Published by Landscape Architecture and Urbanism at University of Greenwich, London

‘Brutal and Beautiful’ – Saving the Twentieth Century

Saving the Twentieth Century

Postgraduate student Kit Bullas uses his recent visit to the Brutal & Beautiful post-war buildings exhibition to share his opinions on brutalist architecture that Landscape Architects can have a hand in saving.

Yesterday, I finally had the opportunity to visit the Brutal & Beautiful exhibition at the Quadriga Gallery, Wellington Arch, London. On display, is a collection of the Nation’s finest post-war buildings, presented through a mixture of photography, film and original models. Amongst this collection of listed buildings lies the primary reason I made the trip, New Brutalist structures of the late 1950s and 60s.

My love affair with brutalist buildings has been enduring, stemming from a young age. Something I can attest to a memory of my 8 or 9 year old self in Chamberlain Square, studying Birmingham’s Central Library (designed by John Madin) with fascination.  My father at my side denouncing the ‘ugly and disgusting’ addition to the landscape, and the many other examples Birmingham had to offer, originating from his youth.

It is my hope the Brutalist examples on display resonate with the wider public and starts up many a love affair, for this kind of architecture has the odds stacked against it. Which brings me to my next point, the exhibition displays listed examples, for which there are few (merely 699 post-war buildings have been listed in England; which equates to 0.01% of the buildings constructed in that time).  As I write this, The Heygate, in Elephant & Castle is being torn down, the Camden Town Hall Annexe demise is being plotted and The Southbank centre has plans attached to it – which entails wrapping its façade in glass, which will do away with its brutalist exterior.

We can all agree these buildings are ‘marmite’ (loved my some, hated by others) but at least they evoke a reaction, unlike ‘white bread’ architecture. What this exhibition highlights is that the feat of preserving these buildings is still in its adolescence.  This act’s continuation possibly belongs to encouraging people to not dismiss the style but learn to love it. We cannot all be like myself who would choose marmite over plain white bread any day.

What is the Landscape Architect’s role in this? Well I believe our skills could be utilised to better marry these structures into the urban landscape, of course without compromise to the architecture style and the philosophy of years past. Moreover perhaps we can have a hand in resolving some design issues that often blight these structures.

With much to see and the possibility of romance on the cards I urge you to visit this weekend, the exhibition is open for two more days.>

Photograph: Jason Cobb


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