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Brutalism Style Guide

Brutalism is architecture in the raw with an emphasis on materials, texture, and construction, creating dramatic and memorable images.

It was both an ethos and a style. The leading protagonists were Alison and Peter Smithson who advocated a back to basics approach to architecture, seen in their school at Hunstanton in Norfolk because of its uncompromising approach to the display of structure and services. Called New Brutalism, and championed by the architectural historian Reyner Banham, the Smithsons saw it as a natural development from the Modern Movement. Their philosophy encompassed a reverence for the materials of the built world, an affinity between building and man and architecture as way of life. In practice, the architecture that emerged was characterised by the use of raw concrete (beton brut), massive scale, textured surfaces, and emphasis on displaying the different functions of the building, particularly the services, seen in large ventilation towers.

What to look for in a Brutalist building:

  • Rough unfinished surfaces
  • Unusual shapes
  • Clearly displayed structure and services
  • Massive forms
  • Emphasis on materials

Explore these galleries from the RIBA Collections illustrating the main features of Brutalism.

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Canongate housing development, Royal Mile, Edinburgh

RIBA47456
Sir Basil Spence Glover & Ferguson

Boston City Hall, Boston, Massachusetts

RIBA69672
Kallmann McKinnell & Knowles

Electricity sub-station, Moore Street, Sheffield

RIBA75723
Jefferson, Sheard & Partners

Civic Centre, Paisley (Phases 2 and 3): the south vestibule showing the exposed concrete walls

RIBA78233
Hutchison Locke & Monk
NOTES: Paisley Civic Centre was built in four phases from 1969-1973. Phase 1 was completed in 1969, Phases 2 and 3 were completed by 1972 and Phase 4 containing the dining facilities was finished in early 1973. The council suite and chamber for both the county (Renfrew) and the borough (Paisley), which were part of Phase 4, were put on hold pending local government reorganisation.

Consort House, Queensway, London

RIBA88797
Owen Luder Partnership

Brunel University, Uxbridge, London: the lecture theatre block

RIBA100538
Richard Sheppard Robson & Partners
NOTES: The master plan for Brunel was drawn up in 1965 by Richard Sheppard and the main buildings were completed by 1971, including the communal buildings, residences and lecture theatres.

Brunel University, Uxbridge, London: concrete detail

RIBA100541
Richard Sheppard Robson & Partners
NOTES: The master plan for Brunel was drawn up in 1965 by Richard Sheppard and the main buildings were completed by 1971, including the communal buildings, residences and lecture theatres.

Barbican Estate, City of London: the undercroft and lake

RIBA111767
Chamberlin Powell & Bon
NOTES: This complex of arts buildings and housing covers seven acres in the City of London. Built between 1971 and 1982, it regenerated an area which had been badly bombed during World War II.

Barbican Estate, City of London: detail of the curved balconies

RIBA111779
Chamberlin Powell & Bon
NOTES: This complex of arts buildings and housing covers seven acres in the City of London. Built between 1971 and 1982, it regenerated an area which had been badly bombed during World War II.

British Embassy, Fernando el Santo Street, Madrid

RIBA11423
Bryant, W. S.
NOTES: W. S. Bryant was the chief architect on this project at the Ministry of Public Works.

Masionettes, Coralline Walk, Lesnes, Thamesmead, Greenwich, London: close-up of the balconies

RIBA15744
Greater London Council. Department of Architecture & Civic Design
NOTES: This is one of the images taken for 'Manplan 8: Housing' in Architectural Review, vol. 148, September 1970. Thamesmead was planned in 1965-1966 as a new town on the riverside marshes of south-east London between Plumstead and Erith. It was scheduled for completion in 1974 but was never fully finished and the projected population of 60,000 for the new town was downgraded to 45,000 by the end of the 1970s. From then around 400 houses were being built annually and by 1982, the population stood at 20,000. Since 2014 the managment and regeneration of the area has come under the aegis of Peabody.
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