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Reyner Banham, "The New Brutalism," Architectural Review vol. 118 (December 1955): 354-361.

In tlte chapel of Notre Dnmc du Hnut at Rrmchamp, Lc Corbusier is generally felt to ltavc achieved one of the tno.<~l personal and surprisit¥J buildings of his career. In thcfirstjlurry of cmcitcmcnt at its Unc:»pcctcdforms; consternation has been expressed at the way a master of logicttl structure has set Ms great cw'Ving roof apparently ajloat above the apexes of the massive and perforated wall.~-thc narrow glazed gap between roof and walls can be seen in the exterior views opposite ~. Matl~rcr consideration nrlll be able to evaluate "'<il& lwrvfar the succCss of the plastic cjfcctjustiftcs such anti~structural mages and, as a step to·tVard such evaluation, James Stirli,tg wiU contribute at! appreciation of Notre Dtunc du I·Inut in the new year.

Rayner Banham


1L'Architecture, c'est, avec des matib:cs bruts, CtG.blir dea rapports emouvantu.' Le Corbusler: Vers·une Arclliteclure.

Introduce an observer into any field of forces, influences or communications and that field becomes distorted. It is common opinion that Das Kapital has played old harry with capitalism, so that Marxists can hardly recognize it when they see it, and the wide- spread diffusion of Freud's ideas has wrought such havoc with clinical psychology that any intelligent patient can make a nervous wreck of his analyst. What has been the influence of contemporary architectural historians on the history of contemporary architecture?

They have created the idea of a Modern Movement-this was known even before Basil Taylor took up arms against false historicism-and beyond that they have offered a rough classification of the 'isms' which are the thumb-print of Modernity into two main types: One, like Cubism, is a label, a recognition tag, applied by critics and historians to .. a body of work which appears to have certain consistent principles running through it, whatever the relationship of the artists; the other, like F:uturism, is a banner, a slogan, a policy consciously adopted by a group of artists, whatever the apparent similarity or dissimilarity of their products. And it is entirely characteristic of the New Brutalism-our first native art-movement since the New Art~History arrived here-that it should confound these categories and belong to both at once.

Is Art-History to blame for this? Not in any obvious way, but in practically every other way. One cannot begin to study the New Brutalism without realizing how deeply the New Art-History has bitten into progressive English architectural thought, into teaching methods, into the common language of communication between architects and between architectural critics. What is interesting about R. Furneaux Jordan's parthian

Reyner Bonham: 7'HE NEW BllUTALISM

footnote on the New Brutalism-' .. #tubetkin talks across time to the great masters, the Smithsons talk only to each other'-is not the fact that it is nearly true, and thus ruins his argument, but that its terms of valuation are historical. The' New Brutalism has to be seen against the background of the recent history of history, and, in particular, the growing sense of the inner history of the Modern Movement itself.

The history of the phrase itself is revealing. Its form is clearly derived from THE ARCHITECTURAL REVIEw's post-war trouvaille 'The New Empiricism,' a term which was intended to describe visible tendencies in Scandinavian architecture to diverge from another historical concept 'The International Style.' This usage, like any involving the word new, opens up an historical perspective. It postulates that an old empiricism can be identified by the historian, and that the new one can be distinguished from it by methods of historical comparison, which will also distinguish it from a mere 'Empirical Revival.' The ability to deal with such fine shades of historical meaning is in itself a measure of our handiness with the historical method today, and the use of phrases of the form 'The New X-ism'-where X equals any adjectival root-became commonplace in the early nineteen-fifties in foUl'th-year studios and other places where architecture is discussed, rather than practised. ·

