From the
organisers of
Concrete Show Logo

Are our Brutalist buildings worth saving?

Chamberlin, Powell and Bon's Barbican Estate in London is perhaps the most famous Brutalist complex of all, and is noted for its fortress-like appearance and innovative urban design.Photograph: Maciek Lulko.

In the post-war period, Brutalism emerged as a bold and practical architectural style, characterized by its use of raw concrete and massive, geometric forms. 

Originating in the mid-20th century, Brutalism aimed to embody the functional and social ideals of the time, creating buildings that were honest in their use of materials and unpretentious in design. 

Today, as we see renewed interest in these structures, it's worth asking: are our Brutalist buildings worth saving?

Brutalism took its name from the French term "béton brut," meaning "raw concrete”, and was a reaction against the perceived frivolities of earlier architectural movements, seeking to create structures that were both functional and expressive.

The movement gained prominence in the 1950s and 1960s, particularly in the UK, where it was seen as a way to rebuild cities and provide affordable housing in the aftermath of World War II.

Several architects became synonymous with Brutalism, leaving a lasting legacy with their distinctive designs:

Alison and Peter Smithson: Known for The Economist Building and Robin Hood Gardens in London, the Smithsons were pioneers of the Brutalist ethos, focusing on social housing and utilitarian design.

Ernő Goldfinger: Goldfinger's Trellick Tower and Balfron Tower in London are iconic examples of Brutalist residential buildings, known for their bold, imposing forms.

Denys Lasdun: Lasdun's Royal National Theatre on London's South Bank and the Institute of Education at UCL are celebrated for their dramatic concrete structures and functional aesthetics.

Chamberlin, Powell and Bon: The Barbican Estate in London is perhaps the most famous Brutalist complex, noted for its fortress-like appearance and innovative urban design.

Owen Luder: Luder's Trinity Square Car Park in Gateshead, although demolished, was a striking example of Brutalist architecture that sparked much debate.

Birmingham's Ringway Centre

A noteworthy Brutalist structure currently under threat is Birmingham's Ringway Centre.

Built in the 1960s, the Ringway Centre embodies many Brutalist principles with its extensive use of concrete and functional design. Its sweeping curves and horizontal lines set it apart from more conventional buildings of its time. 

Despite its architectural significance, there are plans to demolish the Ringway Centre, raising questions about the value and preservation of such buildings.

The Case for Preservation

Brutalist buildings are often polarizing. Critics argue that they are cold, uninviting, and sometimes oppressive. However, these structures represent an important period in architectural and social history. 

They were built with a vision to create functional, affordable, and durable spaces for the public. Moreover, many Brutalist buildings have unique aesthetic and cultural value that is increasingly appreciated today.

Brutalist buildings are indeed worth saving. They are not merely relics of a bygone era but are vital pieces of our architectural heritage. Preserving these structures allows us to maintain a tangible connection to the social and cultural aspirations of the mid-20th century.

We have a responsibility to recognise the value of these buildings and work towards their preservation.

Rather than demolishing them, we should explore ways to adapt and integrate them into our modern urban landscapes, ensuring that their historical significance and architectural innovation are not lost to future generations.