Eco Brutalism - About the meaning of Eco Brutalism - industrial concept store

Eco Brutalism - On the meaning of Eco Brutalism

by @industrialkonzept Team

Eco Brutalism: the union of architecture and nature

Brutalism, once seen as an architectural style of modernity and the future, is currently experiencing a renaissance as a visual language for fashion and photography, among other things. Brutalism is an architectural style based on raw concrete and massive, almost forbidding structures and often serves as a symbol of the industrial world and dystopian future. Recently, however, there has been a new interpretation of Brutalism known as"Eco Brutalism". Eco, as ecological, and brutalism, as an architectural style, are combined to create a new form of architecture that uses the contrast between the hard concrete and the lush vegetation to create a utopian aesthetic. But what does this actually mean? Why is the addition of trees and green spaces to buildings the new symbol of a better future?

Habitat 67 Gebäude als Beispiel für Eco Brutalism
Habitat 67 in Montreal - By Thomas Ledl - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

A popular example of Eco Brutalism is Habitat 67 in Montreal, Canada. Designed by architect Moshe Safdie for the Expo 67 World's Fair, it is an iconic example of experimental residential architecture. The structure consists of 354 identical concrete blocks stacked into an impressive pyramid-shaped structure. Each unit has its own garden, created on the roof of the lower unit, and the entire structure offers impressive views of the city and the river. Although it is sometimes referred to as "Eco Brutalist", Habitat 67 is actually an example of an early vision of Brutalism as utopian architecture.

The original idea behind Brutalism was to create a better future for society. It was a movement that focused on the idea of social justice and the creation of communities that would be improved through the construction of massive but functional structures. However, Brutalism eventually fell into disrepute and was seen by many as cold, gray and unsightly. It was an architecture that was difficult to access for the masses and instead was often only used for government buildings or public institutions.

But with the new Eco Brutalism movement, Brutalism is being cast in a new light. It's not just about aesthetics, but also about purpose and function. Adding vegetation and green spaces to the hard concrete structures is meant to create a connection to nature and promote a more sustainable future. It is about creating communities that are not only functional but also aesthetically pleasing and in harmony with nature.

The Eco Brutalism movement shows us that architecture and nature do not have to be opposites. By combining hard, functional structures with lush vegetation, a new form of architecture is created that is not only beautiful to look at, but also ecological and sustainable. Eco Brutalism challenges us to connect with our buildings and environments and find a way to live in harmony with nature.

Habitat 67 als Beispiel für Eco-Brutalismus
Another photo of Habitat 67 in Montreal - By Taxiarchos228, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The origin of Brutalism

Brutalism developed from various trends, but its origins can be traced back to the architect couple Alison and Peter Smithson. With their design for Soho House, they coined the term "New Brutalism" for the first time. The focus was on the use of raw materials without ornamentation or paintwork. The Smithsons were interested in making the functionality of the buildings visible to the user and developed the concept of "Streets in the Sky" to create a new form of urban movement. Their architecture was an expression of a way of life based on a deep appreciation of materials and a connection between people and buildings.

However, the term Brutalism was interpreted differently by architecture critic Reyner Banham, who defined it as "image". Banham regarded Brutalist buildings as exemplary for their modernity and unique creations. However, the Smithsons rejected this view and emphasized the importance of direct functionality and the inclusion of people in their designs. They used collages of advertisements and magazines to incorporate a visible human presence into their designs. They emphasized that their architecture was not only focused on the building itself, but also on the entire environment, including urban systems and urban planning.

The Robin Hood Gardens, a social housing complex in East London, was the first project they built and an experiment in utopia. The two monumental concrete towers were connected to a large central garden, while the "Streets in the Sky" on the sides of the buildings were oriented towards the city. The aim here was to give the residents a sense of identity, freedom and movement and to offer them a shared, self-governing community. The concrete towers were not an expression of anonymity or a mechanized population, but part of a modernist vision of human connection.

Robin Hood Gardens
Robin Hood Gardens - By stevecadman - Flickrtik hartua, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Brutalism was therefore not just an architectural style, but also an experiment in utopian ideals. It is about openly presenting the functionality and materials of a building, integrating people into the design and creating a new form of urban movement and community. Despite its popularity in the 60s and 70s, Brutalism was often misunderstood and misinterpreted. But the Smithsons' ideals remain as inspiration for future generations of architects.