· The passion of such discussion has been greatly en- hanced by the clarity of its polarization-Communists versus the Rest-and it was somewhere in this vigorous polemic that the term 'The New Brutalism' was first coined.'lt was; in the beginning, a term of Communist abuse, and it was intended to signify the normal vocabu- lary of Modern Architecture-fiat roofs, glass, exposed structure-considered as morally reprehensible devia- tions from 'The New Humanism,' a phrase which means something different in Marxist ·hands to the meaning which might be expected. The New Humanism meant, in architecture at that time, brickwork, segmental arches, pitched roofs, small windows (or small panes at any rate )-picturesque detailing without picturesque planning. It was, in fact, the so-called 'William Morris Revival,' now happily defunct, since Kruschev's reversal of the - Party's architectural line, though this reversal has, of course, taken the guts out of subsequent polemics. But it will be observed that The New Humanism _was again a quasi-historical concept, oriented, however spuriously, toward that mid-nine- teenth century epoch which was Marxisn;t's Golden Age, when you could recognize a capitalist when you met him.

However, London architectUl'al circles are a small field in which to conduct a polemic of any kind, and abuse must be directed at specific persons, rather than classes of persons, since there was rarely enough unanimity (except among Marxists) to allow a class to coalesce. The New Brutalists at whom Marxist spite was directed could be named and recognized-

1 '!'here is a persistent belief that the word Brutalism (or something like it) r·, had nppenrcd in the English Summaries in an issue of Bygg-Mastaren published

'·· ... Jo.te in 1950. The reference cannot now be traced, and the story must be '\ "io~ruted to that limbo of Modern Movement demonology where Swedes1

' <> "'~!'ts and the Town and Country Planning Association are bracketed :-.., ·-..."l.(ffercnt jsotopes of the common • Adversary.'

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and so could their friends in other arts. The term had no sooner got into public circulation than its meaning began to narrow. Among the non-Marxist grouping there was no particular unity of programme or intention, but there was a certain community of interests, a tendency to look toward Le Corbusier, and to be aware of something called le beton b?"Ut, to know the quotation which appears at the head of this article and, in the case of the more sophisticated and aesthetically literate, to know of the Art Brut of Jean Dubuffet and his connection in Paris. Words and ideas, personalities and discontents chimed together and in a matter of weeks-long before the Third Programme and the monthlies had got hold of the phrase-it had been appropriated as their own, by their own desire and public consent, by two young architects, Alison and Peter Smithson.

The phrase had thus changed both its meaning and its usage. Adopted as something between a slogan and a brick-bat flung in the public's face, The New Brutalism ceased to be a label descriptive of a tendency common to most modern architecture, and became instead a programme, a banner, while retaining some-rather restricted-sense as a descriptive label. It is·because it is both kinds of -ism at once that The New Brutalism eludes precise description, while remaining a living force in contemporary British architecture .•

As a descriptive label it has two overlapping, but not identical, senses. Non-architecturally it describes the art of Dubuffet, some aspects of Jackson Pollock and of Appel, and the bUl'lap paintings of Alberto Burri-among foreign artists-and, say, Magda Cordell or Edouardo ·Paolozzi and Nigel Henderson among English artists. With these last two, the Smithsons collected and hung the I.C.A. exl!libition Parallel of Life and A1·t, which, though it probably pre- ceded the coining of the phrase, is nevertheless regarded as a locus classicus of the movement. The more instructive aspects of this exhibition will be con- sidered later: for the moment let us observe that inany critics (and students at the Architec,tural Association) complained of the deliberate flouting of the traditional concepts of photographic beauty, of a cult of ugliness, " and 'denying the spiritual in Man.' The tone of re- sponse to The New Brutalism existed even before. hostile critics knew what to call it, and there was an awareness that the Smithsons were headed in a different direction to most other younger architects ' in London.

