Eco Brutalism - About 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 or photography, among other things. Brutalism is an architectural style based on raw concrete and massive, almost forbidding structures, often serving as a symbol of the industrial world and dystopian future . However, recently 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 that actually mean? Why is adding trees and greenery to buildings the new symbol of a brighter future?

Habitat 67 building as an example of 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 private garden laid out on the roof of the lower unit and the entire structure offers sweeping city and river views. Although sometimes referred to as "Eco Brutalist," Habitat 67 is actually an example of an early vision of Brutalism as utopian architecture.

The original thought behind Brutalism was to create a better future for society. It was a movement centered on the idea of ​​social justice and the creation of communities to be improved through the construction of massive but functional structures. Eventually, however, Brutalism fell into disrepute and was viewed 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 facilities.

But with the new Eco Brutalism movement, Brutalism is being cast in a new light. It's not just about aesthetics, it's also about purpose and function. The addition of vegetation and green space to the hard concrete structures aims to create a connection with nature and promote a more sustainable future. It's 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. The combination of hard, functional structures and lush vegetation creates a new form of architecture 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 as an example of eco-brutalism
Another photo of Habitat 67 in Montreal - By Taxiarchos228, CC BY-SA 3.0,


The Origin of Brutalism

Brutalism evolved from various streams, but its origins can be traced back to the architect couple Alison and Peter Smithson. With their design for the Soho House, they coined the term "New Brutalism" for the first time. The focus was on using raw materials with no embellishments or finishes. Interested in making the workings of buildings visible to the user, the Smithsons developed the concept of "Streets in the Sky" to create a new form of urban movement. Her architecture was an expression of a way of life based on a deep appreciation for materials and a connection between people and buildings.

However, the term Brutalism was interpreted differently by architecture critic Reyner Banham and defined as "image". Banham viewed Brutalist buildings as exemplifying their modernity and unique creations. But the Smithsons rejected this notion, emphasizing the importance of direct functionality and the involvement of people in their designs. They used collages from advertisements and magazines to incorporate a visible human presence into their designs. They emphasized that their architecture was not only aimed at the building itself, but also at the overall environment, including urban systems and urban planning.

Robin Hood Gardens, a social housing complex in East London, was their first project 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 faced the city. Here the aim 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, then, was not only an architectural style, but also an experiment in utopian ideals. It's about showing the functionality and materials of a building openly, 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 1970s, Brutalism continued to assert itself in European architecture. It was used in Eastern Europe as a symbol of communism and worldwide by modernists and socialists for their own ends. In Britain, however, Brutalism fell out of public favor. Although Brutalist architecture was accepted by the communities, it was not necessarily because of their social vision, but because it was cheap. Raw concrete, metal and prefabricated elements reduced costs. However, governments were keen to bring costs down even further, resulting in the architects' visions for the buildings being compromised. So did Robin Hood Gardens, the Smithsons' public housing project, where compromises were made that undermined their intended function. The Smithsons concept of roads to the sky was scaled down, and apartment entrance gardens were eliminated entirely due to budget constraints. Brutalism fell into disrepute, particularly among the British upper class, who perceived the architecture as dystopian. In the 1980s, Thatcher's Conservative government was in power and campaigned for the dismantling of Brutalism. She even produced pseudo-scientific accounts of how Brutalist architecture caused crime. Brutalism was increasingly associated with poverty and crime, and Brutalist buildings were considered ugly by the public. The Brutalist concept of philanthropy was lost in the architecture that was built and in the popular understanding of what Brutalism was. But 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 aesthetic blogs that have an interest in reviving Brutalism. There is also a popularization of "eco-brutalism" that builds on the brutalism of previous decades. 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" does not represent an established architectural style. Eco-Brutalism is less of an architectural movement and more of a hashtag.

Brutalist buildings in Georgia
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 are integrated into the building became. The building is surrounded by mature trees that were not foreseen in the original construction phase. Like the Smithsons' work, the public spaces have been neglected. Another example, as mentioned earlier, is Habitat 67, designed by architect Moshe Safdie for the 1967 Montreal World's Fair. The building was intended as an example of the affordable housing of the future. Great effort was made to reduce costs and all units were prefabricated on site from raw concrete. The goal was not met, however, as the Canadian government neglected finances to such an extent that the completed units could never serve their purpose as models 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 ecological problems. The cement industry is one of the largest producers of atmospheric carbon dioxide and a large 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 be easily radioactive and cause health problems for their occupants.

Despite this, there is a popularization of eco-brutalism that attempts to put brutalism in an ecological perspective. It's not about aesthetics, it's 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 for ecologically sensible building and coexistence

Brutalism's past as utopian architecture may have been disappointing, but that doesn't mean its latent possibilities have vanished. 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, such as the "streets in the sky," which move pedestrian traffic higher and thus reduce land use. The idea of ​​allowing for better water infiltration and storage by removing concrete surfaces is also found in the depaving movement, which is actively converting concrete and asphalt surfaces into eco-surfaces. Urban commons and community gardens can also find a place here. The Brutalist idea of ​​communal public spaces that Robin Hood Garden and Golden Lane were intended to entail can be reinterpreted in the context of community gardens and socio-ecological movements. But brutalism can also be made ecologically sensible when it comes to the choice of materials: local materials and knowledge from indigenous communities can help to use local materials and build sustainably. It is not only about building, but also about the question of how we want to live together in the future and what is necessary for this. By taking an ecological perspective and incorporating 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

Joe Adsett Architects' Cliffhanger House is an architectural masterpiece that embraces Toowoomba's incomparable landscape. Vitrocsa worked closely with Joe Adsett Architects to create a building that does justice to both the 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 home is marked by a striking oversized glass revolving door framed by a curved concrete wall. The window frame has been crafted from a sleek aluminum product using reinforced stainless steel to allow a seamless indoor-outdoor flow into the home and open up views of the surrounding countryside.

The concrete interior design of the house reflects the main theme of the building, with curves and sharp points repeated in the joinery and furniture. With restrained materials and a combination of veneered wood products and large porcelain tiles, the interior design brings a humanizing element to the concrete superhouse.

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



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