Brutalist architecture is a style of architecture which flourished from the 1950s to the mid 1970s, spawned from the modernist architectural movement. Examples are typically very linear, fortresslike and blockish, often with a predominance of concrete construction. Initially the style came about for government buildings, low-rent housing.
In a period from the late 1950s to early 1970s, Cambridge experienced a boom in what is now known as brutalist architecture. Buildings such as the University Centre, Churchill College and the Faculty of History were attempts to mirror the innovation and hope of that era through dramatic, expressive shapes and exposed use of raw material
Brutalism took the idea of unity of form and sleek futurism even further. Where modernism embraced a sleek, simple approach to say, windows, Brutalism went one step further by minimizing or even outright eliminating them.
An example of the New Brutalism style of the 1960s, Boston City Hall is a gray concrete structure influenced by Le Corbusier’s monastery at La Tourette, France — both of them attempts to render modern architecture as monumental as classical architecture.
Brutalist buildings can be of sizable mass, and take on a hulking, even intimidating presence. A telltale factor may be superficial décor, added as if an afterthought. Occasionally a brutalist structure may be attractive when simplicity of form outweighs the effect of heavy mass or rote repetition, or when combined or “diluted” with other forms.
In fairness to architectural practice of the past generation, raw concrete had then been considered a fresh and natural means of expression. How poorly the concrete would age was not foreseen.
Characterized by bold geometries, the exposure of structural materials, and functional spatial design, brutalist architecture was an expression of social progressivism and became a favored style for public architecture of the time.
Constructed in Portsmouth in the mid 1960s, the Tricorn Centre was a well-known example of brutalist architecture which was demolished in 2004. In 2001 it was voted by BBC Radio 4 listeners as the most hated building in the UK, although it is admired by many others including David Adjaye
Concrete as a building material has been used at least as far back as the Roman Empire. In the modern age, the overuse of concrete in Soviet-style blockhouse construction – Brutalism – has tarnished its reputation, but lately the versatile material has enjoyed a revival in new construction and a reappraisal by architecture critics.
The concrete-heavy, '60s style of architecture favored by budding, post-industrial east-coast cities like New Haven and Providence (and especially common across the pond in the UK) hit Boston particularly hard. Pretty much every big, concrete box there made it onto the Ugliest List: State Service Center (1970), 133 Federal Street (1960), JFK Federal Building (1966), and of course, City Hall (1968).
Like International style, Brutalism is sometimes classified as its own distinctive subtype, though it is considered a variant of post-war modernism. Despite its apparently appropriate name, Brutalism is derived from the French term, beton brut, which translates to “rough concrete”.