Alison Smithson first claimed the words in as her own in a description of a project for a house in Soho (Architectural Design, November, designed before the phrase existed, and nr<,vi•ous:l1 tagged 'The warehouse aesthetic' -a very ·

Architectural Review, December 1955

of what The New Brutalism stood for in its first Of this house, she wrote: ' ... had this been

would have been the first exponent of the Br·ut,ali•>m in England, as the preamble to the

shows: "It is our intention in this to have the structure exposed entirely,

interior finishes wherever practicable. The onnt.l•H:.d·.cw should aim at a high standard of basic !cortstr,uction, as in a small warehouse".' The publica-

this project led to an extensive and often '·hihtricms colTespondence in various periodicals through tl;~,f~~:~r~~d of 1954, a correspondence which wandered fll further from its original point because

writers were in fact discussing either the fexhibit;ion of Life and Art, or the (as yet) un]puJP!lEme:a school at Runstanton. When this was

published (AR, September, 1954) the dis- cus:sio•n took a sharper and less humorous tone, for

in three-dimensional and photographic reality,. in the classic Modern Movement materials of

concr~,t,e, steel and glass, was the Smithsons' only building. The phrase The New Brutalism

applied to it, though it had been in the spring of 1950, long before even the Soho, but the Brutalists themselves have this and it has become the

wherever the building has been

'''' Hunstanton, and the ·house in Soho, can serve as points of architectural reference by which The

Brutalism in architecture may be defined. are the visible and identifiable characteristics

these two ·structures? Both have formal, axial pla.nsc-JEJ:uns!tartton, in fact, has something like true bi-•txi>tl symmetry, and the small Gymnasium block· ilJOJogside the school is a kind of exemplar in little

how formal the complete scheme was to been-and this formality is immediately legible without. Both exhibit their basic structure, and make a point of exhibiting their materials-in· this emphasis on basic structure is so obsessive

many superficial critics have taken this to be the . of New Brutalist Architecture. Admittedly,

emphasis on basic structure. is important, even it is not the whole story, and what has caused

iHu:nst:anlton to lodge in the public's gullet is the fact it is almost unique among modern buildings in made of what it appears to be made of. Whatever

said about honest use of materials, most appear to be made of .whitewash

glaczirrg, even when they are made of or steel. appears to be made of

brick,. steel and concrete, and is in fact made of brick, steel and concrete. Water and electricity

. come out ,of unexplained holes in the wall, are delivered to the point of use by visible pipes manifest conduits. One can see what Hunstanton

of, and how it works, and there is not another to see except the play of spaces.

ruthless adherence to one of the basic moral /i1~~~~~~~~v~ of the Modern Movement--honesty in [s and material-has precipitated a situation

only the pen of Ibsen could do justice. The of moderate architects, hommes moyens sensliels, found. their accepted practices for waiving the

requirements of the conscience-code suddenly called in question; they have been put rudely on the spot, and they have not liked the experience. Of course, it is not just the building itself which has precipitated this situation, it is the things the Brutalists have said and done as well, but, as with the infected Spa in An Enemy of the People, the play of personalities focuses around a physical object.

The qualities of that object may be summarized as follows: 1, Formal legibility of plan; 2, clear exhibition of structure, and 3, valuation of materials for their inherent qualities 'as found.' This summary can be used to answer the question: Are there other New Brutalist buildings besides Hunstanton? It is interest- ing to note that such a summary of qualities could be made to describe Marseilles, Promc;mtory and Lake- shore apartments, General Motors Technical Centre, much recent Dutch work and several projects by younger English architects affiliated to ClAM. But, with the possible exception of Marseilles, the Brutal- ists would probably reject most of these buildings from the canon, and so must we, for all of these structmes exhibit an excess of suaviter in modo,

. even if there is plenty of fortiter in re about them. In the last resort what characterizes the New Brutalism in architecture as in painting is precisely its brutality, its je-m'en-foutisme, its bloody-mindedness. Only one other building conspicuously carries these qualities in the way that Hunstanton does, and that is Louis Kahn's Yale Art Centre. Here is a building which is uncompromisingly frank about its materials, which is inconceivable apart from it,s boldly exhibited structural method which-being a concrete space-frame -is as revolutionary and unconventional as the use of the Plastic Theory in stressing Hunstanton's steel H-frames. Furthermore, the plan is very formal in the disposition of its main elements, and makes a kind of symmetry about two clearly defined axes at right angles to one another. And this is a building which some Brutalists can apparently accept as a constituent New Brutalist structUl'e.

