I grew up in south coastal town Portsmouth UK. I remember being frightened of the brutalist architecture that dominated the city centre. The sunlight never really reached the inner depths of the Tricorn, you had a sense every part was encased in a sort of permanent half darkness- albeit with enough light to see the angular columns of discoloured concrete. From the back seat window of my fathers car I visited the Tricorn. I remember being somewhat involved in the architecture. It wasn't pretty nor was it incredibly functional. But it did something; it held an atmosphere. It spiralled, twisted and turned- it was neglected. The porous building material soaked in the rain water and developed mould and permanently retained the smell of urine in the lower depths of the structure (the winding staircase that leads to the barbican estate smells of piss too, maybe the aroma conjured enough nostalgia to write this).
However despite this, I confess a secret fascination that I've held for a decade or so, needless to say it had more power than any other building I could see through my young eyes.
I remember it's demolishment, I saw bull dozers, wrecking balls, and the concrete crushed into clouds of dust dampened by torrents of water so the locals could carry on with business without particles of debris interfering. It doesn't exist anymore, in its place maintains a flat expanse of ground used for parking: £5 per stay. Something replaced with nothing.
Crowned the #1 ugliest building in the south of England, and loathed by locals, the Tricorns concrete was destined to stand briefly before its untimely return to dust. The age old surrounding architecture watches the Tricorns momentary existence. Listed buildings of which are exempt from such treatment.
Without thinking too deeply; despite trends in architecture, fashion, design and art I feel somewhat perplexed as to how the countless concrete monuments grew in such rapid succession. The aesthetics of these monuments remains hard to justify to the rational.
The term Brutalism does not in fact derive from the word brutal. Often cited as the farther of brutalism, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, who was better known as Le Corbusier, coined the term béton brut, translation: “raw concrete”. A choice material that answers only to the necessities of utility and cost, which makes all the more sense considering such architecture flourished and grew substantially in the years following WWII. Testament to Le Corbusier’s influence remains that he did not produce a single example here in the UK, yet it requires no effort to stumble upon countless examples of what seemingly look like his work with ease.
Even individuals (including myself) whom look to the béton brut aesthetic and kindly lavish the concrete structures with an almost kitsch affection, know deep down on a material level that these creations can objectively be described as grotesque. The rejection of balance, visual harmony, unsuitability to the surrounding landscapes amongst others demeanours do nothing to persuade anyone today to look to the structures with anything other than distain.
I often look at vast mountains as nature’s architecture. Without intervention, the gigantic tectonic plates slow movement over millions of years build natural sky-scrappers. The river’s graceful twisting curves are engineered by nature. The architecture of the river just responds to the passing water, accounted for by the gravitational force exerted by the moon which transports the earths supply of water with unrelenting power.
It is at this point of reflection I feel a parallel between architecture that responds to the necessity of our human existence much like Corbusier’s structures and nature itself. The concrete in all due respect serves as a cost effective, strong and easy to erect building material. The copiously overbearing aesthetic is in effort to achieve a feeling of safety - much needed in a time where millions felt very unsafe. There are countless examples in brutalist architecture where function follows form; Ernö gold finger’s Trillick Tower for example houses all the noisy lift shaft mechanisms and large communal boilers into a separate part of the tower block, resulting in near silence for the residence. The already un flattering building has a visual appendage to cope with
Unlike poor hairstyles, regrettable wardrobe decisions, the garish, the unruly, the too bright, the too dark and so on, large buildings such as the Tricorn feel as if a greater sense of permanence is involved. Fashion and style shifts, peaks and moves far more quickly than a building can be built and demolished.
In the UK thousands of properties are built to look as if they are already old. They served no functional purpose other than to look familiar.
With features that harp back to the archetype. I see no gain culturally and artistically in creating housing and architecture that purposely comforts by means of repetition. The density of which skeuomorphism occurs can ultimately reveal more about the consumer than it does of the architect.