Inthis essay I will be talking about how Brutalism took on a more humanisticapproach the movement matured. Brutalism is a sub genre movement of modernism. Brutalismhas been around long before the term was coined; it was a mixture between LeCorbusier, Alison and Peter Smithson. The term Brutalism has had manyquestionable origins, Beton Brut was used by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusierwhich translated to ” raw concrete”, this then mixed with Alison and PeterSmithson ” New Brutalism” which Reyner Banham described their completion entryof the Hunstanton School. WorldWar 2 had just finished in 1945, Winston Churchill, leader of the conservativeswas in power and had been for 4 years previously.
The war hit the world prettyhard and rationing was still around, this was a lifestyle for many for years.Living conditions were poor; slums were not cared about and there were a hugedivide between classes. In 1950, peoplewere sick of the austerity and the divide between classes and what post WorldWar 2 had become. In 1945 the conservative party had won by a landslide. In1945, the idea of nationalisation and bringing more equalisation had becomemore of a reality; Labour came into government but only by 5 seats, are-election was held after this as the king at the time didn’t want to go tothe common wealth games with such a slim majority, he fell ill and the electionresults came back with a new government: conservatives. The Conservatives managedto stay in power until 1964. The manifesto for the conservatives in 1951general election showed how they were conscious of what had happened to thecountry during the war to housing.
The prices of materials were to becontrolled as supplies were short such as brick, one of the main materials usedat the time for structures, and rebuilding again would mean a fluctuation ofprice cost at first. Subsidies were to be handed out to local authorities andfor private enterprises alike. Since rationing cannot be controlled, housing isthe second priority to national defence as a there was a lot of overcrowdedhomes, everyone should be owning their own homes and live in more establishedestates.
(Churchill, 1951). Not only the uk needed to find smarter and cheaperways to build structures, but to implement estates and a sense of community.Ways of doing this was using materials such as left over brick, glass, concrete,gabion and trapion, steel and many other materials, money was saved by leavinga raw look to the buildings, exposing their functionalities rather thandecorating them which would cost more. Brutalism first emerged because of theimpact from the past, it was a representation of the time itself, rationing,brutality and rawness and getting back on its feet. Brutalism helped theeconomy by saving money, almost cutting corners with structures but leaving themost important parts in the plan. Brutalismin the beginning was a new concept, the architects who built it loved it and itwas great for economic value, meaning it was very favourable once people hadgotten to know the main values behind it, but at first it wasn’t as accepteddue to the external cold, brutal look. The main two drivers of Brutalism werethree people, Le Corbusier and Alison and Peter Smith, a married couple whowere both architects.
Surprisingly the three people associated in many projectstogether such as CIAM and then later split off into Team X. Le Corbusier andthe Smithson’s really separated the terms of modernism, brutalism and NewBrutalism together. Alison and PeterSmithson saw industrial estates as honesty and they found a lot of inspirationfrom this thought once they started thinking more about housing and brutalismas a whole, this started happening in the late 40’s, early 50’s (The Smithsonson Housing, 1970). They turned theirsurroundings of sites on their heads, how can they use the characters fromthese buildings and really show them off, docks, industry sites and riverbankswhere always close to their building sites. Corbusierbelieved cities needed to be rethought as they wasn’t fitting in with lifeafter the war, this then had a catalyst effect on Unité d’Habitation. It was aniconic building in the movement, it not only set a standard of new architecturebut a new way to look at living in a world after the second world war. Originallyit was meant to have a steel frame, but this had to be subsidised due to theeconomic decline of the world when materials were scarce.
Le Corbusier wantedstreets in the sky as there was there was too many people in one area, slumswhere appearing and there wasn’t much space to work with, he want to decongestthe cities and create more open space, this is when he thought of building highin a small part of the total ground. (Le Corbusier,1929) The Unité d’Habitationwas the first of its kind and was a great example set to the cities strugglingwith space; materials and class systems post war. The building had been thoughtabout a great deal, and a lot of planning into the way of how families wouldlive in the space. The interior of Unite d’Habitation proved it was possible tofeel like there was space in such a repetitive building and personalise it for yourselfas it is still standing today and being used. From figure 2 we can see that theplan had a two storey height living room, not only did this add light into thespace but with the space being narrow it create an illusion of a bigger room,this was applied to the back of the apartments as well giving more privacy onthe top that couldn’t be seen over through the balcony. The use of materials inthis building have been very honest, glass and concrete together have createdjust enough of it to be easy in upkeep of the aesthetical look. The Corbusierwanted to control the aspects of life in his buildings (Hall,1991, p .
211). Hisideas were harmless, but not thought through unfortunately. Having copy pasted buildingsand rooms in a black of flats leaves no room for personality of those livingthere. The buildings would have felt more like a hotel than a home, andfortunately his buildings that exaggerated this idea got turned down a lot.
Although people liked the idea and took away certain aspects of the idea tobuild upon it, many didn’t accept it. Alisonand Peter Smithson really extended the concept of humanism in the brutalistmovement. Their first building Hunstanton School (figure 3) was said to be thefirst new brutalist building of the movement; it showed honesty. (Banham, 1966p.19) Water tanks were placed on the outside of the building rather thantraditionally being hidden underground out of sight. The building was designedfor a completion with a secondary school in mind in 1949, the building wasreleased the same year Le Corbusiers Unité d’Habitation 1954 (double check).
