Brutalist style in architecture and design

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of ‘Brutalism’, a very particular design style of “brutalism”, a very particular design style characterised by minimalism of form and the use of raw materials. Today’s designers designers are taking inspiration from this style, which was very popular from the 1950s to the end of the 1970s, to create 1970s to create unique collector’s items. Some of them some of them do not hesitate to claim a “neo-brutalist” design which draws from brutalism a taste for the roughness of certain bare materials (raw concrete, rough wood, bare bricks, weathered plaster). Pieces of furniture attributed to this style are today highly prized by collectors. For example, a very beautiful piece signed Paul Evans is now traded at a high price on a connoisseur’s market connoisseurs’ market.

But what exactly is brutalism? We will try to define we will try to define the contours of this term, with a direct link to the so-called “brutalist” architecture that developed in the “architecture that developed throughout the world in the aftermath of the Second world War II and until the 1980s The term Brutalism refers primarily to an architectural style style that enjoyed a golden age in the post-war years before being before it was gradually banned from public space. Inherited from the modern design championed by the historic figures of Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier and Le Corbusier, brutalism is characterised by cold, minimalist design, with inexpensive basic materials such as raw concrete that facilitated the inexpensive reconstruction of cities after the Second World War. The French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier (1887-1965) is considered one of the pioneers of this style, with his pioneers of this style, for example the construction of the ‘Cité Radieuse’ in in Marseille (1947-1952), developing the concept of housing units.

La Cité Radieuse à Marseille,  Architecte : Le Corbusier.
La Cité Radieuse in Marseille, Architect: Le Corbusier.
La Cité Radieuse à Marseille,  Architecte : Le Corbusier.
Une architecture imposante en béton. À gauche vue d’une façade, à droite le toit de la Cité radieuse occupé aujourd’hui par le Mamo, nouveau centre d'art contemporain géré par le designer français Ora-ïto.
La Cité Radieuse in Marseille, Architect: Le Corbusier.
An imposing concrete architecture. On the left, a view of a façade, on the right the roof of the Cité Radieuse, now occupied by the Mamo, a new contemporary art centre run by the French designer Ora-ïto

Brutalist architecture is a radical radical reaction to certain ornamental styles such as the Beaux-Arts style, which was still very much in vogue in the United States until the 1950s. Its main characteristics are are: massive buildings often marked by a very high verticality, with geometric with angular and repetitive geometrical forms – windows often repeated -, a windows, an interior that is visible from the outside and allows the functions of different parts of the building to be the functions of different parts of a building, and finally a total refusal of any and finally a total refusal of all ornamentation. In addition to concrete, the architects use glass, brick, steel and rough-cut stone

Apart from Le Corbusier, the emblematic figures of Brutalist architecture are Marcel Breuer (1902-1981), Ernő Goldfinger (1902-1987), Bertrand Goldberg (1913-1997), Jacques Kalisz (1926-2002) and Fernand Boukobza (1926-2012). Architectural Brutalism had a particular impact in Great Britain in the aftermath of the war: the architects Alison Smithson (1928-1993) and Peter Smithson (1923-2003) developed an architectural approach inherited from the architectural principles defined by Mies Van der Rohe, tending towards an extreme radicalism (raw finish of the buildings) and the desire to “connect” the building, the user (pedestrian) and the site

