Rob is an avid traveller and a keen photographer who showcases his work on Flickr and sells his images through Adobe Stock and Shutterstock.
What Is Brutalism?
Brutalist architecture really came to the fore in the middle part of the 20th century as a key part of the modernism movement. This type of modern architecture and its use of raw, exposed concrete can be traced back down numerous historical lines. The Romans were the first to use concrete in architecture. The world-famous landmark standing in the centre of Rome known as 'The Pantheon' features an enormous dome that is wonderfully crafted from concrete. The building still stands today in all its magnificence with two thousand years of history behind it.
Sadly, the use of concrete in buildings became a lost art for much of the next two millennia. Its more recent re-introduction is largely credited to Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier. Le Corbusier was a proponent of a building design that used raw concrete (or béton brut as it is called in French) as a material—not as a material to be hidden from view within the buildings' inner workings but as its visible face and as a visual demonstration of how the building is formed. Whilst he is most famous for his hugely ambitious masterplans and towering developments such as the unite d'habitation in Marseilles, Le Corbusier designed many modern houses in this style.
Brutalism in the UK
Brutalism found favour amongst young planners and architects working on mid century modern architecture schemes. These aspiring disrupters rebelled against the traditional forms of the past and who eschewed calls to return to architectural grandeur and decorative edifices. Instead, these bright young things were envisaging an architecture for the future—one that was bold and exciting and which looked forward and never back.
Modernist architecture spread across the world, and with the global collaborative effort to design the United Nations Headquarters in New York, eventually morphed into the International Style and several other variations on a theme.
Modernist and brutalist structures however, proliferated across the UK as cities that had been decimated by the Second World War and whose people had been living in slum conditions and sub-standard housing embraced a new age in city planning and architecture.
The pace of rebuilding and development in the 1950s was frenetic with new towns planned and hundreds of thousands of new homes built by local councils and private developers. The car was becoming an ever more prominent feature on the streets of towns and cities, and this quickly came to influence how our urban spaces would be planned and built out.
Grand civic architecture schemes were planned across the country: shopping centres, arenas, theatres, museums, civic centres and municipal offices as well as new law courts, transport interchanges and of course new housing estates. Huge estates needed to be built quickly and efficiently. Concrete seemed to be the solution of the day, and new developments were thrown up around the country. The architects seemed to be determined to make a break with the past and to create modern buildings futuristic house designs.
Brutalist Architecture in the UK
In this article, we take a look at 5 examples of brutalist architecture that still exist in the UK today. Of course, many of the buildings that were erected during the heyday of brutalism have since been demolished, and many more remain under threat. The tide has turned in some cases, however, and many structures now have listed protection status as a reflection of the part they played in the history of the built form in the UK.
These buildings may not be to everyone's tastes, but they represent an ideology and a vision of the future at a certain point in time. Some find them ugly whilst others find beauty. These buildings provide a rich source of debate and discussion, and many will agree that the architectural landscape is richer with them than without them. See what you think.
Preston Bus Station
Preston Bus Station was very nearly on the 'consigned to history' list when it came very close to demolition during the early part of the twenty first century. This huge building was actually built too large. It was planned at a time when the population of Preston was expected to grow at a rapid rate and which would be need a bus station capable of serving the transport needs of such a rapidly expanding population. However, as it transpired, the building of the M6 motorway effectively stymied Preston's growth and the city never continued to grow to reach it's full potential.
Designed by the Building Design Partnership (now known simply as BDP) and built by engineering giants, Ove Arup, this magnificent structure was completed in 1969. The building includes a passenger concourse with space for 80 buses and includes a multi storey car park on the floors above. It was granted protected status in 2013 with a Grade II listing.
The University of East Anglia
The University of East Anglia building appears to protrude from the ground like an iceberg emerging through water or a mountain being formed during an earthquake. The building was designed by the architect Denys Lasdun and was completed in 1970. The pyramid shaped terraced blocks are student residences with walls, floors and roofs all constructed using raw concrete. Behind these are the buildings that house the teaching spaces. By design, as was the intended brief, there is minimal separation between the teaching areas and the living areas.
New Street Station Signal Box
The Birmingham New Street Station Signal Box is unlike any other signal box. This beast of a brutalist block was completed in 1964 to a design by architects Bicknell and Hamilton, who worked with the regional architect for the London Midland Region of British Railways.
The wider New Street Station, also a concrete structure in the brutalist style, underwent a major overhaul between 2010 to 2015 to designs by international practice, AZPML. The Signal Box wasn't touched as part of the recent redevelopment works as its had Grade II Listed status and also because it's still functioning as a signal box. However, this won't continue for much long with the box due to become defunct soon.
The Barbican Centre
The Barbican Estate was originally conceived by the City of London as part of efforts to regenerate a brownfield area of inner-city London. The estate was intended to provide affordable housing for working people - generally referred to a social housing. The Barbican is a high-density housing estate that also includes an arts complex, shopping facilities and schools. It is a classic example of the leading philosophy of town planning of the period in which it was conceived and built.
The complex was designed by the practice of Chamberlain, Powell and Bon following a design competition held in 1951. The entire project wasn't completed until 1982 by which time Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Government had begun to roll out the Right to Buy scheme which enabled tenants of public housing to buy the property for a greatly reduced sum. The occupants of the Barbican quickly began buying up the properties and subsequent year these have changed hands for ever increasing sums and are now owned by a large number of property investors who rent out the properties to those who can afford them.
Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral
Brutalist architecture even extended to churches and one of the finest examples in the UK is the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, designed by Frederick Gibberd and completed in 1967. The exterior of the building also features sculpted concrete patterns designed by the concrete sculptor, William Mitchell, who was commissioned to design sculptures across the country mainly during the sixties and seventies. If you live on a council housing estate built during this period then chances are there is a William Mitchell sculpture located somewhere in the area.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Robert Clarke
Sherry Haynes on June 20, 2020:
The information in this article is fascinating.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 20, 2020:
This is a very interesting article. The Brutalist architecture in the UK is very unique and each building is beautiful. I particularly liked the cathetral and the theater. Thank you for presenting all this architecture that is new to me.
Liz Westwood from UK on June 19, 2020:
I first came across brutalist architecture when I wrote a review of InterContinental Hotel Prague for Hub Pages. Some of these like Piccadilly, Manchester are very familiar to me. I hadn't realised that the cathedral in Liverpool is a brutalist design. I prefer it to the older Anglican cathedral down the road.
Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 19, 2020:
Hi there, my pleasure reading through. I enjoy viewing the beautiful photos.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 19, 2020:
Thanks for showing us some examples of brutalist architecture buildings in the UK. I enjoyed seeing all of them but particularly liked the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King. In the photo, it looks like there are substantial stained glass panels on either side of the cathedral. It would be fun to see these places in person.