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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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Barbican Estate, City of London: Cromwell Tower under construction

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. The estate has three residential towers: Cromwell Tower, completed in 1973; Shakespeare Tower, completed in 1976, and Lauderdale Tower, completed in 1974. The complex was Grade II listed in 2001.

Tricorn Shopping Centre, Portsmouth, Hampshire: the parking garage

Owen Luder Partnership
NOTES: This controversial shopping centre was demolished in 2004.

Housing, Queen Elizabeth Square, Hutchesontown C, Gorbals, Glasgow: concrete pylons

Sir Basil Spence Glover & Ferguson
NOTES: Hutchesontown C was the name given to a so-called Comprehensive Development Area (CDA) of an area of the city of Glasgow, designed by Basil Spence in 1960-1965. The design of the central 20-storey block was inspired by Le Corbusier's Unite d'Habitation, Marseille. It was demolished in 1993.

Brunswick Centre, Bloomsbury, London

Hodgkinson, Patrick (1930-2016)

Town centre phase 1, Cumbernauld New Town: the hotel

Cumbernauld Development Corporation
NOTES: Created as a population overspill for Glasgow City, Cumbernauld was designated a new town in 1955. Leslie Hugh Wilson was the first Chief Architect to the Cumbernauld Development Corporation (CDC) which oversaw the development, promotion and management of the New Town until 1996. He was succeeded in 1962 by Dudley Roberts Leaker.

Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California

Kahn, Louis Isidore (1901-1974)

Churchill College, Cambridge: the ventilation shaft

Richard Sheppard Robson & Partners

Roger Stevens Lecture Theatre block, University of Leeds: the west facade seen from Chancellor's Court

Chamberlin Powell & Bon
NOTES: Chamberlin Powell & Bon were responsible for the masterplan of this major campus expansion and for the design of several of its buildings erected in 1963-1975.

Robin Hood Gardens, Tower Hamlets, London: the garden facade of the seven-storey slab block

Alison & Peter Smithson
NOTES: This council housing estate in east London covers about five acres and consists of two long blocks, one of ten storeys, the other of seven, built from precast concrete slabs.

Canongate housing development, Royal Mile, Edinburgh

Sir Basil Spence Glover & Ferguson