Bâtiment principal de l'Unesco, inauguration en 1958 (travaux : 1955-1958). Architectes : Marcel Breuer, Bernard Zehrfuss, et Pier Luigi Nervi. Leurs plans ont été validés par un comité international de 5 architectes dans lequel figurait Walter Gropius.
Unesco’s main building, inaugurated in 1958 (works: 1955-1958). Architects: Marcel Breuer, Bernard Zehrfuss, and Pier Luigi Nervi. Their plans were validated by an international committee of five architects, including Walter Gropius.
Siège de l’Unesco, Paris, vue de l’intérieur. Le béton brut est omniprésent.
Unesco headquarters, Paris, interior view. Raw concrete is omnipresent
Trellick Tower, Kensal Town, Londres. Un bâtiment édifié en 1972 et conçu par l’architecte Ernő Goldfinger, incarnation du plus pur style brutaliste.
Trellick Tower, Kensal Town, London. A building erected in 1972 and designed by architect Ernő Goldfinger, an embodiment of the purest brutalist style.
Le Centre national de la danse sur le canal de l'Ourcq à Pantin (Seine-Saint-Denis). Une architecture typique du style brutaliste, des blocs de béton répétitifs en façade, architecte : Jacques Kalisz, 1972.
The National Dance Centre on the Ourcq Canal in Pantin (Seine-Saint-Denis). Typical Brutalist architecture, repetitive concrete blocks on the façade, architect: Jacques Kalisz, 1972.
Le Centre national de la danse sur le canal de l'Ourcq à Pantin (Seine-Saint-Denis), vue de l’intérieur.
The National Dance Centre on the Ourcq Canal in Pantin (Seine-Saint-Denis), interior view.
Projet Marina City, 2 gratte-ciels extraordinaires en forme d’épis de maïs, construits entre 1959 et 1964 au bord de la rivière Chicago, sur les plans de l’architecte américain Bertrand Goldberg.
Marina City project, 2 extraordinary skyscrapers in the shape of corncobs, built between 1959 and 1964 on the banks of the Chicago River, based on the plans of the American architect Bertrand Goldberg.
Vue des 2 tours, Marina City, Chicago, Etats-Unis.
View of the 2 towers, Marina City, Chicago, USA.
Bâtiment de l’école Hunstanton achevé en 1954 et considéré comme le manifeste du nouveau mouvement brutaliste (comté de Norfolk, Angleterre). Alison et Peter Smithson firent sensation dans le milieu de l’architecture en concevant un bâtiment austère au design épuré utilisant des matériaux bruts exposés (verre, brique et béton)
Hunstanton School building completed in 1954 and considered the manifesto of the new Brutalist movement (Norfolk, England). Alison and Peter Smithson caused a sensation in the architectural world by designing an austere building with a pure design using exposed raw materials (glass, brick and concrete)
Bâtiment de l’école Hunstanton, comté de Norfolk, Angleterre, architectes : Alison & Peter Smithson. À l’intérieur du bâtiment les matériaux bruts restent visibles, non peints. Même les tuyaux électriques sont exposés !
Hunstanton School Building, Norfolk, England, architects: Alison & Peter Smithson. Inside the building the raw materials remain visible, unpainted. Even the electrical pipes are exposed!

The term Brutalism has gradually spread beyond the realm of architecture to include artistic trends/currents in various disciplines including design. One of the first designers to be labelled a Brutalist was the American designer and sculptor Paul Evans (1931-1987), a major player in the American craft movement of the 1960s and 1970s. His work is recognisable by the aesthetic brutality of the furniture he brought to life (angular furniture, repetitive geometry).

Buffet suspendu acier émaillé, bois et ardoise, 1970, design & création Paul Evans pour l’éditeur Directional.
Hanging sideboard, enamelled steel, wood and slate, 1970, design & creation by Paul Evans for the publisher Directional.
Cabinet suspendu, pièce unique, 1955, design Paul Evans pour P. Lloyd Powell. Matériaux utilisés : noyer, laiton, émail et ardoise.
Suspended cabinet, unique piece, 1955, design by Paul Evans for P. Lloyd Powell. Materials used: walnut, brass, enamel and slate.

Paul Evans is fairly representative of the position of Brutalist design, that is, his work is at the intersection of art, craft and design. Some Brutalist scholars indicate that the style can also be ‘classified’ as borrowing from Brutalist architecture, industrial style and craft. In the late 1950s, Paul Evans began making copper chests with decorative doors, followed by carved steel-fronted cabinets that revealed his unique mastery of welding techniques. In 1964, Evans became the designer for the furniture manufacturer Directional. With Directional, he introduced collectible editions such as the Argente series, the Sculpted Bronze series and the very popular Cityscape series. Unlike his fellow architects, Evans thought of his work as the creation of collectible art pieces.

Armoire à facettes, modèle PE-354, design Paul Evans pour Directional USA, 1970. Acier chromé et fibre de verre émaillée.
Faceted cabinet, model PE-354, design by Paul Evans for Directional USA, 1970. Chrome-plated steel and enamelled fibreglass.
Table en verre avec piédestal en bronze sculpté et acier, design Paul Evans vers 1970.
Glass table with carved bronze and steel pedestal, Paul Evans design, circa 1970.