Brutalism through the ages

In the 1960s and 70s, Brutalism became more and more prevalent in European architecture. It was used as a symbol of communism in Eastern Europe and by modernists and socialists worldwide for their own purposes. In Britain, however, Brutalism fell out of favor with the public. Although Brutalist architecture was embraced by communities, this was not necessarily because of its social vision, but because it was cheap. Raw concrete, metal and prefabricated elements lowered costs. However, governments were keen to reduce costs even further, which meant that the architects' visions for the buildings were compromised. This also happened with Robin Hood Gardens, the Smithsons' social housing project, where compromises were made that undermined their intended function. The Smithsons' concept of streets in the sky was scaled down, and entrance gardens for apartments were completely eliminated due to budget constraints. Brutalism fell into increasing disrepute, particularly among the British upper classes who saw the architecture as dystopian. By the 1980s, Thatcher's Conservative government was in power and committed to dismantling Brutalism. It even produced pseudo-scientific reports on how Brutalist architecture caused crime. Brutalism was increasingly associated with poverty and crime and Brutalist buildings were perceived as ugly by the public. The Brutalist concept of human kindness was lost in the architecture that was built and in the popular understanding of what Brutalism is. However, despite the demise of Robin Hood Gardens, there is a renewed enthusiasm for Brutalism in popular culture today.

From aesthetics to ethics: the popularization of eco-brutalism

It's not just real estate developers, fashion designers and Pinterest aesthetics blogs that have an interest in reviving Brutalism. There is also a popularization of "eco-brutalism" that builds on the brutalism of decades past. However, it is important to note that despite its popularity on the internet, particularly on image platforms and in online communities, the term 'eco-brutalism' is not an established architectural style. Eco-brutalism is less an architectural movement than a hashtag.

Brutalismus Gebäude in Georgien
Ministry of Highway Construction in Georgia - By Rob Schofield / flickr

An example of this is the Ministry of Highway Construction building in Georgia, which was built in the early 1970s as a pure brutalist building with no regard for ecology, but is now a good example of Eco-Brutalism as trees and green spaces have been incorporated into the building. The building is surrounded by mature trees that were not planned for in the original construction phase. Like the Smithsons' work, the public spaces have been neglected. Another example, as already mentioned, is Habitat 67, designed by architect Moshe Safdie for the 1967 Montreal World's Fair. The building was intended as an example of affordable housing of the future. Great efforts were made to reduce costs and all units were prefabricated on site from raw concrete. However, the goal was not achieved as the Canadian government neglected the finances so much that the completed units could never fulfill their purpose as a model of affordable housing. Instead, extremely high rents were charged, and the units are now coveted real estate investments for the city's elite. However, the use of concrete in Brutalist buildings causes environmental problems. The cement industry is one of the largest producers of atmospheric carbon dioxide and a major consumer of fossil fuels. Concrete causes surface runoff, which leads to soil erosion and flooding. Concrete dust resulting from damage, demolition or frequent natural disasters is a major air pollutant. Concrete buildings can easily be radioactive and cause health problems for their occupants.

Nevertheless, there is a popularization of eco-brutalism that attempts to put brutalism into an ecological perspective. This is not about aesthetics, but about ethics and philosophy that underpin the Smithsons' brutalism. This approach aims to create new urban forms that promote democracy and community and protect the environment.

Eco-Brutalism: approaches to ecologically sound building and living together

Brutalism's past as utopian architecture may have been disappointing, but that doesn't mean its latent possibilities have disappeared. What might an architecture that actually works towards these goals look like and what would it take to make Brutalism ecologically meaningful? Some of the Smithsons' ideas offer starting points: the "Streets in the sky", for example, which move pedestrian traffic upwards and thus reduce the use of land. The idea of enabling better water infiltration and storage by removing concrete surfaces can also be found in the depaving movement, which actively converts concrete and asphalt surfaces into eco-spaces. Urban commons and community gardens can also find a place here. The Brutalist idea of communal public spaces, which Robin Hood Garden and Golden Lane were supposed to bring with them, can be reinterpreted in the context of community gardens and socio-ecological movements. But brutalism can also be made ecologically meaningful in the choice of materials: local materials and knowledge from indigenous communities can help here to use local materials and build sustainably. This is not just about building, but also about the question of how we want to live together in the future and what is needed to achieve this. Through an ecological perspective and the inclusion of indigenous voices and knowledge, new, utopian visions for our cities and communities can emerge that go beyond aesthetics and create truly sustainable, democratic structures.

An example of correctly applied Eco Brutalism in architecture and interior design

The Cliffhanger by Joe Adsett Architects is a masterpiece of architecture that embraces the incomparable landscape of Toowoomba, Australia. Vitrocsa worked closely with Joe Adsett Architects to create a building that does justice to both its surroundings and the natural landscape. The Cliffhanger house is located on a ridge and has been designed to provide functional living space while ensuring privacy from the surrounding neighbors.

The entrance to the Cliffhanger home is characterized by an eye-catching, oversized revolving glass door framed by a curved concrete wall. The window frame was crafted from a sleek reinforced stainless steel aluminum product to provide a seamless indoor-outdoor flow into the home and open views of the surrounding landscape.

The concrete interior design of the house reflects the main theme of the building, with curves and sharp points repeated in the joinery elements and furniture. The use of understated materials and a combination of large porcelain tiles and industrial wooden furniture gives the interior design of the concrete house a warm atmosphere.

Overall, the concrete Cliffhanger is an outstanding example of carefully considered design that blends harmoniously into its surroundings while creating functional living space.

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