New Brutalism And Its Progeny

Brutalist architecture was preeminently the architecture of poured-in-place concrete. Indeed, the very name brutalist refers to the French word for concrete, namely béton brut. The impulse to define this assertive primitivism theoretically and declare it a new movement came not from Le Cor-busier but from young English architects—such as Peter and Alison Smithson, and later James Stirling and Denys Lasdun. As their spokesman, critic-historian Reyner Ban-ham, explained in his eponymous article in the Architectural Review of 1955, the movement was largely a radical expression of honesty in both structure and the use of materials, consciously intended as a social and political statement. In general its adherents advocated a much earthier and more boldly articulated architecture than that fostered by the modernist movement. Its novelty lay more in the way plans were developed and materials used than in its structural conception, but those special emphases were sufficient to produce a very different appearance from that of the Villa Savoye or the Bauhaus.

An aspect of the new honesty was to employ materials of ordinary provenance. It became a matter of principle to specify catalog items rather than custom-made ones and to prefer humble materials to those with elite associations. Hence, not only rough concrete but also industrial brick and terra-cotta tile were adopted. Glass was used in smaller, cheaper panes rather than in expensive sheets, and ordinary hardware was preferred to elegant. A typical example was James Stirling and James Gowan's industrial-tile, steel, and glass Leicester University Engineering Laboratory (fig. 9-19), completed in 1962, already discussed in connection with plan and structure. A poured concrete example was Denys Lasdun's National Theater, completed 1975, on London's South Bank. Its boldly blocky forms of exposed concrete, inside as well as out, challenged with their no-nonsense informality all established notions about theater going as an elite social activity. Such an alteration of implicit social expression was the general intention behind brutalist buildings everywhere, as the mode was being adopted for museums, libraries, university buildings, government centers, and apartment complexes. For that very reason the movement did not make much impact on corporate headquarters and shopping malls.

High tech, as a transmogrification of new brutalism, maintains just as rigorously the principle of honesty, but it resubscribes to rationality as well. By way of contrast to its immediate predecessor, it has exchanged the expression of ruggedness for one of sleek sophistication. It accepts only the machine-made and, insofar as possible, the prefabri cated, as seen in Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers's Pompidou Center, Paris, of the mid-1970s (fig. 10-17). Materials that are hard, smooth, and shiny are preferred to anything that is otherwise, which means a bias toward metal, glass, and some plastics. Although high tech design favors the use of standardized building elements, the parts almost always have to be specially manufactured for a particular project. Relentlessly urban, even when situated in the countryside, high tech materials denote the cutting edge of modernity. They achieve, even celebrate, the aims of the early modernists in the expression of technology. But, unlike the modernists, high tech practitioners often use unorthodox colors, or unexpected combinations of colors or finishes, in order to be lighthearted or witty.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment