BLAME IT ON BRUTALISM
Here in London, Brutalism is a most polarizing movement in architecture. Due to the conventions of Brutalist architecture – huge slabs of concrete enclosing big, dark, empty spaces – brutalist buildings don’t have a clear selling point like Art Deco does with its alluring curves, or Modernism does with its clean lines and open living. They are, in terms of architecture, the forgotten child.
In fact, when David Cameron took up residence above 11 Downing Street in 2010, one of his first moves was to put Brutalist community housing residences – the ones that provided millions of Brits with affordable housing in the years after The Second World War – on notice. Because, in Cameron’s own words, “brutal high-rise towers and dark alleyways are a gift to criminals and drug dealers.”
Prince Charles said that when the Luftwaffee knocked down buildings all over Britain in the war, we replaced them with buildings that were “more offensive than the rubble.” In the same period, others called them ugly and intimidating and a blight on the English streetscape.
And so it seemed, then, that the English public was determined to respond to any social problem with the same answer: blame brutalism. But in the days and weeks after David Cameron declared his plans to knock down or redevelop many of Britain’s most iconic Brutalist structures, something quite incredible happened. Architecture buffs from all over the world came and gathered and spoke their minds in its defense. And over just the course of a few months, the Brutalist revival began.
First, Jonothan Meades made a TV show about it. Then The Twentieth Century Society - a British architecture conservation society - came out and said it would be a tragedy if decent, well thought out, and essentially humane buildings were destroyed. Then architects started incorporating it into design, artists into art, painters into paint, and BBC into headlines like ‘Why Brutal is Beautiful.’
But by far my favourite piece of Brutalist fan art from the whole revival is this video by Hilow of Nick Jensen skateboarding through the Trellick Tower. How far we’ve come from Brutalism bashing. It’s funny in life. Sometimes you’ve got to learn to love your ugliness, the parts of you that you don’t even like, because they’re just as much a part of your identity as anything else.
In a roundabout way, that’s why the Rhodes & Beckett campaign of the season is shot at one of Melbourne’s finest Brutalist buildings. Because Brutalism is an unmistakable, valuable, and resounding part of our identity.
See the shoot here