Brutalist architecture was an extremely popular style of architecture that was prevalent in the UK from the 1950s up to the 1980s. It was used in many different areas of urban architecture, from civic projects and public buildings, to sculpture and other art forms that were designed for public consumption in an outdoor setting. Brutalism was a way to define the shape of a new Britain that was coming out of post-war austerity and with the wave of new towns throughout the country from the immediate post-war era onwards, it became an important part of the aesthetic of the modern Britain. Although for many people, brutalism in its popular and widespread form was not the most aesthetically pleasing style of architecture, it is seen by many as a sad state of affairs that many of the treasured and respected brutalist buildings are being demolished.
Brutalist architecture was defined by solid concrete blocks that suited function over form. It made it easy to build on large-scale, and the utopia of the new town was the perfect vehicle for brutalism, as it promoted minimalism, uniformity and an easy way to scale towns and cities as they grew without compromising on the original style and function of the town. It was a dream for urban planners of towns and cities such as Telford and Milton Keynes, where a monochrome futurist style of urban plan could be implemented easily with brutalist architecture at its core.
Brutalism is easily one of the most divisive styles of architecture that the world has ever known. It is the marmite of design, with those who love it staunchly defending its values, whilst those detractors see just form and function with no style in sight. It can look raw and unfinished in some instances, but when finished well, a brutalist structure can look magnificent. It is all about the setting, the dynamic and how it interacts and functions as part of its community. All architecture has a history and a connection with the people who live and work in that area, and to lose some of the brutalist structures and buildings that are in danger of being demolished, it to lose part of the essence of Britain in the 20th century and part of our cultural identity.
One of the brutalist buildings at risk of being demolished is Sunderland Civic Centre. It was designed in the 1970s and became the local council headquarters. The problem now is that Sunderland council is in need of around £5 million to repair and renovate the brutalist building and have instead decided to redevelop the existing building for housing and to move to a brand-new £42 million council home instead. It is a historic part of Sunderland that could be lost forever. Other northern brutalist buildings that are in danger of being demolished include the Dorman Long tower and Steel House in Teesside, which is a reminder of the area’s bright industrial past, the Barnes Wallis Building in Manchester and Carlisle Civic Centre. It is important that progress is made with urban design of course, but it is also important to maintain some connection with our past and we hope that Brutalism does live on in some form.