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The brute is back – on television, on social media, in coffee-table books, even in new buildings. But can we ever recapture the movement’s original spirit, asks Douglas Murphy?
It feels so odd to say this, but brutalism is the very height of fashion. Everywhere you look in architectural media, it’s concrete, concrete, concrete. This has been murmuring around for a while now, with aficionados keeping the flame alive even in its darkest hours, but recent years have seen an explosion of interest. In books, there’s Elain Harwood’s mammoth Space Hope and Brutalism, Barnabas Calder’s Raw Concrete: The Beauty of Brutalism and Christopher Beanland’s Concrete Concept: Brutalist Buildings Around the World, to name just three published within the last year.
There are events and exhibitions: Assemble’s Brutalist Playground recast the ludicrously non-health-and-safety landscapes of play from housing estates in colourful bouncy foam, while the National Trust of all people recently offered Brutal Utopia tours of Park Hill, the Southbank Centre and the University of East Anglia. On television, Jonathan Meades got in there early with his 2014 series Bunkers, Brutalism and Bloody-Mindedness (in which I got a very brief mention), while a surprisingly sympathetic Department of Culture, Media and Sport has been listing buildings – including Preston Bus Station – that previous administrations would have rushed to demolish.
If your home needs decorating, there’s the modernist crockery of People Will Always Need Plates, or Zupagrafika’s Brutal London cut-out ornaments, but with enough cash swilling around you can get more involved. The Modern House is an estate agent dealing in post-war modernism, and brutalism is one of its specialities – it’s even got a book out – while Stefi Orazi’s Modernist Estates website charts the availability of the UK’s modernist housing stock. She’s got a book too (to which I contributed). If you’re very rich and aren’t concerned about social cleansing, flats in buildings such as Ernö Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower are coming up, cleansed of social tenants and spruced up by Urban Splash (who are also now getting started on phase two of Park Hill). […]