The Growing Threat Against Brutalist Buildings – SURFACE
Brutalist structures around the world are being demolished at a rapid pace, from the planned demolition of Kenzo Tange’s piled-up Kuwait Embassy in Tokyo to Raffaele Contigiani’s impressive upside-down Hotel du Lac that is said to have inspired star wars. Paul Rudolph’s buildings have been targeted specifically – in the past two years, Burroughs Wellcome headquarters in North Carolina and Shoreline apartments in Buffalo have been razed to the ground, while the Orange County government center in Goshen, New York, has been defaced with the completion of a radically incongruous addition alongside. Today, the modernist architect’s Government Services Center in Boston, particularly the Charles F. Hurley Building, faces a similar fate.
According to Chris Grimley, a Boston-based designer, curator and author, the site never reached its full potential. Write for the Architect’s Diaryhe explains how a “stagnant air” floated around the complex thanks to an unbuilt tower that would have provided a useful anchor point, how it has long suffered from deferred maintenance and active neglect, and how the public plazas neighbors have been converted into car parks.
In 2019, Boston officials agreed to a redevelopment plan with one downside: The Hurley Building would be sacrificed. The decision caused an outcry from conservationists, who pointed to the significance of Rudolph’s structures and Constantino Nivola’s murals hanging in the lobby of the Hurley Building. “Architectural ambition and development should not be seen as mutually exclusive concerns,” writes Grimley, praising the value of an eclectic city. “Such a perspective celebrates all elements of urban history, including those we do not find particularly beautiful, for as history suggests, standards of beauty are not fixed but oscillate over time – architecture Victorian was despised, then loved, just as much – called ‘concrete monsters’ are now admirable brutalist avatars.
So why is brutalist architecture constantly under threat? There is no easy answer. While films such as “A Clockwork Orange” transformed brutalist sites into dystopian symbols and helped the style fall out of favor in the 1970s, theorists suggest there is an association between the style and the social policies of left, arousing opposition from the right. “There are very, very visible manifestations of the welfare state in brutalist architecture,” says historian and author Barnabas Calder. Dezeen, pointing to London’s Trellick Tower social housing complex and Southbank Centre, a public art center on the River Thames. He further suggests that former US President Donald Trump’s “Executive Order on Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture” was a direct attack on the style, although he never outright banned the brutalism.
Political ideologies aside, many brutalist structures are crumbling due to cheap materials and decades of neglect. Many are in desperate need of renovation, which developers often avoid funding, favoring more lucrative new construction. Unsightly brown stains often scar the raw concrete—due to the rusting of interior metal reinforcements—and frequently put Brutalist structures on lists of the “ugliest buildings in the world.” Their stark rectangular shapes, cavernous interiors, inhuman scales, and colorless exteriors can often feel dehumanizing, overbearing, and depressing.
Although public opinion of brutalism has softened in recent years (thanks to voluminous tomes, meme sites, and museum interest) and campaigns have emerged to defend the style, it still hasn’t. avoided the wrecking ball. Critic Kate Wagner even called Rudolph one of America’s “unluckiest architects”, writing that “the court of public opinion has no say in the portfolio rule, and even in the success of a decade-long campaign to reclaim brutalism from the trash heap”. of history’ probably won’t generate enough momentum to save some of the style’s most beloved buildings.