Archive: 1960s

Campo de Carabobo (1)

There was a bit of feedback on the brutalism post that I wanted to share, as well as an article I was already aware of that didn’t quite fit into the original post.

First up, this interesting article in the Guardian that defends brutalism. It is an interesting viewpoint. I would also recommend reading the comments, which provide the full range of opinions on brutalism.

Fuck Yeah Brutalism is a simple but brilliant tumblelog. Simply photographs of brutalist buildings. A brilliant celebration that demonstrates the beauty of brutalism. Looking at this, it’s almost difficult to see why brutalism would be so fiercely reviled by many.

Thanks to Jonathan Pelham on Twitter for pointing me in its direction.

Finally, a friend informed me about these abandoned brutalist monuments built in Yugoslavia during the 1960s and 1970s. They look absolutely spectacular.

I have found myself developing an interest in brutalism, the style of architecture that was predominant in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. I have had a slight interest in modern architecture in the past, but I am finding myself increasingly drawn to brutalist structures and other buildings from this era.

It is not just the aesthetics of brutalist buildings that draw me. I am more fascinated by people’s interaction with them. It is a puzzle.

This is a style of architecture that dominated the scene just a few decades ago. If you view contemporary publicity films about post-war urban development, there is nothing but unflinching optimism (similar to the new towns I posted about a couple of days ago).

Telly Savalas looks at Birmingham. “You feel as if you’ve been projected into the 21st century,” he said. But by the time the 21st century came, many people would be itching to demolish the very buildings he was enthusing about.

Today, conventional wisdom derides brutalism utterly as carbuncular. Moreover, it is inextricably associated with poorly-maintained social housing, and in turn, crime and deprivation.

Brutalism: Post-War British Architecture cover

I was eager to learn more about brutalism, so went to see if there were any books on the subject. I was delighted to find out that a book, Brutalism: Post-War British Architecture by Alexander Clement, has been published very recently.

Around half a century on from the height of brutalism, now is a good time to look back at the style with, as the blurb describes, “a degree of rational reappraisal.” I am really glad to have found this book, which documents many of the notable brutalist buildings in Britain.

Speaking personally, I felt as though this book could have been a bit more accessible to someone like me, who has almost no prior knowledge about architecture. But I doubt there are too many people like me — relatively new to architecture, but interested specifically in brutalism — so I can understand this.

Besides, it didn’t prove to be too much of a barrier to my enjoyment of this book. The reader is taken on a whistle-stop tour of brutalist buildings. Public buildings, universities, service stations, office blocks, churches and, of course, social housing, are all covered in turn.

The success of the book rests on the wonderful photographs. These vary in quality, but are often very striking, demonstrating the awesome magnificence of these buildings.

But the book focuses too much on the architecture. This is probably an odd thing to say about an architecture book. But people’s interactions with brutalist architecture — positive and negative — are such an important part of the story, and are what drive my interest in the subject.

I would have liked there to have been more on the background behind brutalism. Deeper explanations of the theories and ideas behind concepts like streets in the sky and other brutalist hallmarks would have been useful and interesting.

A deeper exploration of the criticisms of brutalism would also have been welcome. I wanted to learn more about the other side of the story. Inadequate, poorly or cheaply-built buildings, that age badly in the British climate, and don’t cater for humans properly, are frequent criticisms of brutalism.

While these aspects are all mentioned, their treatment is brief. This left me slightly disappointed and wanting to learn more than the book was giving me.

The book focuses almost exclusively on the positive sides of brutalism. This may be expected, and the author seems to be on a mission to improve the image of brutalism (and why not?). But it did leave me feeling as though the full story hadn’t been told.

Overall, though, I am really glad to have found this book. It has taught me a lot about brutalism, and has inspired me to think again at buildings I already knew, and also to view in person some of the magnificent buildings featured in the book.

Brutalism: Post-War British Architecture is a brilliant document of an important style of architecture that sometimes seems as though it’s in danger of being completely wiped out by a generation that cares nothing for it.

Example of a motorway road sign

I was pleased to see an article on the BBC News website about the brilliance of the design of the UK’s road signs. Minimalist and clutter-free, British road signs are a design triumph.

I often look to transport-related design of all types for inspiration. The reason is because they have to work well. Lives might depend on it. As such, a lot of research goes into them.

In the case of road signs, they have to be clear enough to read when travelling at speed, from a distance. They need to be processed quickly. They must deliver an unambiguous message.

It is not easy. But the the design of road signs almost never changes, and hardly anyone ever complains about them. That is an indication that they have got the design right.

The BBC News article outlines some of the research that took place when the signs were originally designed in the 1960s. It reminded me of the research that took place in the USA more recently, in the development of the Clearview typeface for road signs there. If you are interested in design, those articles make for interesting reading.

It’s not just road signs I like to take inspiration from. If anything, railway design is better. Railway signs may not have to be read at speed, but they still have to convey complicated information with clarity. Often these signs will have to be read by visitors from other countries, making it essential that the signs can be understood by people who might not speak English as their first language.

Earlier this year I read this fantastic article about a book called British Rail Design. It looks brilliant. I would love to get my hands on it, though sadly it seems to be rare and expensive.

Both the road signs and the British Rail Alphabet were designed by Jock Kinneir. But surely the granddaddy of railway graphic design must be Harry Beck, whose work needs no introduction.

Harry Beck's London Underground map

Harry Beck designed his original map in his spare time and was paid just five guineas. The iconic British Rail logo was designed by a 21-year-old, Gerald Barney. These are the sorts of facts that make you look at yourself and wonder what you have achieved in life.