Many peo­p­le con­nect the term “Bru­ta­lism“ with ugly, depres­sing and oppres­si­ve buil­dings. Some­ti­mes that is the case, con­side­ring some buil­dings’ his­to­ries, like the bun­ker in Reinhardtstr.

As late as 1943, the Nazis had the mons­trous high bun­ker built in the midd­le of the city. Accor­ding to the plans of archi­tect Karl Bonatz, thou­sands of forced labo­rers work­ed on the squa­re buil­ding, which was inten­ded to pro­vi­de pro­tec­tion for rail tra­ve­lers in an emer­gen­cy. After the war, the Soviets used the bun­ker as a remand pri­son, later it ser­ved as a tex­ti­le warehouse and sto­rage area for tro­pi­cal fruits, which is why the East Ber­li­ners lik­ed to call it a “bana­na bunker“.

The Birth of Brutalism

But the ori­gin of the term is less sho­cking. It comes from the French béton brut and it included the work of archi­tects who­se buil­dings, most­ly public insti­tu­ti­ons, con­fron­ted their view­ers with slabs of raw, unfi­nis­hed concrete. 

It beca­me popu­lar in the mid-50’s, when the world was still rising out of the ruins of WWII, and was famous for its use of con­cre­te, geo­me­tric shapes, a mono­chro­me color sche­me, steel and glass. The style adhe­red to three cru­cial cri­te­ria: the clear exhi­bi­ti­on of struc­tu­re, the valua­ti­on of mate­ri­als and the memo­ra­bi­li­ty of the struc­tu­re built. The reason that it beca­me popu­lar was becau­se it was a modern, effi­ci­ent and cheap solu­ti­on for mass public housing, as well as evo­ked an era of opti­mism and belief in the per­ma­nence of public institutions.

The Truth Behind Brutalism 

Bru­tal­sim is more than just a che­a­per way to pro­du­ce hou­ses for thou­sands. It is also a phi­lo­so­phy, a move­ment to tri­umph ethic over aes­the­tic. Bru­ta­lism stri­ves to be simp­le, honest and func­tion­al. It is the archi­tec­tu­ral way of ‘tel­ling it like it is’ and does not­hing more than accom­mo­da­ting their inha­bi­tants, pur­po­se and loca­ti­on. Bru­ta­lism favors func­tion­a­li­ty over aes­the­tic. Peter Smit­h­son, an Eng­lish archi­tect and one of the core foun­ders of New Bru­ta­lism, belie­ved that bru­ta­lism was about the qua­li­ty of the mate­ri­al and not about what mate­ri­al was used.

Sad­ly, Bru­ta­lism went out of fashion in the mid-70’s due to films that tur­ned them into sym­bols of future dys­to­pia, as well as the rise of high-tech archi­tec­tu­re, or Struc­tu­ral Expres­sio­nism and Decon­s­truc­ti­vism, which beca­me famous styl­es in the 80’s.  

Nowa­days, one can find a come­back in the popu­la­ri­ty of bru­ta­list archi­tec­tu­re, and even though many have alre­a­dy been demo­lished, others are get­ting funds from the sta­te to res­to­re the buil­dings. Still, the­re are many cri­tics of its style, say­ing that it pro­jec­tes an atmo­sphe­re of cold­ness and even tota­li­ta­ria­nism. This rise in popu­la­ri­ty goes hand in hand with gen­tri­fi­ca­ti­on, sin­ce social housing pro­jects have beco­me sought after pri­va­te housing. One could say the aes­the­tic is tri­um­phing over the ethic, some­thing Bru­ta­list archi­tec­tu­re and ideo­lo­gy was try­ing to com­bat. Even so, more peo­p­le are begin­ning to app­re­cia­te its’ style and hop­eful­ly this will be enough to keep it and its ideo­lo­gy live.

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