Eventhough brick was used in this building, it had a lot of steel beams exposedrather than hidden, glass formed the walls and it was something that had reallyexplored new grounds and areas of architecture. The building would have beencompleted earlier but the scarce materials from the war made it harder to get ahold of, The Smithsons didn’t take this to their advantage as much as LeCorbusier, he scrapped his material idea and substituted it and came up with anew concept, which came to be Unité d’Habitation. Alison and Peter Smithsondeeply thought about how people would interact with the buildings being made,it was their priority to take in the surroundings and reflect, that in theirwork which became challenging with brutalism, as it was very limited in how youcould use materials. RobinHood Gardens, which was completed in 1972 (figure 4), was the first housing project that Alison and PeterSmithon had that was a cluster of flats. By this time the couple had projects in-betweenthat were successful such as Sheffield University (1953), which was alsoanother competition design they won.
The building still stands today and housesthousands of students in the science sector (Hodsgon and Cassidy, 2017). RobinHood gardens was surrounded by roads, Alison and Peter Smithson built upconcrete walls that bounced back the sound with gaps in the wall, this was tohelp with the noise situation from the vehicles, as this was the early 70’scars were starting to become more and more popular. The gaps in the fence wasto stop the outside looking like and feeling like a prison, then surrounding itwith shrubbery to add an extra barrier against the noise pollution (TheSmithsons on Housing, 1970). The idea of this was putting the residents firstand to make the building long lasting. With this they also thought about theliving area and the pedestrians around the new housing utopia. The mainaudience aim for the buildings were family and young couples that was the casefor most brutalist buildings. The centregreen field in the middle was for older children to play, but it also deterredloudness of the children, this was done by creating a hill in the middle thatwould deter football matches where many children could all play in a condensedspace creating problematic noise for residents. The Smithson’s alwaysexaggerated how they used their senses of their surroundings, the history to trulyreflect the building.
The noisy rooms of the apartments were parallel to thenoise that would be outside if it got too loud, this meant that the corridorsand living room were always on the outsides closer to the roads. The kitchenoverlooked onto the balconies that young kids could play on, and also thecommunal garden on the ground. This meant that families could always have spacebut keep an eye on each other, something that had been though out with maturitythrough the many architectural projects the Smithson’s had encountered. The internationalplacement of a brutalism really effected its style, an example of this would behow the UK’s brutalism was politically influenced in a way of equality, muchlike socialism, which in the politics, nationalisation for the public of notonly labour but also the conservatives were in favour. In the United States ofAmerica, at the time of the movement, the placement of structural brutalism wasalmost a hierarchy, which can reflect on its communist policies at the time. Inthe Boston City Hall was constructed between the years of 1963 and 1968,commissioned also by Gerhard Kallmann and Michael McKinnell. The building got alot of critique, as the thought of extreme weather conditions wasn’t involvedin the beginning planning stages. But on the front façade of the building,there are external buildings.
The external buildings climb on the idea of ahierarchy of power, the importance of the rooms really reflect on who can enterand who can’t enter the building by separating the public and private sections.(Kroll, 2018). The Building is can be seen as flaunting it’s importance in thecity and the power it beholds, this can be seen especially in the interior andthe exterior materials. The interior has large light let through from the largewindows on the facades and the amount of them; it is also very structurally complicatedwhich can be reflected back onto its purpose of the building. Today in 2018,the government has realised that not everyone favours the building and hastried to almost dress the building with furnishings around the site, fountains,positive public events and cleanliness of the building, which can be expensive. Brutalismcan be seen as a reflection of the society it was built in, taking in thefactors of politics, geography and year.
As time went on the economy got betterin the UK, and politics became a tie almost with labour and conservatives asthe UK was in such a bad state in the beginning. Architects had to learn andmature ideas fast due to the general state of housing; there was none, whichmeant rebuilding needed to be done. Humanism defiantly took more of an approachin the movement as the buildings aged as well, but aesthetic comes into thequestion that played a big part of the fall and critique that brutalism tooktowards the end in the 1970’s. Le Corbusier and The Smithson’s both werecatalysts of the movement but had very different ideals, Le Corbusier forced alifestyle that came with the buildings he made, and The Smithson’s took inevery aspect of the surroundings for the buildings, but this still left andalien like feel to the buildings that made them feel like they didn’t belong. Ethicor Aesthetic the title of Reynar Banham’s book can play into context, isaesthetic a part of humanism and I believe it is, once basic care has beentaken of couples and families look for more, are they truly happy and can theyimprove starts to be a topic of conversation. Architects in the Brutalistmovement thought mainly about what the building needed to do at the moment intime, and this left a drastic effect for the future of these strong structuresthat could stand for years more than other materials. It wasn’t until later onwhere architects realised these structures were to be here for a long time.
Upkeep of the concrete needed to be maintained and the buildings needed to accommodatefuture generations, something, which Le Corbusier got right on, his first trywith Unité d’habitation, but couldn’t replicate again to such a high standard.