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Once reviled by design critics and the public for their hard edges and unwelcoming facades, brutalist structures are suddenly in vogue. Kristina Ljubanovic explores how a style of architecture finds an enthusiastic audience, almost 70 years after it was born
In March, an architectural icon changed hands. When the Whitney Museum of American Art took occupancy of its new, Renzo Piano-designed home in New York’s Meatpacking District in May 2015, the Metropolitan Museum of Art claimed its original Madison Avenue address for its own modern and contemporary collections. Rechristened the Met Breuer after its architect – Hungarian-born, Bauhaus-trained, New York-transplant Marcel Breuer – the institutional switch and subsequent careful restoration by the firm Beyer Blinder Belle, has sparked renewed interest in both its designer and the building’s somewhat depressingly-named architectural style, brutalism.
Though Breuer did not identify with the aesthetic, characterized by a hulking, sometimes intimidating monumentality, the skillful use of concrete in his structures signalled a shift away from the all-glass facades made popular by the International Style of the 1950s and ‘60s. So it might not be surprising that a similar transition is happening today, as a new generation of architects tries to differentiate its buildings from the glut of transparent condominium and office towers that have come to dominate city skylines around the world.
Indeed, many contemporary architects are adapting and updating some of brutalism’s core ideas. Think Bjarke Ingel’s take on Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67 for a new condo complex on King Street West in Toronto, the Quinta Monroy housing project in Iquique, Chile by Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Alejandro Aravena of Elemental, the faceted Spring Street Salt Shed for the New York City Department of Sanitation by Dattner Architects, or David Adjaye’s use of patterned concrete for the Sugar Hill Development in Harlem. “No other material has the potential of such complete and convincing fusion between structure, enclosure and surface,” said Breuer in 1963. […]