But, with all due diffidence, the present author submits that it still does not quite answer to the standard set by Hunstanton. For one thing, the Smithsons' work is characterized by an abstemious under-designing of the details, and much of the impact of the building comes from the ineloquence, but absolute consistency, of such components as the stairs and handrails. By comparison, Kahn's detailing is arty, and the stair-rail and balustrading (if that is the word for stainless netting) is jarringly out of key with the rough-shuttered concrete of the main structure. This may be 'only a matter of detailing' but there is another short-fall about Yale Art Centre which could not be brushed off so easily. Every Smithson design has been, obviously or subtly, a coherent and apprehensible visual entity, but this Louis Kahn's design narrowly fails to be. The internal spaces will be cluttered with display screens which, in the nature of his programme and his sol,ution of it, must be susceptible of being moved, so that formal clarity is always threatened. But beyond this the relation of interior to exterior fails to validate the axes which govern the plan. Available viewpoints, the placing of the entrances, the handling of the. exterior

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walls-;-all tend to lose or play down the presence of planmng axes. No doubt there are excellent functional reasons for the doors being where they are, and excellent structural reasons for the walls being treated in the way they are-but if these reasons were so compelling, why bother with an axial plan anyhow?

This is a hard thing to have to say about a seriously considered building by a reputable architect of some standing, but contact with Brutalist architecture tends to drive one to hard judgements, and the one thing of which the Smithsons have never been accused is a lack of logic or consistency in thinking through a design.· In fact it is the ruthless logic more than anything else which most hostile critics find distressing about Hunstanton-'Or perhaps it is the fact that this logic is worn on the sleeve. One of the reasons for this obtrusive logic is that it contributes to the apprehensibility and coh.,ren.ce of the building as a visual entity, because it contributes to the building as ' an image.' ·

An Image-with the utterance of these two words we bridge the gap between the possible use of The New Brutalism as a descriptive label covering, in varying degrees of accuracy, two or more buildings, and The New Brutalism as a slogan, and we also go some way to bridge the gap between the meaning of the term as applied to architecture and its meaning as applied to painting and sculpture. The word image in this sense is one of the most intractable and the most useful terms ·in contemporary aesthetics, and some attempt to explain it must be made.

A great many things have been called 'an image'- S.M. della Consolazione at Todi, a painting by Jack- son . Pollock, the Lever Building, the 1954 Cadillac convertible, the roofscape of the Unite at Marseilles, any of the hundred photographs in Parallel of Life and Art. 'Image' seems to be a word that describes anything or nothing. Ultimately, however, it means ~omething which is. visually valuable, but not neces- sarily by the standards of classical aesthetics. Where Thomas Aquinas supposed beauty to be quod visum placet (that which seen, pleases),• image may be defined as quod visum perturbat-that which seen, affects the emotions, a situation which could subsume the pleasure caused by beauty, but is not normally taken to do so, for the New Brutalists' interests in image are commonly regarded, by many of themselves as well as their critics, as being anti-art, or at any rate anti-beauty in the classical aesthetic sense of the word. But what is equally as important as the specific kind of response, is the nature of its cause. What pleased St. Thomas was an abstract quality, beauty-what moves a New Brutalist is the thing itsGlf, in its totality, and with all its overtones of human associa- tion. These ideas of course lie close to the general body of anti-Academic aesthetics currently in circula- tion, though they are not to be identified exactly with Michel Tapie's concept of un Art· Autre,• even though that concept covers many Continental Brutal-

' Paraphrasing Summa Tlleologka II {i) xxvii, I. The poasage is normall;r- rendcrcd into English as ', •. but thllt whose very apprehension pleases 1s called beautiful.'

