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Top 5: Brutalist Buildings in London

Suzanne Frost

Brutalism is an architectural movement of the 1950s – 70s that is as striking as it is divisive, often accused by its opponents of ruining the face of London. But as fashions come and go in circles, there is a new wave of appreciation for the concrete heavy style.

After the war, bomb-struck London was awash with architectural opportunities and in desperate need of housing. Inspired by the German Bauhaus style and with reinforced concrete opening up hitherto-unknown structural and sculptural possibilities, old notions of beauty were sacrificed for functionality to build housing ‘for the proletariat’. Sometimes drawn on as a symbol of social fragmentation and urban decay, there is nonetheless something undeniably monumental about the geometric style.
 
 
The National Theatre
 
Though once described by Prince Charles as reminiscent of "a nuclear power station", the National Theatre, designed by Denys Lasdun in 1976, exemplifies some of the best aspects of Brutalism: its dynamism, its visceral sense of shock, and the contextual spaces it creates. The theatre is formed of two fly towers rising from layered horizontal terraces that wrap around the building, cascading to the river level. Lasdun designed the building from the inside out, starting with the theatre space itself before even knowing what the outside would look like. Created as a city-like public facility, the complex accommodates three stages, restaurants, bars and workshops, while the main public foyer area has become one of the city's key communal spaces, serving as "the nation's sitting room".
 

The foyer of the National Theatre (c) James O. Davies courtesy of English Heritage

The National Theatre is at Upper Ground, South Bank SE1 9PX
 
 
Southbank Centre
 
The National Theatre technically is part of the Southbank Centre, but this complex of world-renowned art venues from 1951 deserves its own mention. The site is home to several important sites, including the Royal Festival Hall, the Hayward Gallery and the Queen Elizabeth Hall, all of which hold varying events such as musical performances, intellectual and educational programs, and festivals. The Grade II-listed Royal Festival Hall designed by Robert Matthew is the biggest venue at the Southbank Centre, seating 2,500 people. The Hayward Gallery with its iconic glass pyramid roof lights is one of the world’s leading contemporary art galleries. Queen Elizabeth Hall is currently closed for renovation but the roof garden with its stunning views is open daily in the spring and summer months and free to visit.


The Hayward Gallery (c) Morley Von Sternberg
 
The Southbank Centre is at Belvedere Rd, Lambeth SE1 8XX
 
 
The Brunswick Centre
 
This grade II listed complex in Bloomsbury is located between Brunswick Square and Russel Square. It was designed by Patrick Hodgkinson in the mid-1960s and planned as a residential and retail complex at a time when private, mixed-use development in the UK was rare. Nowadays referring to itself as just The Brunswick, the centre contains 560 flats, various shops, cafés and restaurants, a supermarket and a cinema, with water features by the artist Susanna Heron added to the central space in 2006.


The Brunswick Centre (c) Toby Bricheno

The Brunswick is at Bloomsbury WC1N 1BS
 
Brunel University
 
The Lecture Centre of Brunel University London, designed by Richard Sheppard in 1968 contains over 60 lecture theatres and classrooms. Designed so the University community was only a short walk away from the centre, the student residential accommodation sat at the north of the main core of the campus, with administrative and academic buildings located to the south. Used by Stanley Kubrick as the eerie backdrop to 1971 dystopian classic A Clockwork Orange, the building has reached cult status on social media with fans posting black-and-white shots of the layered building from odd angles to dramatic effect.


Brunel University (c) Fritz Philip
 
Brunel University is at Kingston Lane, Uxbridge UB8 3PH
 
The Barbican
 
Perhaps London’s prime example of the philosophy at the heart of the Brutalism movement, the Barbican estate is a massive multi-use complex containing an art centre, cinema, restaurants, a public library, the Museum of London, Guildhall School of Music and a neighboring residential complex of some 2000 apartments intended as an utopian ideal of inner-city living. The mottled façades were created between 1960 -80 by hammering away at cast concrete. While the esthetic of the estate may be reminiscent of a medieval fortress, the cantilevered balconies are enlivened with plants and there are private gardens, lakes, and walkways making the area quite desirable. Today, flats in the barbican go for up to £4m.
 

The Barbican Estate (c) Andy Roberts

The Barbican Centre is at Silk St EC2Y 8DS
 

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