The Joy Of… Brutalist Architecture

2016 Artwork The Joy of Brutalist Architecture article sketch

Although this subject is only loosely-related to art and/or writing, I thought that I’d talk about the coolest and most visually-striking type of architecture in existence. I am, of course, talking about Brutalist architecture.

If you’ve never heard of Brutalist architecture, it was a type of architecture that was popular in Britain in the mid-late 20th century – until it inexplicably became despised by many people (and many local councils) in the 1990s and 2000s. Although many great Brutalist buildings have sadly fallen to the wrecking ball, there are thankfully plenty of examples of it still standing though.

It’s a type of minimalist architecture that uses bare concrete and angular walls. It looks like architecture. It looks like what people in the past considered to be “futuristic”. If you’ve ever seen a visually-stunning modern sci-fi movie called “Dredd” or various dystopian sci-fi movies from the 1970s-90s, then you’ve possibly seen Brutalist architecture.

One of the things that I absolutely love about Brutalist architecture is the fact that it looks both old and futuristic at the same time. Like many of the non-brutalist buildings in “Blade Runner“, it has a “used future” kind of look to it. Brutalist buildings are vast towering edifices that would be at home in any dystopian sci-fi novel, comic or film. But, unlike most settings commonly found in the sci-fi genre, they actually exist in real life 🙂

But, before you think that I’m criticising this awesome type of architecture by likening it to dystopian science fiction, it’s important to note that dystopian sci-fi has often been one of the most creative and imaginative genres of sci-fi out there. Even the visual and descriptive style of it alone is enough to both spark the imagination and linger there for years.

Whether it’s the gigantic sprawl in William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”, the beautifully complex world of “Blade Runner” or the ominously austere world of George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, dystopian science fiction is often the most memorable, oddly fascinating and imagination-expanding type of science fiction out there.

However, thanks to many people inexplicably not being fans of dystopian science fiction, brutalist architecture often gets something of a bad reputation. Seriously, other pople can be weird sometimes.

Back when the Tricorn Centre in Portsmouth was still standing, people often used to consider it an “eyesore” but, to my teenage self, it was something much more than that. It was an intriguingly mysterious and slightly futuristic semi-disused building towering over the edge of a drearily modern city.

On one corner of it, a large faded black and red sign advertised a laser tag arena which had long since closed. Whenever I saw this zombie advertisement, I wondered what the actual arena looked like. Was it some kind of tiny post-apocalyptic wasteland? Was it coated with graffiti? Was it the kind of place that only appears in horror novels? I’d only heard vague second-hand second-hand stories about people exploring it, so it was something that really fired my imagination.

My only regret is that I never explored the Tricorn Centre. In fact, the only interior parts of it that I ever saw was probably the multi-storey car park. But it was a fascinating building. It was a little real life piece of the kind of fascinating dystopian science fiction that I’d only really seen in movies and read about in books. It was unlike any other building that I’d seen, with it’s strange geometric construction, hinting at the future, but also decaying at the same time. I miss the Tricorn.

When I went to Abersytwyth a few years later, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the university campus had several examples of this awesome type of architecture too. The main part of the campus is filled with large concrete buildings, with all sorts of small alleyways and large covered walkways running around them. It really looks dramatic and, once again, it looks both old and futuristic at the same time.

Brutalist architecture both blends into the background and stands out dramatically at the same time. It’s a little piece of cool science fiction in a drearily mundane world. It’s a joy to draw pictures of Brutalist architecture. It’s a joy to imagine the kind of stories that could be set inside a Brutalist building. Although it’s hated by many people, it’s one of the most unique and striking types of architecture ever to be created.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂


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