._. ~Sec bis book of the same name, published Jn 191)2, A closely anulogous \development is that of musiquc cotJCTetc, which uses 'rool sounds,' manipulated Jn a ma·nner which resembles the manipulation of some of the photographs In! Pbalralk/, ll!ld d ... no\ oon®tll ilsolf Wllb b•tmony o< m•\ody In !IllY NCO~­ Dt.ll ~way,

Reyncr Banham: TilE NEW BRUTALISM

ists as well as Edouardo Paolozzi. Nevertheless this concept of Image is common to

all aspects of The New Brutalism in England, but the manner in which it works out in architectural practice has some surprising twists to it. Basically, it requires that the building should be an immediately appre- hensible visual entity, and that the form grasped by the eye should be confirmed by experience of the building ih use. Further, that this form should be entirely proper to the functions and materials of the building, in their entirety. Such a relationship between structure, function and form is the basic common- place of all good building of course, the demand that this form should be apprehensible and memorable is the apical uncommonplace . which makes good building into great architecture. The fact that this form-giving obligation has been so· far forgotten that a great deal of good building can be spoken of as if it were architecture, is a mark of a seriously decayed condition in English architectural standards. It has become too easy to get away with the assumption that if structure and function are served then the result must be architecture-so easy that the mean- ingless phrase 'the conceptual building' has been coined to defend the substandard architectural practices of the routine-functionalists, as if 'conceptual buildings' were something new, and something faintly reprehensible in modern architecture.

All great architecture has been 'conceptual,' has been image-making-and the idea that any great buildings, such as the Gothic Cathedrals, grew un- consciously through anonymous collaborative atten- tion to structure and function is one of the most insidious myths with which the Modern Movement is saddled. Every great building of the Modern Movement has been a conceptual design, especially those like the Bauhaus, which go out of their way to look as if they were the products of 'pure' ·• functio.nalisln, whose aformal compositions· are com- .: monly advanced by routine-functionalists in defence of their own abdication of architectural responsibility. ·•. But a conceptual building is as likely to be aformal ': as it is to be formal, as a study of the Smithsons' • post-Hunstanton projects will show.

Hunstanton's formality is unmistakably Miesian, . as Philip Johnson pointed out, possibly because liT ;:

·was one of the few recent examples of conceptual, .. form-giving design to which a young architect could turn at the time of its conception, and the formality of their Coventry Cathedral competition entry is equally marked, but here one can safely posit the interference , of historical studies again, for, though the , priority of date as between the Smithsons' and the publication of Professor Wittkower's LLr,,ll.t• tectural Principles of the Age of Il umanism is disputed :; (by the Smithsons) it cannot be denied that they were '' in touch with Wittkowerian studies at the time, and were as excited by them as anybody else. . ·

The general impact of Professor Wittkower's book · on a whole generation of post-war architectural · students is one of the phenomena of our time. Its exposition of a body of architectural theory in which function and form were significantly linked by the objective laws governing the Cosmos (as Alberti · · tmd PaUadio m~derstoqd them) 5uddenly offered a/

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Tltc Arcltitectural Review, December 1955

. continued from poge 35BJ

out of the doldrum of routine-functionalist aO<Jicauons, and neo-Palladianism became the order

, of the day. The effect of Architectural Principles has · it. by far the most important contribution-for

well as good-by any historian to English Al•<Jhitectw:e since Pioneers of the 1J1odern Movement,

it precipitated a nice displ!tation on the proper of history. The question became: Humanist

princiipl<~S to be followed? or Humanist principles an example of the kind of principles to look for?

students opted for the former alternative, Routine-Palladians soon became as thick on

ground as Routine-Functionalists. The Brutalists, . the inherent risk of a return to pure

pronounced at Liverpool than AA-sheered ofl' abruptly in the other direction

were soon involved in the organi::;ation of Parallel Life and Art. Introducing this exhibition to an AA student

debats Peter Smithson declared: 'We are not going about proportion and symmetry' and this

his declaration of war on the inherent academi- of the neo-Palladians, and the anti-Brutalist

of the house made it clea1' how justified was su:spJ.cllm of crypto-acadernicism by taking their

only on Pal!adio and Alberti but also and the Absolute. The new direction in architectural invention showed. at once in m~~~~~l~l~~:~~ Golden Lane and Sheffield University w entries. The former, only remembered for

put the idea of the street-deck back in circula- England, is notable for its determination to coherent visual image by non-formal means,

