I like big blocks and I cannot lie.
Big blocks of raw concrete, that is. And as a fan of concrete architecture, there are few cities better for appreciating this polarising material than London.
From grand cultural buildings to small-scale functional infrastructure, raw concrete altered London’s post-war cityscape more than most cities.
“Brutalism” became the catch-all name for the use of concrete in this new post-war architectural order, originally from the French béton brut — raw concrete.
Alas this meaning was lost in translation, with brut quickly becoming brute. To their critics, these buildings were “harsh”, “inhuman” — in a word, brutal. Brutalism became synonymous with Britain’s 1970s perceived economic and social decay — the architecture of the built world weakening the architecture of the nation, evidently.
But for a period, Brutalism was the architectural style du jour. Housing estates, concert halls, civil buildings, infrastructure and car parks were all built in what could be considered a “brutalist” style.
By the 1980s, Brutalism had fallen out of favour. Until recently, the assertion that such architecture was “ugly” was all that was needed for local authorities to condemn these buildings to the wrecking ball.
Although the first part of the 21st century has seen plenty of fine examples of Brutalist architecture across the world condemned because of facile and subjective opinions, the vitriol has been more than matched by a growing awareness of the importance of Brutalist architecture.
In the United Kingdom, many of the best examples are now listed buildings — such as Denys Ladsun’s masterwork, the National Theatre — despite trenchant criticism from noted plant whisperer and homeopathy advocate Charles, Prince of Wales, among others.
While awareness of the importance of Brutalist architecture may have come too late for the Robin Hood Gardens housing estate, or for the civic heart of Birmingham, it’s becoming more difficult for local authorities to erase the UK’s brut-al past.
To be Brutally honest, that’s a good thing.