Beton Brut and Berlin: A History of Brutalism

by @industrialkonzept Team

Cover Image: Headquarters of the French Communist Party, Architect: Oscar Niemeyer - Photography by © Denis Esakov


In the world of architecture and design, Brutalism holds a unique position. As an architectural style characterized by its raw, unadorned materials and its powerful, blunt aesthetics, 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 defining role especially in Berlin.


Brutalist building in Berlin
"Mäusebunker" building in Berlin. Photo by © Gunnar Klack via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0
Brutalism is a 20th-century architectural style that mainly uses concrete as a building material. The term "Brutalism" comes from the French expression "béton brut," meaning "raw concrete". Since the 1990s, this style has often been negatively evaluated and considered aesthetic vandalism. Critics complain about the monotony and coarseness of the style, while fans praise the simplicity and authenticity. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, architects began to distance themselves from previous styles and seek new ways. The desire for change and the need to quickly create housing led to a variety of Brutalist buildings, varying depending on 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 proponents of Brutalism include Alison and Peter Smithson, who designed a school in Hunstanton, England, among other things. The term "New Brutalism" was later 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 features of Brutalism are the use of exposed concrete, clean lines, simple geometric shapes, and rough finishing, without playful or romantic details. In addition to concrete, metal, brick, and stone can also be integrated into the architecture.
This is how the AI image generator Midjourney imagines the Austrian Parliament in brutalist architecture. Photo: Midjourney/Matthias Punz

Brutalism emerged as a reaction to the increasing sterility and uniformity in architecture. Inspired by the ideas of Le Corbusier, who saw beauty in the "poetry of raw materials," and Marcel Breuer, whose designs redefined the aesthetics of building, a style emerged that is characterized by its honest materiality and its 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 language of form that symbolized both destruction and reconstruction. The massive, often perceived as monolithic structures in Berlin speak of a history of resistance and resurgence. They stand as monumental signs of the time in which they were built and reflect the social and political upheavals of that era.


St. Agnes Church

St. Agnes Church in Berlin - Photo: Academy of Arts: Architecture Archive Werner Düttmann


Czech Embassy 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 contrasts and reflect the raw reality of human life. In a world often characterized by a flood of perfect images and a smoothing of the individual, Brutalism offers a grounding force. It reminds us of imperfection, of the raw beauty of materials, and of the importance of authenticity.


Institute of Hygiene & Environmental Medicine

Institute of 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 the history of Berlin, remains an essential part of our cultural and urban heritage. It forces us to reevaluate the meaning of space, material, and form and offers a counterpoint to often sterile-looking modernity. In its boldness and its blunt representation of reality lies a timeless message – 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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