London’s Brutalist Architecture

At Home Tales, we offer an excellent service providing design packages for renovations and house extensions in London. We pride ourselves on maintaining an open line of contact with our clients, allowing for unlimited amendments to architectural plans. Homeowners that work with us can rest easy as we will take care of internal refurbishments, loft conversions, and ground floor extensions.

What is Brutalism?

Brutalist architecture was popular, especially in Britain, from the 1950s until the 1980s. In French, its name refers to “raw or unfinished concrete”, with a huge emphasis on strong geometry, a monochromatic palette and boldness. French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier has been widely accredited to have sparked the conception of the Brutalist movement which greatly defined post-modern architecture. He was commissioned to design social housing in Marseilles.

It came about as architects had turned to a style that rejected the ornamental trends that existed before the war and represented the strength and perseverance of the people. As concrete was inexpensive and quickly produced, it also became the face of London’s social housing in the mid-20th century.

After reaching its peak in the concrete jungle that is New York, brutalism eventually became notorious for its aesthetic and ultimately fell from popularity. It became hard and expensive to maintain, and the world wanted to move on from the war. All in all, we think Brutalism is like Marmite, you either hate it or you love it. How do you feel when you look at a concrete building?

Brutalism in London

Barbican

A great Brutalist landmark of London built in 1982 is the Barbican, which is made up of an estate and a communal multi-arts centre situated just north of St Paul’s cathedral. Architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s vision for the Barbican was towards a utopian future for London, following the damage caused to the site in World War II. It is one of the most revered Brutalist buildings in the UK, gaining Grade II listing and containing 2000 flats. The Barbican is often used as a strong precedent in Architectural studies, as many other brutalist buildings had failed. Along with its concrete façade, the site included symmetrical ponds and greenery planted all along the flats. We think the Architects’ original concept for the Barbican has definitely held up.

Southbank Centre

The Southbank Centre was built in 1951 and was one of the first examples of a large brutalist build in London. It was the largest arts centre in Europe with over 6 million people visiting Southbank Centre every year. It was made up of high-quality concrete to reflect Britain’s best. The centre sits along the river front and is the face of South London’s urban brutalist environment. A key fault of brutalist/concrete buildings is in its joinery. In tower blocks and estates gaps would appear between the concrete slabs, allowing in the cold air and rain. Slabs would also fall away from each other, creating an incredibly dangerous situation. The Southbank Centre was no exception. Due to its heavy use, its materiality and structure, the centre has gone through many expensive repairs to preserve the building. Now events are held there all the time, and it seems the maintenance of the building has been worth it as it attracts so many people to Southbank.

Why is it no longer popular?

Brutalism became unpopular following the 1990s as the existing concrete buildings started to age and show its flaws. In estates and accommodation that was built with haste, over time the concrete slabs would separate from each other, letting in the elements and causing a drain on the occupants energy bills. The building also appeared to become “dirtier” with age, getting greyer through the decades. This meant these properties ended up racking high costs in terms of maintenance and sustainability, therefore it eventually became an unfavourable solution for housing.

Due to the points above and its association with social housing in places of high crime, the style was generally viewed by the public as harsh, inhuman and ugly. An example of this is the estate in Thamesmead, London, which featured in the film A ClockWork Orange for its edgy appearance.

If you’re looking to improve your home, whether you’d like to extend your loft or completely renovate the interior, our fantastic team would be happy to help you. You can contact us on 020 7043 2378 or send us an email outlining your ideas to hello@hometales.co.uk. Alternatively, book in a telephone consultation with a senior member of our team. We have plenty of availability to pick from by clicking through to our live diary here.


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