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BLOG BEING UPDATED - TRY AGAIN LATER This blog records the controversial era of British architecture, 1960's Brutalism. Many Brutalist buildings have been demolished and many still are under threat


Brutalist event and exhibitions

The Architects

meet the architects behind the buildings

Buildings in danger

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Brutalism in Britain


Brutalism today

Does brutalism have a future?

Monday, 15 September 2014

EVENT: Brutalism: The Savage and The Sublime (the barbican)

On the 6th November the barbican arts centre (the only appropriate setting for such an event) will be holding a panel discussion on Brutalism in its event Brutalism: The Savage and The Sublime. The discussion will be based on the recent film by Jonathan Meades Bunkers Brutalism And Bloodly mindedness in which he explored in his usual idiosyncratic manner the controversies of the brutalist style which fascinates him. 

The panel is made of Sir Simon Jenkins, chairmen of the National trust, journalist and author, as well as the architectural critic Douglas Murphy (see his articles), the architect Piers Gough and of course Jonathan Meades himself will be debating brutalism and 'the aesthetics and morality of concrete'.

This promises to be a very interesting discussion and not an event to miss! tickets will be sold out quickly so book now!

More information can be found on the barbican website here
Tickets are £10

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

EXHIBITION: Something Fierce University of Essex: Vision and Reality

Image of the Essex university Library
A new exhibition running from 7 October to 13 December 2014 at the Coldchester campus of Essex university will be celebrating 50 years of its bold and brutalist architecture. The new university designed by Kenneth Capon from its founding in 1964 to embrace the architectural style of the day and to encourage its scholars to emulate its boldness. 

"The exhibition details how our architecture has influenced the people who have lived and worked in the University. In particular it tells the story of how since the 1960's Essex has become home to the tenacious and the bold, home to those that don’t just talk about a better world, but work together to create one - and why challenging convention is in our DNA.
The exhibition promises scale models and original drawings as well as a look at the many brutalist buildings on campus. The exhibition will be housed in the Hexagon, an iconic building built at the birth of the University.

7 October to 13 December 2014 - Tuesdays to Saturdays, 11am to 5pm
(Welcome Week: Monday 29 September to Saturday 4 October 2014 - 11am to 5pm)

For further details and information on opening times please see their website 

Monday, 8 September 2014

EXHIBITION: The anatomy of a building: Denys Lasdun and the Royal College of Physicians

A unique exhibition opening on 8 September marks the centenary of the birth of one of Britain’s greatest architects, Sir Denys Lasdun, in the iconic setting of his masterpiece, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP).

The anatomy of a building: Denys Lasdun and the Royal College of Physicians runs from 8 September 2014 to 13 February 2015, Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

'Balfron season' Bow arts Sept-Oct 2014

The iconic Balfron tower designed by the eminent brutalist architect and designer Erno Goldfinger will be hosting a series of events running until the 12th October whilst the building is prepared for restoration. Artists supported by Bow arts will for a short period base themselves in the tower opening it up to the public in a season of exciting events in which the architecture and the social life of the area will be be explored in a series of guided walks, artistic installations and workshops.  

A series of architectural walks will be hosted by London’s city-in-waiting during September. The first 'Penetrate the Impenetrable: A walk via the Balfron Tower through East' will run on Sunday 7th September from Stratford City to Canary Wharf and will be hosted by regeneration experts Ralph Ward and Michael Owens. A second walk will take place on Saturday 20th September (on open house weekend), this will take visitors from Lansbury Estate through Poplar, reviewing post-war architecture up to the present day. 

On the weekends of 6-7th September and 20th-21st September the Bow Artists resident in Balfron tower will be hosting an Open Studio in which they will be exhibiting a range of specially created shows

On the 13th September in Flat 131 a one-day Adult drawing Workshop (limited places available) in which participants will hope to be inspired by the brutalist building’s characteristics and surroundings. 
Many more events can be found on their website

On Open house weekend (20th-21st September) there will be full access and guided tours of Balfron tower 

For all enquirers and information visit their website and follow them @BalfronSeason
for other events follow me @BritBrutalism

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

London Open House weekend (20-21 September 2014)

For one weekend every year many of London's most famous and iconic buildings normally closed to the general public are opened, this year is no exception with the Open house weekend taking place on the weekend of 20th-21st September. I have selected below the most interesting brutalist buildings and related events.  

