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Notwithstanding all of their subtlety—most evident in carefully organized formwork lines and tie holes, or in taut fine-grained precast elements—Brutalist buildings contain a lot of concrete.This makes them impractical to demolish but also challenging to renovate.Boston City Hall, for example, contains roughly 2.5 million pounds of concrete.
The studio group also toured Boston City Hall, with the guidance of Professor Mark Pasnik, co-author of the 2015 book .
Then, they visited the site for the studio: Swope Center, the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole.
Its most important practitioners in England, Alison and Peter Smithson, insisted that in essence, the movement was “ethical” rather than stylistic.
Even so, Brutalist buildings tended to express themselves visually: in the exposure of modern building services and building structure, and most prominently in the unapologetically bare surfaces of raw concrete.
, variously translated as “rough concrete” or “raw concrete,” became the material of choice for progressive architects of the 1950s.
Concrete gave them opportunities to repudiate a reductivist version of steel and glass modernism that was developing after World War II.
As a modern material, however, concrete also fortified their disavowal of reactionary trends in architecture that reached toward nostalgic regional sensibilities.
These architects of concrete quickly appeared to represent a movement.
Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation in Marseille, Kenzō Tange’s Kagawa Prefectural Office in Japan, Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67 in Montreal, Paul Rudolph’s Yale University Art and Architecture building in New Haven, as well as multitudes of hospital, campus, and government buildings like them, have struck critics as callous, aggressive, frigid.
That these buildings fall conveniently under the stylistic term “Brutalism” seems to confirm their inhumanity: The word “brutal” so well encompasses all of the unsettling adjectives that swirl around these concrete behemoths.