So it seems with recent events in NSW I am just the latest in a long line to write about Brutalist architecture. That’s cool, I like it. I am not sure exactly what I like about it I think it is the geometry and concrete that does it for me. The name comes from the French for raw concrete beton brut because this was the material that Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier used in his buildings. That is the end of the history lesson, have a look at a bio of Le Corbusier for the details of his life.
There is something about this style of architecture that is, shall we say, polarising. I have been trying to understand what the issue people have with it is. I think it comes down to three major reasons. 1) It is a style that has at its heart a philosophy of function over form. 2) It is a style that generally does not fit into the character of the places where it is built. 3) Due to its geometric shapes, it is abstract and therefore sometimes hard for people to get. Basically, people want their buildings to have some extraneous design elements, match the character of their neighbourhoods and look like what they expect buildings to look like. So for instance if you happen to have a tall geometric concrete building in a neighbourhood of Victorian terrace houses, it will be a cause for discussion even if it has been there for decades.
I appreciate the beauty and geometry of Brutalism and want to share some of its awesomeness with you. Unite d’ Habitation (France) was built by Le Corbusier in 1952 and was his first building in this style; Research Institute for Experimental Medicine (Germany). The now trashed Orange County Government Centre (USA); Habitat 67 (Canada); and Giesel Library (USA). I like these buildings, the way they look, the statements they make. I think that Habitat 67 has to be my favourite of this bunch.
But what about Australian examples. Well Sydney has a decided lack of this type of architecture so I am going to take you to what I think is the Brutalist capital of Australia, Canberra. That’s right Canberra. Have a look around Canberra and you will see examples of Brutalist architecture dotted around here and there. These buildings are our important national institutions (The National Gallery, High Court of Australia, The Carillon); Government and commercial buildings (Churchill House); Educational facilities (Canberra School of Music and University of Canberra Student Residences) and public facilities (Woden Valley Library and Phillip Health Centre). I also want to give the now partially demolished Cameron Offices a shout out
These buildings represent a period in Australia’s architectural history. They are modern functional buildings that provide habitats for people to visit, live in and work in. Canberra is a hidden bastion of brutalist architecture. It adds to the beauty of the town. What I particularly like is it is not just the major public buildings but it is the local small buildings. The local library kids go to. Student residences for students working in cafes and restaurants with ridiculous debt. The local health centre.
Brutaliust architecture is for everyone from the monumental to the mundane. That’s it. Next time you are in Canberra check out some of these buildings. And just in case you didn’t notice, no politically motivated hononyms.
Coming up next on Heritage Gest….
Heritage at the Hill