Brutalism, architecture in the raw

Posted in: Architecture & Interiors, Cultural Resources


Brutalist structure and building elements documented recently in a Mead & Hunt survey of the 3-M Center in Maplewood MN.
Brutalist structure and building elements documented recently in a Mead & Hunt survey of the 3-M Center in Maplewood MN.

Brutalist architecture is a bold style of the recent past. Popular between the 1950s and 1970s, this form of Modernism stresses exposing a building’s structural elements and materials.

Brutalism was popular for educational (particularly college and university buildings), government projects and high-rise housing. It was relatively rare for commercial and corporate buildings. Examples stood in stark contrast with the more ornamental styles constructed during the pre-World War II period.

Its name comes from the French beton burt, meaning raw concrete. Brutalist architecture is recognizable by prominence of raw building materials. Typical features include:

  • Unadorned, flat, usually concrete, exteriors
  • Windows are holes in the wall, versus the continuous outer skin of International style buildings
  • Repeated modular elements
  • Monolithic building form

Let’s just say you know it when you see it. Brutalist architecture is divisive. It is the embodiment of the design ethos “form follows function.” However, examples are often viewed as cold and unattractive concrete behemoths. Generally, the public is less appreciative of these buildings.

Brutalist architectureI really enjoy how the architecture elicits a time and place in history. Indeed the dynamics of the Brutalist “divide” conjures images of early James Bond movies in one of my favorite articles “Why Brutalist Architecture is So Hard to Love.”

Slowly the architecture is being appreciated with a small resurgence, and elements reflected in current design, may be just coming back in style. For more information, see Concrete jungle: why brutalist architecture is back in style. Or just for fun, check out 10 Iconic examples of brutalist architecture.

As preservationists, we must consider the historical and architectural significance of the recent past.  Whether we love it or hate it. What do think about Brutalism?


Liz Boyer

About the Author

Liz Boyer specializes in historic and archival research, reconnaissance-level surveys and evaluation of National Register eligibility. Her experience includes Section 106, Section 4(f), HAER documentation, and NEPA compliance. She lives one block off Route 66 and states that she loves “hands-on history and finding new ways to experience a historic place.”

Read more posts by Liz Boyer

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