“In the last resort what characterizes the New Brutalism in architecture as in painting is precisely its brutality, its je-m’en-foutisme, its bloody-mindedness.” – Reyner Banham, 1955, Architectural Review
For those who don’t know, je-m’en-fous in french, simply means “I don’t give a f*ck”. It is insolence, it is rawness, it is just great. And so is Brutalism, the post war architectural movement that more and more young people are being drawn to.
Renewed and refurbished big masses of raw concrete interiors are all over the place: fashion shows, music venues (think Berghain or the Kraftwerk Berlin, the venue of the Atonal festival). This proliferation of “industrial décor” has opened up the curiosity of a rare audience that has then developed an attraction to the uncommon beauty of Brutalism.
Brutalist buildings can be home to many things: libraries, town halls, banks, and many of them are not hosting cool events. They are not refurbished, and they don’t attract the fashion crowd. They don’t have front rows, or VIP accesses. They can also be hospitals, churches, or housing projects on which thousands of people live a very different reality from the one we have pictured before. A brutalist building has often a great visual attractive that has made them the location of fashion shootings, but there is certain sensationalism on doing this, and the clash of the different strata of society is more noticeable here.
This all sounds pretty bad, but actually, it is the opposite. Thanks to this newfound appreciation, certain groups that never would have noticed these concrete monsters, have actually set in motion ways to save these buildings from demolition. Take #SOSBRUTALISM, the website that hosts a database of buildings, educates the people, and raises funds to save them from their destruction. Supported by the Deutsches Architekturmuseum and the Wüstenrot Stiftung, this website sets in motion an apparatus that can actually give help that’s worthwhile in order to preserve this forgotten sites, and puts them back into the spotlight.
Or the fast-growing Facebook group “The Brutalism Appreciation Society” that calls all the admirers to feed their database, share experiences, photographs, and news about the movement. There you can post your photos, and normally beautiful discussions appear. In case you are traveling, you can also consult on the group for Brutalist buildings to admire in your destination, and most likely there will be good suggestions ready for you to enjoy.
Mark Lighterness, the administrator of the group, retells how this all started: “This group was was founded by Barnabas Calder in 2007. A year later, when there were only 400 members,he handed it over to me. We are now fast approaching 45,000 members. Barnabas is a lecturer in Architecture at Liverpool University. I have no background in architecture – I work in accounts.. It’s difficult to explain why Brutalism has come back into fashion. I never thought that flared trousers would come back into fashion, but they did… Perhaps it’s just a reaction to the postmodern movement, and rightly so in my opinion”.
As Mark mentions the group is not formed only by architects. These are not all academics, but also regular people, that have felt this infatuation with raw concrete, as Le Corbusier called it, Bèton Brut, term that originated the name of the movement. There is no way back when you get the kick for rough concrete and unusual shapes, for the cluttering and the heaviness, the massive and the sometimes conventionally called ugly: it is then, my friend, when you have become an appreciator of Brutalism, so grab your camera and go out to explore the city.