* 8 Stoneleigh terrace (CamdenSunday 10am-1pm 2pm-5pm tours on the hour
Designed by architect Peter Tabori who worked in the progressive Camden architects department in the 1970's, it shows the influence of other architects in the department (such as Neave Brown) and Denys Lasdun under who he worked for a time with the use of high density low rise social housing.

* Alexander Road (CamdenSaturday 10am-5pm regular tours (first come first served). 
One of the iconic brutalist estates of the capital built by Neave Brown from the late 1960's onwards. This open house event promises entry into a flat described as 'originally designed'. 

* Balfron tower (Tower hamlets) Saturday 1pm-5pm tours every 30 minutes 
Designed By Erno Goldfinger in the mid 1960's as social housing for London County Council. This open house event also promises access to one of the flats. See more in my post
- see Balfron season for more events and information 

Barbican centre (City) Saturday tours on the hour 12-3pm PRE BOOK ESSENTIAL 
(meeting at advance box office). A tour of the highwalks and the ideas behind the Chamberlain Powell & Bonn brutalist masterpiece. (could be an interesting tour but it doesn't look like there is anywhere included which you can't normally access included in the tour).

* Dunboyne Road Estate (a.k.a Fleet road estate) (Camden) meet Sunday 2pm 
PRE BOOK ESSENTIAL - Guided tour will be by the original architect Neave Brown (!!) and contemporary architect Takeshi Hayatsu. This tour also promises a look at a well kept original flat in the estate.  

* Royal college of Physicians (CamdenSunday 10am-5pm (last entry 3.30) tours included as well as a lecture on Denys Lasden at 2.15pm. Designed by Denys Lasden overlooking regents park, one of the most significant brutalist buildings in London and a rare opportunity to see the interior.  

* - not to be missed

More information on all the open buildings can be found on the London Open House website

Sunday, 10 August 2014

New look and site work

Dear readers, 
The site is currently being upgraded which may take sometime meaning many of the links may not work as intended please bare with me! It should take only a few days more. I will also be working more seriously on other content expanding the project to a website rather than just a blog!
Hope you like the new and improved look!
Thanks for following~!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The Brunswick centre

The Brunswick centre was built in the late 1960's as a mixed development with an open shopping precinct complete with cinema and residential accommodation above. Located in the heart of Georgian Bloomsbury replacing rows of Georgian houses which still surround the site the building (in true brutalist tradition) makes very little attempt to integrate itself with its historic surroundings and as a result is inevitably controversial (in true brutalist tradition).

Leslie Martin's practice was commissioned to prepare designs for the site with most of the design attributed to Patrick hodgkinson who was then working in the practice. A relatively unknown architect who design few buildings outside Oxford and Cambridge and none of the size and scale of the Brunswick centre. The scheme was the brainchild of a private property developer looking to make a quick profit with the original intention of constructing a series of high density high-rise blocks for private residential accommodation. However the then restrictions on height of buildings in London by the LCC (London County Council) led to a radical rethink in the design. The building as built still allows for high density whilst falling within the then rigid height restrictions being built as two long high dense blocks with the space between used for shops and commercial activities.  

However, even before competition the scheme quickly fell into trouble as it failed to find enough private tenants to make the scheme viable, the result of which was to lease the accommodation to Camden council for social housing, the process inevitably led to cut backs in the quality of the finish (the building was intended to be painted which was only achieved after the most recent restoration in the early 2000's). After completion the scheme was widely regarded as a failure with many of the shops unoccupied and retailers staying away. Although despite its failure in this regard it has since the time of opening in 1972 retained an independent (less so after a recent take over) cinema (the 'Renoir' currently undergoing refurbishment until Dec 2014 see below) specialising in foreign films.

The sense of failure associated with the project and the general distaste and disillusion in which the monumental scheme was viewed made it look like demolition was only a matter of time. However, the building became one of the first brutalist modern buildings to be listed in 2000 by English Heritage and has since been restored and modernized along the lines of the original intentions of the scheme (such as a lick of paint) which were finally being realized. 

The most important change has been with the shopping precinct which has undergone a significant rejuvenation with the introduction of many high-street chains (including a Waitrose supermarket) which has established the areas identity as a retail destination and has more successfully integrated the building with the surrounding Georgian streets. The social mix of the residents has also changed (although not as much as in some areas) with an increasing number of professional types in privately owned flats, although like many areas of London it has (at the current time of writing) a healthy mix of residents which gives the city much of its character. 

