Exploring the Aesthetics of Brutalist Architecture

Brutalist architecture can be controversial, especially as its raw concrete structures deteriorate. Yet new generations are drawn to its simplicity, timeless allure, and practicality.

Startquestion surveyed with nearly 400 individuals to understand the visual appeal, emotional evoking and functional capabilities of Brutalist buildings. Read further to gain more insight into this style’s lasting allure and impactful legacy on architecture today and tomorrow.

Trellick Tower

Trellick Tower was created by architect Erno Goldfinger as an iconic example of brutalist architecture style. This 31-story building stands out for its distinct bush-hammered concrete frame and slim service tower which connects every three stories to the main block.

Shortly after its construction, this tower fell out of favor quickly and was soon seen as a hotbed for crime, poverty, and drug use. Thanks to a residents’ association and increased security measures (main door locks, CCTV monitoring systems and concierge), crime levels decreased considerably and it has since gained in popularity.

Brutalist architecture rejects the extravagant ornamentation of classicist buildings and instead raises questions both philosophically and practically about how space intersects with humanity. While its rough exterior may give Brutalism an intimidating aura, its presence has often been softened in recent buildings like Yale University’s. Here, its concrete facade was sandblasted to produce a stone-like texture before being covered with stucco to soften its rough edges; furthermore, its southern base is home to community gardens, children’s play spaces, and graffiti walls.

Rudolph Hall

Rudolph Hall (formerly Yale Art and Architecture Building) was designed by Paul Rudolph in 1963 as one of the earliest examples of Brutalist architecture in America and features 37 terraced levels that span seven stories.

Rudolph was given freedom of expression and ornamentation in this building by Yale president Alfred Whitney Griswold. Both its exterior and interior feature ribbed and brush-hammered concrete surfaces he called “corduroy concrete.”

Rudolph Hall features a fabric-like texture that gives its surfaces strong vertical striations patterns that reflect strongly when lit up by light sources, as well as deflecting heat, making the building energy-efficient. Today, Rudolph Hall houses both Earth & Planetary Sciences as well as NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover publicity model; recently restored by Charles Gwathmey of GSAA to closely resemble Rudolph’s original vision, it received LEED Gold certification.

Geisel Library

Geisel Library stands as the cornerstone of UC San Diego and is one of many notable buildings designed in the Brutalist style. Home to numerous collections as well as multiple study and collaboration spaces for students. Furthermore, this beautiful building plays host to various art exhibitions and cultural events throughout the year.

William Pereira designed this eight-story concrete building which stands atop Campus Canyon and can be seen by motorists passing along Interstate 5. It is considered a mixture of brutalism and futurism due to its distinctive form resembling that of hands holding a stack of books.

Many believe Brutalism began with Le Corbusier’s Unite d’Habitation complex in Marseilles, France completed in 1952; however, Hunstanton School by Smithsons and Louis Kahn’s Yale Art Center can also be considered early expressions of this style of architecture. Brutalism architecture was designed to reveal structural integrity at all times allowing all to see.

National Theatre

The National Theatre stands as a stunning example of brutalism design style. While initially met with much skepticism, this architectural movement has experienced an upsurge in interest over time and continues to inspire new designers with its unconventional materials and geometric forms.

The Brutalist movement emerged after World War II and emphasized functionality. Contrasting with the International Style’s sleek planes, Brutalist architecture utilized concrete as its primary material and favored bold and imposing forms.

Brutalism derives its name from “beton brut,” an architectural style most frequently associated with raw concrete construction materials such as Le Corbusier’s Unite d’habitation and Maisons Jaoul projects, one of which inspired this style of architecture.

Brutalist architecture often draws strong reactions–both admiration and distaste–from both admirers and detractors, yet no one can deny their remarkable, contemporary beauty. When next you pass by one, take a closer look and consider why it appeals to you so strongly.