Rise of British Brutalism

The rise of British brutalism

It’s always been controversial, but is brutalism once again cool? We explore the surprising rise in popularity of Brutalism, one of the most divisive forms of modern architecture.

What is brutalism?

Beginning in the 1950s and 60s, brutalism is a style of architecture that’s characterised by simple block buildings made from a raw concrete construction. The first use of the word was by Swedish architect Hans Asplund, who used the term nybrutalism, or ‘new brutalism’, to describe Villa Goth, a small house in Uppsala. His term caught on in Stockholm and was picked up by British architects in the city, and later taken up by arty young designers in London including Alison and Peter Smythson.

British architectural critic Reyner Banham expanded on Asplund’s term, turning it into a tongue-in-cheek pun on the French ‘béton brut’, which literally translates as raw concrete. Left rough and untreated, this material would become the defining trait of the movement.

Brutalism descended from the modernist architectural movement of the early 20th century, when function over form became the norm. Rather than adornments and design details, the style embraced raw construction materials, with reinforced concrete, brick, glass, steel and some rougher stone used such as in the form of gabions, usually used in sea walls to prevent coastal erosion.