How do crude and unsympathetic concrete structures appeal to human hearts around the globe? Graphic designer Peter Chadwick (founder of London-based studio A Popular Space) attempts to explain his fervent love for Brutalism not through too many words but, like the architecture movement itself, with blunt, honest simplicity. Black and white photo after photo of singular, monumental structures make up “This Brutal World,” his new book published by Phaidon. Chadwick takes us on a survey of the most outstanding as well as little-known Brutalist works—starting with 20th century greats like Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Luis Barragán, Oscar Niemeyer, Louis Kahn and seeing their ethic, style and influence trickle into 21st century projects by David Chipperfield, Tadao Ando, SANAA, Zaha Hadid and more.
With photo descriptions only including the name, date, location and architect, each work speaks for itself despite the lack of written historic context in this book. And such forceful, emotional responses come through, be it pure awe or repulsion—it’s never lukewarm. Some are unsettled because they believe Brutalism is a bleak and truthful representation of reality (especially when the buildings become vandalized and the material decays); but others, like Chadwick, find something beating within the straight lines, concrete walls and grids: human ambition and hope for utopia.
Familiar structures pop up throughout the pages: Eero Saarinen’s TWA Flight Center in New York, Bertrand Goldberg’s Marina City in Chicago, Lina Bo Bardi’s São Paulo Museum of Art, and Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute in San Diego, to name a few. Some structures are preserved only in photographs, having been demolished and built over. There are also some bizarre discoveries, such as the Central Research and Design Institute for Robotics and Technical Cybernetics in Saint Petersburg, Russia; a Benedictine monastery in Collegeville, Minnesota; a crematorium in Belgium. All in all, it’s one stunning Pinterest board in book form that will have you planning road trips left and right.
Acknowledging the multi-disciplinary nature of architecture, and indulging his passion for music (he started out designing album artwork), Chadwick has interspersed quotes not only from architects but also lines from poetry, films and more. Song lyrics from Joy Division, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, The Human League, Pulp and more express the musicians’ personal emotional responses to concrete buildings distinct from those who designed them. One poignant quote from Philip Glass shows that the principles motivating Brutalism are translatable beyond architecture: “A new language requires a new technique. If what you’re saying doesn’t require a new language, then what you’re saying probably isn’t new.”
For more Brutalism, Chadwick also runs the website This Brutal House (a collection of his own photographs) and engaging Twitter feed of the same name (stemming from an acid house track by Nitro Deluxe).
“This Brutal World” releases 23 May 2016; pre-order it from Amazon for $50.
Images by Nara Shin. Buildings in order are New County Office and Court House Building (New York, Paul Rudolph); Saint John’s Abbey Church (Minnesota, Marcel Breur); Landmarke Lausitzer Seenland observation tower (Germany, Stefan Giers); San Cataldo Cemetery (Italy, Aldo Rossi); Central Research and Design Institute for Robotics and Technical Cybernetics (Saint Petersburg, SV Savin and BI Artiushin)