In addition to Paul Evans, other designers were to break through and propose their vision of furniture with hard, textured surfaces. The term Brutalist was democratized in the 1970s to be associated with any metal object, with pieces that sometimes had botanical rather than geometric shapes. This was the case with the Danish designer Svend Aage Holm Sørensen (1913-2004), who created brass suspensions in the shape of diamonds or shredded leaves. Belgian designer Daniel d’Haeseleer creates brass palm trees set on stone.

Suspension brutaliste en tôle de laiton, design de Svend Aage Holm Sørensen pour Holm Sørensen & Co, 1960.
Brutalist brass sheet suspension, designed by Svend Aage Holm Sørensen for Holm Sørensen & Co, 1960.
Palmier décoratif en laiton sur pierre, design : Daniel d’Haeseleer, vers 1970.
Decorative palm tree in brass on stone, design by Daniel d’Haeseleer, circa 1970.

Among the designers representing Brutalist design, two American figures stand out: Adrian Pearsall (1925-2011), influenced by Vladimir Kagan and Isamu Noguchi, and whose work on wood is remarkable; as well as Marc Weinstein, a specialist in wall sconces and lighting in general. Also worth mentioning are the Dutch designer Paul Kingma (1931-2013), the Belgian George Mathias, the Italians Sergio & Georgio Saporiti and Marcello Fontani (1915-2011).

Crédence de buffet brutaliste, design Adrian Pearsall pour Craft Associates (USA) vers 1960. Matériaux : bois et résine époxy.
Brutalist sideboard credenza, designed by Adrian Pearsall for Craft Associates (USA), circa 1960. Materials: wood and epoxy resin.
Crédence de buffet brutaliste, détail du bois sculpté, design Adrian Pearsall pour Craft Associates (USA) vers 1960. Matériaux : bois et résine époxy.
Brutalist sideboard credenza, detail of the carved wood, design Adrian Pearsall for Craft Associates (USA) circa 1960. Materials: wood and epoxy resin.
2 fauteuils années 50 attribués à Adrian Persall pour Craft Associates.
2 armchairs from the 1950s attributed to Adrian Persall for Craft Associates.
Composition de 4 sculptures brutalistes de grande taille, appliques conçues par Marc Weinstein, années 1970. Les 4 sont de formes différentes. Corps en acier patiné cuivre et bronze brossé, boules de verre opalin blanc.
Composition of 4 large brutalist sculptures, sconces designed by Marc Weinstein, 1970s. The 4 are of different shapes. Copper and brushed bronze patinated steel body, white opaline glass balls.
Table basse vintage style brutaliste, design Paul Kingma, années 1960. Mosaïque de plusieurs pierres colorées. Structure en acier martelé.
Vintage coffee table, brutalist style, designed by Paul Kingma, 1960s. Mosaic of several coloured stones. Hammered steel structure.
Luxueuse table basse en laiton gravée à l'acide, conception George Mathias, vers 1970. Le centre de la table est incrusté d'un grand morceau d'agate avec une source lumineuse en dessous. Lorsque la lumière est allumée, l'agate s’allume. Le dessus de table repose sur un grand pied carré en noir, fini avec un rebord en laiton.
Luxurious acid-etched brass coffee table, George Mathias design, circa 1970. The centre of the table is inlaid with a large piece of agate with a light source below. When the light is switched on, the agate glows. The table top rests on a large square foot in black, finished with a brass rim.
Luxueuse table basse en laiton gravée à l'acide, conception George Mathias, vers 1970, détail.
Luxurious acid-etched brass coffee table, George Mathias design, circa 1970, detail.
Table à repas vintage en béton et verre, design Giorgio Saporiti, 1973.
Vintage concrete and glass dining table, Giorgio Saporiti design, 1973.
Suspension brutaliste, design Marcello Fantoni, années 70. Tubes de fer ajourés et soudés. Tulipes en verre de Murano.
Brutalist suspension lamp, Marcello Fantoni design, 1970s. Openwork and welded iron tubes. Murano glass tulips.
Suspension brutaliste, détail, design Marcello Fantoni, années 70.
Brutalist suspension lamp, detail, Marcello Fantoni design, 1970s.
Même pièce, avec l’éclairage.
Same piece, with lighting.

Radical, with a modern aesthetic and the use of industrial materials, brutalist style pieces do not generally leave anyone indifferent. Close to a design that would be art, Brutalist furniture is gaining recognition from a public of enthusiasts, who perceive, beyond the functionality of the object, the expression of a certain beauty…

François Boutard