Beton Brut and Berlin: A History of Brutalism - industrial concept store

Beton Brut and Berlin: A History of Brutalism

by @industrialkonzept Team

Cover picture: Headquarters of the French Communist Party, architect: Oscar Niemeyer - photograph by © Denis Esakov

Brutalism occupies a unique position in the world of architecture and design. An architectural style characterized by its raw, undisguised materials and powerful, unabashed aesthetic, Brutalism has had a profound impact on our perception of urban landscapes. This style, closely associated with notable figures such as Le Corbusier and Marcel Breuer, represents a radical departure from traditional design norms and has played a particularly influential role in Berlin.

Brutalistisches Gebäude in Berlin
"Mäusebunker" building in Berlin. Photo by © Gunnar Klack via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0
Brutalism is an architectural style of the 20th century that mainly uses concrete as a building material. The term "brutalism" comes from the French expression "béton brut", which means "raw concrete". Since the 1990s, this architectural style has often been viewed negatively and seen as aesthetic vandalism. Critics criticize the monotony and coarseness of the style, while fans praise its simplicity and authenticity. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, architects began to distance themselves from the previous architectural styles and seek new approaches. The desire for change and the need to create living space quickly led to a variety of brutalist buildings that varied according to local conditions and available materials. Le Corbusier is considered a pioneer of Brutalism and designed the first building in this style in 1947. Other well-known representatives of Brutalism are Alison and Peter Smithson, who designed a school in Hunstanton, England, among other things. The term "New Brutalism" was then coined by Reyner Banham to describe an idealized approach to architecture.

"What characterizes New Brutalism is precisely its brutality...", "...its je-m'en-foutisme, its stubbornness.", wrote the architecture critic Reyner Banham in 1955.

The most striking characteristics of Brutalism are the use of exposed concrete, clear lines, simple geometric shapes and rough finishes, without playful or romantic details. In addition to concrete, metal, brick and stone can also be integrated into the architecture.
Brutalism
This is how the image AI Midjourney imagines the Austrian parliament in brutalist architecture. Photo: Midjourney/Matthias Punz

Brutalism emerged as a reaction to the increasing sterility and uniformity of architecture. Inspired by the ideas of Le Corbusier, who saw beauty in the "poetics of the raw material", and Marcel Breuer, whose designs redefined the aesthetics of building, a style emerged that was characterized by its honest materiality and functional forms.

Berlin, the capital of Germany, became a center of Brutalism. In the post-war period, when the city was being rebuilt, Brutalism offered a formal language that symbolized both destruction and reconstruction. The massive structures in Berlin, often perceived as monolithic, speak of a history of resistance and resurrection. They stand as monumental signs of the times in which they were built and reflect the social and political upheavals of that era.

St. Agnes Kirche

St. Agnes Church in Berlin - Photo: Akademie der Künste: Architecture Archive Werner Düttmann

Tschechische Botschaft Berlin

Czech Embassy in Berlin - Photo © Ollie Tomlinson for IGNANT Production

The significance of Brutalism today

Why does Brutalism remain an important part of the design of our cities and interiors today? The key lies in its ability to create contrast and reflect the raw reality of human life. In a world often characterized by a flood of perfect images and a smoothing out of the individual, Brutalism offers a grounding force. It reminds us of imperfection, the raw beauty of materials and the importance of authenticity.

Institut für Hygiene & Umweltmedizin

Institute for Hygiene & Environmental Medicine in Berlin - Photo © Ollie Tomlinson for IGNANT Production

Brutalism, deeply rooted in the philosophical approaches of many architects of the Bauhaus era, and shaped by Berlin's history, remains an essential part of our cultural and urban heritage. It forces us to re-evaluate the meaning of space, material and form and offers an antithesis to the often sterile modernity. There is a timeless message in its boldness and blunt depiction of reality - one that reminds us that beauty is often found in strength, honesty and imperfection.

Our recommendation for all those who want to explore Berlin from a new perspective: IGNANT's Guide To Brutalism In Berlin

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