The design of the building is radically different to that of its first design in which brick would have been used instead of the current monolithic use of concrete (this was primarily down to cost, a concession made in the acknowledgement that concrete would be painted - which it was not until recently) which would have given the building a quite different appearance. 

The eight pairs of ventilation towers are the main point of attention of the building which captures the eye, they are clearly in the brutalist tradition of utilitarianism in which the most striking feature is also entirely practical (practical use of ventilating the building as well as a striking architectural feature of the building. The estate also has a stepped design (also seen in the Alexander road estate for Camden) giving it the distinctive futuristic appearance  (or the 1960's idea of what futuristic would look like) which is also entirely practical by allowing the maximum amount of sunlight to reach each flat and allowing the central shopping precinct to be open and light. 

Brunswick Centre

The Brunswick centre looking North with St Pancras station (from the Guardian article)

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Erno Goldfinger in the east-end

This post examines the residential blocks of the eminent architect Erno Goldfinger in the east-end of London. From the 1960's Goldfinger designed a series of buildings for social housing in the east end which included Balfron tower which was similar to his work Trellick tower in the west end, Glenkerry house and Carradale house. His distinctive architectural style, embracing the utilitarian principles of brutalism (too excessively for many) and his work in pioneering high density high rise in the post-war rebuilding of London gives Goldfinger a prominent role in the development of a modern form of living and the development of the brutalist architectural style. 

Visiting advice: His works in the east-end are all in very close proximity to each other and can be visited at the same time. If you are interested in a visit my suggested route is to getting off at Blackwell (the DLR station) and attempt to walk via Robinhood gardens - another iconic but less appreciated icon (shortly to be demolished!), then follow the A12 north until you find the clearly visible blocks - it is not difficult to miss them! Also - best to go in warmer weather!

Balfron Tower

Balfron Tower, the tallest and most distinguishable of the group bares a striking similarity to trellick tower in the west end, these blocks were built in the late 1960's just prior to the completion of Trellick tower   The most iconic feature of this building and of Goldfinger's social housing are the detached Lift towers which are given a grandeur and monumentality. The design is both functional and aesthetic, functional in the sense that having a detached lift (and services) tower isolates the noisy parts of the building such as the lift, rubbish shoots, the boiler room and (in the past at least) washing facilities away from the main living accommodation. The maisonette structure in which access to the flats is on every third floor is also function in that it both reduces the cost in construction of the lift (often the practical reason for maisonette structures in post-war rebuilding - primarily pragmatism rather than aesthetic or ideological) and reduces the number of lift stops, saving time. Despite the purely practical nature of the design it never-the-less creates the iconic feature of the block, a clear illustration of the  ideological utilitarianism of the brutalist style. 

The tower will shortly undergo a restoration and modernization before the flats are 'privatized' and sold off. The nature of this process is inevitably controversial with the accusations of social cleansing - often justified. It will be interesting to see whether these flats formerly used for social housing will attract the middle class professionals which Trellick tower certainly has in the last twenty years after the same treatment. Brutalist architecture certainly is becoming more desirable however the extent to which these flats do become 'gentrified' will only become apparent in a few years time.   

Glenkerry House

Glenkerry house is the shorter neighbour of Balfron tower although its structure and plan is much the same as the latter, the flats are designed as maisonettes although with a 'semi'-detached lift tower, physically joined to the building  on all floors (unlike Balfron and trellick towers) although set at a right-angle to the main walkways. Glenkerry house lacks the height which creates interest (although I acknowledge its proximity to Balfron tower may have restricted its height) and when viewed from green it overlooks it is in my opinion somewhat underwhelming.  Unlike Trellick and Balfron the lift tower although still a key feature of the building is less successful as in the former with there detached towers with walkways int he sky creates the monumental and iconic image of the building and is the main distinguishing  feature. The iconic detached lift tower which creates the landmark status of the fore-mentioned towers. In my opinion it lacks conviction and is a watered down version of Balfron tower and in such proximity it is inevitably overshadowed by that building - both literally and metaphorically, Glenkerry cannot (in my mind) decide its form, high rise or low rise it (opting for somewhere in the middle) which does not express the confidence and conviction which makes brutalism so stimulating and controversial. Despite this, that is not to say the building is without merit and if viewed without a inevitable comparison with its neighbour it does still assert its own distinctive character. 

