So this time I’m going to write a little about brutalism (an all-time favourite topic of mine) – and I have just a few more thoughts because after all the stick it receives, I’ve been finally noticing the appreciations too. It has always enjoyed a bit of a niche interest, it’s always been a modern “quirk” of a few enthusiasts, but now I’m seeing more and more mainstream attention which I think is a good thing.
Wallpaper magazine covered two stories / projects in their July issue, one in Brussels (the old CDR HQ) and one in London (Balfron Tower) being reworked into spaces suitable for contemporary standards. The former will become an office co-working space, and the latter will be apartments. This idea I particularly like, because it’s proving the point that these “ugly” buildings can be homely and perfectly habitable (btw, it was reported by Wallpaper that the signage system will be designed by Neville Brody and I love the holistic planning of bringing it together with a consistent graphic language!).
Sure, London has never really fallen out with the brutalist style (think of the Barbican), but it’s still thought of as a niche interest of that famous “metropolitan elite” (sorry but this is kind of political), while there is still relatively little appetite for it in smaller cities and less connected communities. I will always remember the scene in the BBC show titled “Council” from a few years ago (about the workings of Fife Council), when a resident of the Glenwood Centre in Glenrothes was asked his opinion on getting the staircase painted – and he responded that it was a waste of money, why, what’s the point. Because if it can’t be perfectly shiny it’s not worth the effort at all. Or at least I presume that was the thinking behind his response. I was quite shocked and intrigued by the sentiment, how someone can talk down their own home to this level, but of course the purpose of the filming wasn’t supposed to challenge it too much, it merely documented how some council funding should be used according to residents. To be fair the state of the Glenwood deserves its own research worth of a few pages, it is in a sad state (I don’t know if they decided to demolish it or if they are going to give it some love and care). I know that sometimes it’s easier to demolish something than renovate, especially if it wasn’t made with love and care but by piecework and asbethos.
However, it is nice to see that these buildings are getting some attention, some love (see the Robin Hood story) and some debate, because these were important buildings, homes to many people (including the dissatisfied Glenwood resident), and even if you disagree with their aesthetics or with what they have become, they filled an important gap and I think part of the reason of this change in thinking is that this gap has come back and it’s wider than ever. The housing crisis is real and it’s time to think about building homes again. Brutalism wasn’t to everyone’s taste and it didn’t always work out with the people but they were done with an optimist vision and most importantly – there was money on ballsy, optimist visions to house people on low incomes. Perhaps not all these buildings can be kept or are worthy of saving. But what built them is something we should keep and look at again. Don’t erase it, improve it!
PS: I read in the Design Journal archives (1970) that Sir Basil Spence designed a pattern for the Donald Brothers. Can anyone help me find it please, I’d love to see it.