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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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Ulster Museum extension, Botanic Gardens, Belfast: the entrance on the north front

Pym, Francis
NOTES: The Ulster Museum was designed in Classical Revival style by James Cumming Wynnes and built in 1924-1929. The extension was designed by Francis Pym and built in 1966-1972.

The Brunswick Centre, Bloomsbury, London: close-up of the ventilation shafts

Hodgkinson, Patrick (1930-2016)
NOTES: This complex was restored in 2003-2006 by Levitt Bernstein Associates in association with the original architect Patrick Hodgkinson.

Preston Bus Station, Lancashire

Building Design Partnership
NOTES: This is one of the images taken for 'Manplan 7: Local Government' in Architectural Review, vol. 148, 1970 July.

Brunel University, Uxbridge, London: the refectory and lecture theatre

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.

Alexandra Road Estate, Camden, London

Brown, Neave Sinclair (1929-2018)
NOTES: Designed in 1968 by Neave Brown of Camden Council's Architects Department, this multi-family, 8-storey council housing estate, properly known as the Alexandra and Ainsworth estate, was built between 1972 and 1979.

Hayward Gallery, South Bank Arts Centre, London: the staircase

Greater London Council. Department of Architecture & Civic Design
NOTES: The South Bank Arts Centre, known as the Southbank Centre since 2002, comprises the Royal Festival Hall (completed in 1951), the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Purcell Room (completed in 1967), and the Hayward Gallery (completed in 1968).