After passing from control of Tower Hamlets council (which is a relief considering their record for the care of brutalist architecture - see Robin Hood gardens!) the building is now run by an independent housing cooperative

Carradale House 

Built in the same style as his other works although a horizontal rather than vertical display of his approach to social housing. Although evidently less impressive than Balfron tower unlike the Glenkerry house it has I think more conviction in its form (a long and low block). It has a good relationship with its neighbour Balfron tower (see left) and creates some clear continuity. It also displays the instantly recognizable detached lift tower with the small vertical arrowslit windows and again takes a prominent place asserting again the utilitarian character and nature of the building. 

Friday, 13 June 2014

EVENT: Balfron tower open day

On the 21st June 2014 for one day only Balfron tower in the east end of London, (the sister of Trellick tower in the west end, both designed by eminent brutalist architect Erno Goldfinger) will be open to the public. A series of exciting events (some which need to be booked - see below) will be taking place inside the building all day exploring the architecture of the tower and the surrounding area. 

Built in the mid 1960's the building is due for a series of refurbishments and alterations in preparation for private sell off of the flats (going the same way as trellick tower - more HERE on the 'social cleansing'). This may be the last opportunity to see the interior in its original condition. Not an event to miss if you are interested in Brutalist architecture!

Find out more detail HERE (including booking details)
Guardian article on the festival HERE

Monday, 9 June 2014

Robin Hood Gardens

Robin Hood gardens is one of the most iconic post-war brutalist council estates in east London. Built in the 1960's by the eminent husband and wife architectural duo of Peter and Alison Smithson, it was part of a new generation of projects which sort to rebuild the east-end from the appalling poverty and damage sustained during the second world war. The use of concrete was chosen primarily for its cheap and easy application, although it was at a time when concrete was increasingly becoming the material of use in construction due to its aesthetic characteristics. The estate like many others of era is out of fashion with the politicians in local town halls and as a result Tower Hamlets intends to demolish by the middle of 2015.   

The estate essentially is composed of two long facing blocks overlooking a central open park. The design complied with the aims of planners in the post war era to built high density living but ensure a larger number of greener and open spaces in the east-end, building high density allow for generous public space. The blocks which are even to a fan of the style, quite oppressive in their size (the price of large open spaces) are reached via the popular 1960's architectural notion of 'streets in the sky' with wide walkways run the length of the building. Most flats were built as maisonettes with internal staircases for council tenants but never-the-less were perceived to be spacious - not a luxury afforded to many new houses built.

Despite a recent attempt to have the buildings listed by the 20th century society and others in architectural circles including Lord Rogers - which goes to show the significance of the work- listing has been dismissed by English heritage and inevitably by the council who are desperate to demolish the estate. The council argue that the current buildings do not meet the same energy efficient standards as new homes would, which is a fair point although I can't see Georgian and Victorian houses which are unquestionably preserved as particularly energy efficient (similar arguments were used in the 1960's to justify demolition). It also argues that open space would be reduced but I think this too is questionable - the current blocks use space very efficiently with high density housing and large open spaces, how much more open space will be generated in a scheme which is undoubtedly motivated by developers greed is not clear. 

The estate is due to be demolished by 2015, at present the buildings are still occupied and work has begun on other sites (July 2015 is when their demolition notice runs out- they will have to demolish before then). The development is part of a wider, no doubt 'exciting' redevelopment, 'Blackwell reach', although as usual the replacement makes for depressing viewing (well depending on opinion and taste), some may argue that anything is an improvement but with the picture below in mind I beg to differ. I am in full agreement with the ever sharp Rowan Moore of the guardian in his scathing analysis, 'one proposal for Robin Hood Gardens involves a cluster of towers that is pure Hong Kong, minus the vibrant street life or dramatic topography'.

robin hood gardens
Hong Kong on Thames - One of the possible designs for its replacement

Although the estate was built cheaply in the rush to build houses in the 1960's they are essentially well designed, the current condition of the estate and many similar estates has been the lack of maintenance and investment in their upkeep. Indeed many have accused Tower Hamlets council of deliberately running down the estate in order to speed up the removal of the remaining residents and start demolition. The deterioration of the estate is clear for all to see and often see left (as the council well know) the poor state of the building (induced by the council) is the pretext needed to prevent listing and allow demolition, which is what has happened here and in countless over examples across the country. 

