1

Reyner Banham. 1955. “The New Brutalism.” In: Architectural Review. December 1955

 

2

GRAAF, Reinier de. 2015. “Building Capital.” In: Architectural Review, vol. 237, no. 1419, May 2015

 

3

GRAAF, Reinier de. 2015. “Building Capital.” In: Architectural Review, vol. 237, no. 1419, May 2015

“The Brutal Hard Facts” (Some notes from London)

Jessie Brennan

Jessie BrennanA Fall of Ordinariness and Light (2014). Pencil on paper (framed in aluminium), 57.5×71.5 cm.

“What in the final instance characterised New Brutalism, both in architecture and in painting, is precisely its brutality, it’s je-m’en-foutisme, its bloody-mindedness.”1

The Twentieth Century Society’s campaign, supported by internationally renowned architects including Richard Rogers, Renzo Piano, Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry, could not prevent the second time refusal last August for Robin Hood Gardens’ to become part of the National Heritage from making its demolition imminent. Over the last few months, debate surrounding the crisis in social housing in the United Kingdom has divided the public and professional opinions alike, and has been rekindled by the statements made by David Cameron at the beginning of this year in the Sunday Times , i.e. that 140 pounds will be spent to demolish one hundred “brutal” public housing estates. Places which in the 1960s and early 1970s were considered a reason for de national pride, prime examples of the welfare state (and many of them “brutalist”), are now understood to be mortal traps, “gifts for criminals and traffickers,” in the words of the Prime Minister.

Catherine Croft, at the head of the C20 Society, has warned of the dangers involved in demonising this housing  and establishing a relationship between criminality and design, as many of the problems looming have been caused by poor maintenance and would be most easily and least expensively solved by “refurbishing” without needing to disturb the lives of these communities. Furthermore, she particularly stresses that the government’s proposals will foster the rasing of those social housing clusters whose land value is high enough to attract private investment, thus casting doubts on  demolition as the best form of urban regeneration.

The privatisation of these estates has lead cities’ development to rely primarily on the private sector, a process that began with neoliberal policies in the 1980s and 1990s and fostered the increase of home ownership as compared with renting, according to Reinier de Graaf. Drawing an interesting parallel between Piketty’s economic theory and the development of modern architecture, this OMA partner explains how after the “conservative revolution, building, and particularly housing took on a new role. Rather than being a means of providing accommodation, it became a means of generating profitability. A building was no longer something to use, but rather something to have.”2 It is the distinction between use value and asset value that marked this transformation during the mid 1970s and which, according to Graaf, led architecture to become unexplainable, at least as we architects explain it: “A building’s rationale is no longer linked to its intended use, but instead takes shape based on a “generic” economic enticement,” meaning that “architecture is inevitably judged in terms of the market”3 and architects become economists, just as they loose their faith in their ability to respond to social needs.

Currently in London roughly ninety social housing estates are pending demolition, while a new look is being taken at brutalist architecture through expositionspublications, and even plays, reminding us of the social idea of progress that “New Brutalism” brought with it. The highlighting of this architecture’s visual attractiveness takes us to back to the ambition and idealism from which, in their day, they were born.


Text translated by Beth Gelb
Notas de página
1

Reyner Banham. 1955. “The New Brutalism.” In: Architectural Review. December 1955

 

2

GRAAF, Reinier de. 2015. “Building Capital.” In: Architectural Review, vol. 237, no. 1419, May 2015

 

3

GRAAF, Reinier de. 2015. “Building Capital.” In: Architectural Review, vol. 237, no. 1419, May 2015

Autor:
Arquitecto, vive y trabaja en Londres. Doctor por la ETSAUN (Pamplona), MA en History & Critical Thinking por la Architectural Association School of Architecture (Londres). María ha participado en distintas conferencias internacionales y ha sido también profesor ayudante de la ETSAUN, “Visiting Lecturer” en la School of Creative Arts de la Universidad de Hertfordshire (Hatfield, RU) y crítico invitado en la Architectural Association (Londres, RU).

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