been a cascade of books, tea towels, bookends, mugs, maps and models made as gifts for Brutalist groupies and a stream of images on social media featuring tower blocks, bleak former Soviet hotels and striking Yugoslav war memorials, the previously unloved and often now decrepit concrete monuments of late Modernism.


Brutalism has shown a capacity to represent radically different things in different places — and often radically different things to different people in the same places. We have seemingly regained our respect (if not always affection) for the weight and commitment of Brutalist architecture to the creation of a better and more public shared future through building.

In the UK, it might stand for a lost dream of generous housing for all and commitment to culture, while in São Paulo or Abidjan or it might represent a postcolonial confidence. In eastern Europe, it might equally evoke nostalgia or provoke unease.

Trump’s condemnation may well provoke some to reassess it — if he hates it then it can’t be all bad. But Brutalism always has the capacity to carry meaning through form, sometimes, ironically, when it is at its most neglected and forlorn, the rain-stained ruins of a dream of a Modernist world that never arrived.

It is an architecture that creates charismatic space and leaves beautiful remains, sometimes almost unbearably ugly, sometimes shocking, sometimes sublime — but always interesting.

It’s a long article and the FT has a robust paywall, but hopefully there’s a way to find it online.
There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge." - Isaac Asimov
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