One of the main attractions of many of these council estates is the large open and public spaces which they make available due to high density living. Although many are uselessly wasted the central garden in the Robin Hood gardens estate is one of the better examples of how to use and develop the space. A man made hill gives the garden some interest with well developed trees and flower meadows creating a piece of the country in the heart of the east end. It was clear in my visit that people appreciate the space, I observed many residents using the gardens and enjoying one of the few days of sun. The space between the blocks also houses a playground and an area for raised beds for growing vegetables. Good management of the space has created a genuine area for the community in estates often characterized by exclusion. This space will no doubt be lost in the redevelopment and public access will certainly be restricted in the name of privacy and security. Whatever ones attitude to the architecture the estate is more than just the buildings, its also about the connecting spaces between them, most will I think find the gardens attractive whatever their architectural taste. 

the central mount of the garden  

Robin hood gardens - another one bites the dust

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Update - Preston Bus station 05/06/14

Earlier this year it was announced that the recently listed (September 2013) Preston bus station would not be demolished by Preston city council but ownership would instead be transferred to Lancashire county council who run all over transport facilitates across the county. The county council unlike the city council is not cash-strapped and is prepared to invest in the future of the building, with £8m already earmarked for the project. Although the future of the building finally looks secure after a long struggle the debate continues on what is to be done with the building and whether it is still fit for purpose as a bus station.  

Such a major success for one of the countries most significant brutalist works should be celebrated as a great victory for the Brutalist lobby where we are so often embittered with another defeat, progress is being made. Everyone remembers how the grade one listing of George Gilbert Scott's St Pancras hotel created a momentum for the preservation of Victorian buildings in the 1960's, could Preston bus station be a turning point - we will see. It is also a significant success as (without trying to be to patronizing) it took place in the regions where all to often local authorities disregard the protests of locals and demolish without considering the true merit of the buildings (e.g Gateshead trinity square). 
What was essential as well as the significant local campaign Save Preston Bus Station campaign led by John Wilson was the national debate through media and newspapers. The interventions and lobbying of Angela Brady of the RIBA and other figures in the architectural world significantly contributed to efforts to save the building especially in getting it listed which laid the ground work for a move away from demolition. Although the tireless work and termination of John Wilson and others in keeping up the momentum on the ground and the pressure on the council ensured this national coverage of the debate and the preservation of this brutalist icon at least for the enjoyment and critical analysis of future generations. 

   What do you think of Preston Bus station? leave a comment! 

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Bunkers, Brutalism and Bloodymindedness: Concrete Poetry with Jonathan Meades

An interesting two-part programme by the stimulating and thought provoking as ever Jonathan Meades. Broadcast over the last two Sunday nights on BBC 4 and part of a recent excellent series on architecture on the channel featuring programmes about Ian Nairn and the modern superstar architects. Available now on IPlayer. Well worth a watch! 

Meades at Wotruba Church in Vienna (BBC)



Monday, 24 February 2014

102 Petty France - Westminster

102 Petty France is a government brutalist office block in the heart of the city of Westminster. The corner tower dominates the approach from Tothill street (shown left), the road which leads to the west front of Westminster abbey, indeed it is just visible when looking from the west door of the abbey. On the other side it also dominates the skyline of nearby St James Park and can just be seen as far away as Hyde park. It is a building built to dominate its location and the skyline, a true characteristic of a brutalist building. It was built as government offices by the architects Fitzroy Robinson & Partners with Sir Basil Spence (Coventry cathedral- although this couldn't be more different in style). 

The offices were completed in 1976 to allow the relocation of government departments away from the increasingly overcrowded offices at Whitehall to more modern and fit for purpose offices. Before its completion very few new modern government offices had been built and many civil servants were working in offices built for the 19th century bureaucracy (when there was a much smaller state). 

The comprehensive redevelopment of much of Whitehall was at first advocated as the solution to the increasing space requirements of the modern civil service but when this was hit with problems in the late 1960's and ultimately collapsed in the 1970's more space was desperately required outside the historic core of Whitehall. This building was thus a part of the solution and was used from 1978 as the Home office, until 2004 when it moved to a new site in Horseferry road. More recently after a long process of modernisation it became the ministry of justice - appropriate I think given its prison like appearance. 

This building embodies most things about the brutalist movement, the scale and mass of the building which makes no attempt to fit in with the Georgian houses of Queen Anne's gate which it overlooks with such intrusion, the heavy use of concrete in such a uncompromising way and finally the controversy surrounding the building, never being admired and not demolished due to the size and expense of the job. It is hard to love such a building as this but it can be said to have more character than some of the new offices boxes in London which would have been built on the site if demolished. For better or for worse, the building's future is relatively safe for future generations to detest (or love?). Although not listed the expense of demolition means it will continue to dominate the skyline of Westminster for many more years.