Is brutalism back?

Saturday 22 October, 14.00 - 15.30 , Frobisher 1-3 Urbanism and its Discontents

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Video and audio of this debate are available at the bottom of this page.

Brutalist architecture is now in the midst of a revival. The World Monument Fund added Brutalism as a category on its watch list, while there has also been a number of a campaigns to save Brutalist structures across Europe, most recently the famous Red Road Flats in Glasgow. Alongside this, the National Trust and Southbank Centre have launched a new project called Brutal Utopias, intended to promote the popularity of Britain’s remaining Brutalist buildings and estates, such as the Trellick Tower in London and Park Hill Flats in Sheffield. And of course, the Barbican is a celebrated example of the style. Nevertheless, this enthusiasm for old Brutalist buildings has not translated into any real-world desire to start building mass housing in the Brutalist style. Instead, it seems Brutalist buildings are seen as more as a quirky curiosity, and valued in a preservationist way, much like authentic Tudor mansions or Georgian terraces. Is there not something paradoxical about revering as heritage a style that was supposed to be about tearing up the past and boldly putting function before ornament?

After so many years of being maligned as ugly and dehumanising, why is Brutalism being appreciated now? While some insist it is simply about the severe beauty of the buildings, others contend it shows a nostalgia for the post-war era and its commitment to a social housing policy, particularly as London seems to be in the midst of a housing crisis. Indeed, according to one architect writing in the Independent, ‘Plans to demolish brutalist council estates will destroy concrete memorials to the post-war commitment to social democracy’. But again, is a symbolic commitment to social democracy more important than actually building new homes, in whatever style? Is the revival of interest in Brutalism any more than nostalgia for the future as it was once imagined? Should we preserve Brutalist architecture purely for aesthetic reasons, or is there something to be said for reviving the future-oriented philosophy behind the aesthetic? Alternatively, should the whole thing be consigned to history?