February 2, 2009

Burberry Brutalism

"Brutalism" - for those of you not entirely familiar - is an architectural movement made popular at the height of the modernist movement in the 1960's.  It's name is lovingly adopted from the French term "Beton Brut" meaning "raw concrete".  Buildings designed in this "style" (if you will) are characteristically rough and blocky - typically constructed of cast-in-place concrete.  Wood grain from formwork used to cast the concrete often becomes embedded in the structure, suggesting (of other things) man's dominance over nature!  Such structures poetically reinforce the ideals of the modern era and its "one-size-fits-all" internationalist attitudes.  Above all, this architectural movement has undoubtedly succeeded in creating an enduring symbol of strength and force - an icon cheerfully adopted by city governments and universities worldwide.

Critics of the movement would argue that the necessity to achieve an architectural ideal has overshadowed the needs of people who use the buildings.  I defend: brutalist buildings also loyally and respectfully tell a story about how the building is being used.  From the exterior, one can differentiate between the spaces where people tend to their business and the spaces designated specifically for structure or service.  The same cannot always be said for today's technologically advanced rain screen systems and super-duper perforated metal skins.  We must ask ourselves, why must we cover our buildings with a veil of technological fabric - what do we have to hide?

I am and always will be a strong advocate for the resurgence of brutalist architecture in today's scary scary world, however I know this seems to be a confusing and horrible idea for most people to stomach.  In response, I offer a truce to all of you critics in the eWorld who simply hate brutalism.  I want to advocate for a Pop-Brutalist architectural movement by responding to the tastes of our times: let's dress our beloved Beton Bruts up in trendy new fashionable clothing.  Can you imagine Boston City Hall...or the Hayward Gallery (and its Brutalist neighbors) dressed in a nice Burberry scarf?  How fashionable!


Anonymous said...

So you're proposing that the building at UC go from ugly boredom to the British version of white trash? (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/4381140.stm )

dontknockitecture said...


i have to defend N O R T O N on this one.

The fact that burberry is "british version of white trash" actually makes this even more loaded. the entire choice of burberrry was (at least in my interpretation) somewhat tounge in cheek.

The point of historical(or in this instance pop) references is not to be accurate, but to conjure a memory or notion in people. to most people burberry represents vanity, in varying degrees of negativity. so in the theoretical context here, burberry was an appropriate choice.


Anonymous said...


Oh, I got the joke. I just didn't expect to see that joke on this side of the pond.

N O R T O N said...


offensive imagery in the name of the game when it comes to crosley tower! happy to see i ruffled your feathers!


Anonymous said...


emmywinks said...

I am actually constructing woven fabric inspired by brutalist architecture. I have found, after a tour of 12 towns and cities and their architecture, quite a duality between the two forms. It is my notion to create a new appreciation of brutalism through the medium of weave. Burberry tartan in itself represents the people who live in these council estates so it is possible to deduce that the people who live in these estates are drawn by these beige structures. A theory perhaps. I would be interested in any other thoughts on the subject.

thanks Emma.