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Brutalism


I used to say, “You know, I don’t like Brutalism in general but I like some Brutalist buildings.” Now, look, let’s be clear about what’s going on here—deep down there are no Brutalist buildings that I find beautiful, they are all ugly. So why did I say that? It’s the residual desire to be high-status because Brutalism is what the elites favour—so you imagine yourself sipping some Martini-based cocktail at a house party in Hampstead with sophisticated intellectuals where you titter and say, “Of course, while I find Brutalism in the general sense to be deplorable, I do have a soft spot for Nagy-Güran’s Budapest Municipal Swimming Pool—oh, you haven’t heard of it? I must show you my pictures from Budapest sometime…it will change how you see Brutalism.” Ah, acceptance by the elite…


So you convince yourself that Brutalism is somehow “okay” and if you meet other middle-class intellectually-inclined people you say, “Well, I don’t like it as a rule but there are some exceptions.” Yet you don’t really like it if you’re honest with yourself—because nobody likes to be brutalised (the clue is in the name).


About 626 years ago, cardinal Nicholas of Cusa observed that, in general, no one is completely wrong or completely right—this was an intellectual advance; now you could pick through an argument that was substantially wrong and pull out what was right in it—and you could criticise what was generally taken to be right and find that even “the right” had incorrect elements within it. The problem is that it is now universally recognised that sophisticated people don’t make blanket statements like “I don’t like ’em, I don’t want ’em here” or “I don’t like Brutalist architecture, it’s all ugly.” Only unsophisticated stupid people make sweeping generalisations—and you’re not a stupid unsophisticated person, are you? Hence when someone asks about your views on Brutalism you “see both sides”—like the sophisticated person you are.


Brutalism arrived with democracy, democracy serves the lowest common denominator—democracy is rough as fuck, not like some delicate aristocrat. Hence Brutalism is architecture for the democracy—it doesn’t make anyone feel inferior (any building feel inferior) because it is all ugly, like very rough Soviet loo roll (it’s rough on the eyes). It’s rough like a real proletarian who shits in his outdoor toilet—“Oooh, someone’s got an indoor toilet with carpets—la-di-da.” Brutalist architecture is meant to degrade body and spirit.


It’s purely functional (supposedly)—it’s goal-orientated architecture for a democratic society based on science and, in particular, engineering (engineers of the human soul etc). Indeed, it’s soulless—it’s inorganic; nature is composed from intricate patterns where the pattern is the purpose—Brutalism advertises its “purpose”, the Brutalist building is, per Le Corbusier, “a machine for living” (not an organism, not a tree or a dog—a machine; just like you are a cog in the Ford plant or the Five-Year Plan).


Brutalism is still an aesthetic stance: its aesthetic stance is that architecture should be functional—so it is designed to advertise its functionality. There’s an irony in this stance because Brutalist ideas like flat roofs which are supposedly “not superfluous ornament but practical and rational” fall apart really easily. Flat roofs notoriously leak very quickly—Brutalism is still “ornamented”, but it is ornamented so as the ornaments don’t look ornamental (in fact its ornaments are less practical than some Viennese wedding-cake mansion—that’s because nature and God are superior to engineering and rationalism).


Architecture has been described as “frozen music”—if this is so, what tune do Brutalist buildings play? I submit they are like that video where Wagner executed a man with a sledgehammer—they secured his head between two blocks (possibly concrete) and then smashed him like a Ukrainian watermelon. This is what a Brutalist building “sounds” like—it degrades the soul, just as watching a primitive Slav execution on Telegram will degrade your soul. Brutalism is the music of democracy—the music of standardisation, watery cabbage soup, and endless queues. It is the epitome of the false optimism of socialism which proclaims “rational scientific organisation of society” only for all the buildings it threw up in a Stakhanovite fury to fall apart within thirty years. Trust the science!


There are only two respects in which you actually like Brutalist buildings: firstly, per BAP, as “ruin value”—they look mysterious in a Central American jungle when overgrown with creepers and when the overflowed civic fountain has turned into a pool for caymans; secondly, some Brutalist structures are sublime—the sublime is not just ordinary beauty, not like the Acropolis is beautiful, it’s the beauty you find in war.


War is beautiful—except it’s also really ugly, loyal dogs curled up on the remains of the family home and twelve-year-olds with their legs blown off (with sad, sad eyes—better to die). Yet war is beautiful because it is sublime, it’s sublime when the white phosphorus falls and the missiles on an attack helicopter launch with simultaneous white streaks. That’s the sublime—the sublime is the awesome terrible beauty, it’s beautiful because it’s more than you can apprehend. It’s like God, of course—the terrible beauty that can irradiate Sodom, yet also cultivate a vast garden. There are Brutalist buildings that are sublime—but that is to say your country looks like a permanent war zone, and that just isn’t a healthy situation.


It’s a permanent war zone because democracy is social civil war, albeit not always conducted in a violent way. Brutalism was its initial idiom, in its most revolutionary phase—latterly, it has settled into “postmodern” architecture (the term “postmodern” actually originates with architecture, not philosophy)—the transition has been from the brutal to the nursery, to buildings that look like large primary-coloured plastic pacifiers for infants (for the mob). The hard lines are gone, replaced with a safe-for-all-ages feminine blob. Hence the democracy builds like cancer—i.e. without classical definition and clarity, without spirit.







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2 Comments


Some guy with no plan
Some guy with no plan
Mar 24, 2023

Getting this essay tattooed on my back

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Willow Spring
Willow Spring
Mar 24, 2023

The father of modern architecture was a PTSD vet who was building his house like a bunker for comfort. All modern architecture is bad.

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