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Brutal Library

A guide devoted to celebrating the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the Axinn Library building.

Explore the Brutalist Style

It is our intention in this building to have the structure exposed entirely, without interior finishes wherever practicable. The contractor should aim at a high standard of basic construction, as in a small warehouse (Alison Smithson, Architectural Design, November, 1953)

Introduction to the style:

Alex Kitnick. "New Brutalism: Introduction." October 136 (2011): 3-6.  "New Brutalism: Introduction." The author discusses the artistic and architectural movement of New Brutalism and explores its history and meaning. He suggests that it refers to a movement in 1950s London, England and that the term was used by architects Alison and Peter Smithson to describe a residential building project in Soho, London, England. Other topics include the use of the term to describe post-World War II institutional buildings, how New Brutalist architecture relates to the work of other modern architects such as Le Corbusier, how New Brutalist art and architecture relate to each other, and themes of New Brutalism including the diversity of the world, the question of the surface, and the culture of communication.

Reyner Banham. "The New Brutalism." Architectural Review, December 1955 (reprinted in October 136, 2011). In his seminal essay architectural critic Reyner Banham attempts to codify the then emerging architectural movement of Brutalism. His definition of a New Brutalist building has several required elements: "1, Memorability as an Image; 2, Clear exhibition of Structure; and 3, Valuation of Materials ‘as found.’"

Reynar Banham. The new brutalism: ethic or aesthetic?   New York : Reinhold, 1966. (on reserve in Axinn Library, ask at the Circulation Desk)

Alex Kitnick and Hal Foster, editors. "New Brutalism." October 136 (Spring 2011).

Slobodan Curcic. Review: “The New Brutalism. Ethic or Aesthetic by Reyner Banham.” Journal of Aesthetic Education 3 (1969) 171–173. 

Jonathan Meades, "Brutalism A-Z." Handout to accompany 2014 Antony Dale Lecture, "Concrete poetry." Regency Society of Brighton and Hove.

Martin Filler,  "The Brutal Dreams that Came True," New York Review of Books, December 22, 2016.

A listing of relevant print materials on reserve in Axinn Library (At Circulation Desk, for course LIB000).


Recommended viewing:

Bunkers, Brutalism, and Bloody-Mindedness: Concrete Poetry with Jonathan Meades  (BBC, 2014) Part One   Part Two In this two-part documentary, Jonathan Meades makes the case for 20th-century concrete Brutalist architecture in homage to a style that he sees a brave, bold, and bloody-minded. In the first part, Meades traces its precursors to the once-hated Victorian edifices described as Modern Gothic and before that to the unapologetic baroque visions created by John Vanbrugh, as well as the martial architecture of World War II. Celebrating the emergence of the Brutalist spirit in his provocative and incisive style, Meades praises a moment in architecture he considers sublime and decries its detractors. 

Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982) Our keynote speaker Peter Chadwick discusses in This Brutal World how his own passion for the subject is tied to his upbringing: raised in the north-east of England in the ’70s and early ’80s, the backdrop to his childhood was heavy industry. The stark, functional landscape left its mark, as it did for many; in his book’s introduction, Chadwick points to Ridley Scott, another native of the north-east, and the film director’s appropriation of the ICI chemical plant’s flaring chimneys for his dystopian vision in Blade Runner.

La Haine (Mathieu Kassovitz, Criterion Collection, 1995) A gritty, unsettling, and visually explosive look at the racial and cultural volatility in modern-day France, specifically the low-income banlieue districts on Paris's outskirts. Aimlessly passing their days in the concrete environs of their dead-end suburbia, Vinz (Vincent Cassel), Hubert (Hubert Kounde), and Said (Said Taghmaoui)--a Jew, an African, and an Arab--give human faces to France's immigrant populations, their bristling resentment at their marginalization slowly simmering until it reaches a climactic boiling point. A work of tough beauty, La haine is a landmark of contemporary French cinema and a gripping reflection of its country's ongoing identity crisis.

Art, Literature, Music

Brutalism in Literature, Art and Music

Paula Derdiger. "To Drag Out a Rough Poetry:  Colin MacInnes and the New Brutalism in Postwar Britain.MFS Modern Fiction Studies, vol. 62 no. 1, 2016, pp. 53-69. This essay considers the intersection between trends in British fiction and architecture during the socially and culturally transformative years of the late 1950s. Reading Colin MacInnes's Absolute Beginners (1959) alongside Alison and Peter Smithson's New Brutalism-inspired House of the Future (1956), the essay argues that the architectural and literary innovations of this period turned away from the recent past to create a new set of narrative and material codes that valued poetic renderings of reality, transparency, fluidity, and the freedom to move and to consume at will.

Ben Highmore. "“Image-Breaking, God-Making”: Paolozzi's Brutalism." October 136 (2011): 87-104. The article discusses artist and sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi and a May 2, 1958 article in “The Times” about his illustrated lecture at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London, England. The author discusses the use of the term “God-breaking” in referring to modern artists. Other topics addressed include an exhibition of sculptures by Paolozzi at the Hanover Gallery in London, England, architectural critic Reyner Banham and art critic Lawrence Alloway, and Paolozzi's work as part of the “as found” aesthetic and New Brutalist art and architecture movement. Also discussed is Paolozzi's sculpture technique, including objects used to create the surfaces of his sculpture and the lost-wax casting method.

Ben Highmore. "Rough Poetry: "Patio and Pavilion" Revisited." Oxford Art Journal 29 (2006): 269-90. “This essay is an attempt to describe historically the installation and fabrication of Patio and Pavilion, part of the 1956 Whitechapel Gallery exhibition This is Tomorrow. I want this installation to tell of its history -- its historical moment or moments. Four people made Patio and Pavilion: the architects Alison and Peter Smithson, and the artists and designers Eduardo Paolozzi and Nigel Henderson. Unlike the other installations in This is Tomorrow it was neither an example of the predominant constructivist aesthetic, nor of a proto-pop or neo-dada practice that might be seen as emerging in the group exhibit of Richard Hamilton, John McHale and John Voelcker, for instance. Patio and Pavilion was an example of New Brutalism -- perhaps its most vociferous example.”

Hadas A. Steiner. "Brutalism Exposed: Photography and the Zoom Wave." Journal of Architectural Education59 (2006) 15-27. Photography was instrumental in conceiving representation as the effort to grasp the variable rather than the objective appraisal of reality. This paper explores how avant-garde practitioners in the mid-1960s harnessed reproductive technology for its momentary meanings. Using the confluence of the Economist complex, the film Blow-Up, and Archigram 7, the phenomenon is examined in the context of London-based architectural discourse. While the embrace of unstable signification would present further challenges, possibility still dominated over loss at this critical juncture. The allusiveness of representation intimated the potentials of a milieu where nothing stagnated and images, in and of themselves, constituted architectural practice.

M.H. Zareei et al. “Sound-based Brutalism: An emergent aesthetic.” Organised Sound 21 (2016) 51–60. Cold, stripped-down, monochrome, pixelated, iterative, quantised, grid, pulse, glitch, noise:  taken together, these words imply a growing aesthetic connection within a body of experimental and independent (or non-academic) sound-based artworks produced in the past few decades. This article examines this emergent phenomenon, accounting for the particular aesthetic features that connect such sound-based artworks, arguing for a more specific terminology to adequately account for this aesthetic across the various practices in which it is observed. Rejecting ‘minimalist’ as a descriptor, this article calls for an aesthetic frame of reference derived through Brutalism, understood as a crystallisation of key features of modernism and its various movements. 

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