~£~~~~:J~~~~g visible circulation, identifiable units of ~a and fully validating the presence of u~\~;e~,~~:~~s as part of the total image-the per- "' photographs of people pasted on to the ra"l'rin~rs. so that the human presence almost over- v~JlmE:cl the architecture.

the Sheffield design went further even than aformalism becomes as positive a force

its composition as it does in a painting by Burri Pollock. Composition might seem pretty strong · for so apparently casual a layout, but this

not an 'unconceptual' design, and on ~runillaicion it can be shown to have a composition,

not on the elementary rule-and-compass which underlies most architectural com-

""''"v''• so much as an intuitive sense of topology. ~.~~~~K~'~~ of architecture topology has always

n in a subordinate and unrecognized way- ~~~~t~l~a~s penetration, circulation, inside and out, Ill been important, but elementary Platonic

been the master discipline. Now, in the j§~~~l:~~~~t Sheffield project the roles are reversed, ~ becomes the dominant and geometry becomes

the subordinate discipline. The 'connectivity' of the circulation routes is flourished on the exterior and no attempt is made t<:> give a geometrical form to the total scheme; large blocks of topologically similar spaces stand abqut the site with the same graceless memorability as martello towers or pit-head gear.

Such a dominance accorded to topology-in whose classifications a brick is the same 'shape' as a billiard ball (unpenetrated solid) and a teacup is the same 'shape' as a gramophone record (continuous surface w1th. one hole) is clearly analogous to the displacement of Tomistic 'beauty' by Brutalist 'Image, '• and Sheffield. ren~ains the most consistent and extreme point reached by any Brutalists in their search for Une Architecture Autre. It is not likely to displace Hunstanton in architectural discussions as the prime exemplar of The. New Brutalism, but it is the only building-design which fully matches up to the threat and promise of Parallel of Life and Art. . And it shows that the formal axiality of Hunstanton is not integral to New Brutalist architecture. Miesian or Wittkowerian geometry was only an ad hoc device for the realization of 'Images,' and when Parallel of Life and Art had enabled Brutalists to define their relationship to the visual world in terms of something other than geometry, then formality was discarded. The definition of a New Brutalist building derived from Hunstanton and Yale Art Centre, above, must be modified so as to exclude formality as a basic . quality if it is to cover future developments and should more properly read: 1, Memorability as an Image; 2, Clear exhibition of Structure; a.J:\d 8, Valuation of Materials 'as found.' Remembering that an Image is what affects the emotions, that structure, in its fullest sense, is the relationship of rarts, and that materials 'as found' are raw matenals, we have worked our way back to the quotation which headed this article 'L'Arch.itecture, c'est, avec des Matieres Bruts, etablir des rapports emouvants,' but we have worked our way to point through such an aware- ness of history and its uses that we see that The New Brutalism, if it is architecture in the grand sense of Le Corbusier's definition, is also architecture of our time and not of his, nor of Lubetkin 's, nor of the times of the Masters of the past. Even if it were true that the Brutalists speak only to one another, the fact that they have stopped speaking to Mansart, to Palladio and to Alberti would make The New Brutalism, even in its more private sense, a major contribution to the architecture of today.

'This nnnlogy could probably be rendered epistemologJcaUy strict-both beauty and geometry, hitherto regarded as ultimate properties ot the cosmos, now appear as linguistically refined special cases of more generalized concepts -image and topology-which, thou~h essentially primitive, have been reached only through immense sophistication. Once this state of sopbiatica~ tion has been achieved, and the new concept digested, it suddenly appears so simple tha.t it ca.n be vuJga.riz:ed without serious distortion, and for a handy .bnck~entrnnce to topology without using the highly complex mathematics involved. the reader could not do better tbtm acquire a copy of Astounding Science Fiction for July. 1904-.

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