An ‘ism’ be defined by style or movement. But when does the level of participation and its rules or a manifesto be governed by a reinterpretation of a timely style and its influence on others. I will be critiquing Brutalism from its beginnings, how relevant it was in architecture in the 1950’s and it’s existence in modern architecture.
The use of béton brut (raw concrete) was pioneered by Auguste Perret through ferro concrete buildings such as ‘Church of Notre Dame du Raincy’ built in 1922-1924. This was a move away from stone construction and a birth of a brutal finish of concrete. In addition to this move towards a technological change in architecture, the brutalist expression can be seen in Le Corbusier quote “L’Architecture, c’est, avec des matières brutes établir des rapports émouvant” which means “Architecture is the establishing of moving relationships with raw materials”. Because of the natural appreciation of raw materials and finish, Le Corbusier saw what was the ‘business’ of architecture, which is to establish emotional relationships by means of raw materials.
Brutalism is of the idea that quality of the raw materials and not that it is rough and cheap. It was “the warehouse aesthetic,” which sought to capture the raw quality of materials. It was not concerned about the material as Peter Smithson pointed out in a late interview:
“Brutalism is not concerned with the material as such but rather the quality of the material, that is with the question: what can it do? And by analogy: there is a way of handling gold in Brutalist manner and it does not mean rough and cheap, it means: what is its raw quality?”
Its raw quality may not be of the interest of the client or the site requirements. It sits in the world in situ. It doesn’t yield towards to an aesthetic that is made by society, but like nature exists in a raw element. As Luis Kahn has said “You can have a conversation with concrete… the beauty of what you create comes if you honor the material for what it really is.” This can be held as true but does refining a base element into another remove its essence.
Which comes back to Auguste Perret’s ferro-concrete cathedral. It is something that crosses between the old and new, it has one foot in the 2000 year history of cathedra. It’s step into the realm of ferro-concrete is it’s dip into béton brut and specifically brutalism. But it has evolved to be a respect of materials, to the point of worshiping a brick for its beauty. With ‘the warehouse aesthetic’ it was a commercialisation of Brutalism for the masses, something that was set loose. But it still is revisited today. It exists in the “Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels” in Los Angeles, California by Rafael Moneo. It has elements of deconstructionism, but echoes back to Brutalism just as the ‘Church of Notre Dame du Raincy’ harked back to cathedra.