a ride on Stalin's cruise ship

Feeling somewhat expansive with the New Year, I've decided to simultaneously look outward from my navel-gazing and be more aesthetically open-minded.

Here: a Flickr cluster of Brutalist architecture (via Sit Down Man, You're a Bloody Tragedy)

addendum: a Flickr set of the building that first started me wondering what possible merits rusticated concrete ever seemed to offer.

I've expressed my opinions about this sort of urban landscaping before: soul-deadening, dystopian, authoritarian, hermetic– and it ages badly. And yet.
The Flickr cluster is an impressive collection of images, much of it taken in London, put together by people who like and celebrate this sort of thing. The title of this post is from a brilliant comment on the
photograph, above, of the National Theatre in London, by Paul Carstairs. In the past, when confronted with this type of building, I've been prompted to think "Death Star manqué" or "Eastern Bloc Futurism." I must admit, though, that the images have spurred in me qualified and begrudging appreciation of Brutalism. It was just as swift and revelatory as the time it struck me that the World Trade Center towers weren't just simplistic and heavy-handed and colorless. That in fact, formally, together, they were rather grand. (And then disturbingly, shortly thereafter, they were no more.)

I can now imagine how, but only in the most supremely competent hands, the orchestration of space and the gravitas created could seem ideal for government buildings in theory. (The reality often went terribly wrong.) But creating an abstract sense of strength and authority in a public forum is one thing-- asking people to live in stained concrete canyons is another.

I'd read about the renewed excitement, of those in the know, over the Barbican complex--especially the residential towers
(see my scanned photo above). Built in 1982 by Chamberlain, Powell and Bon, it has the distinction of having been voted "London's Ugliest Building." True, it was an environment that prompted palpable anxiety, discomfort, and feelings of hopelessness in me–and I was just visiting for an afternoon. But it would have had to have beaten a lot of stiff competition for that title– and I, again grudgingly, just don't think it is so.

Why this near reversal has happened in me, I'm not sure. At this rate I'll be gushing over Thomas Kinkade and extolling the merits of Home Depot Baroque by February.


Carol said...

You are so right about the ugliness of the South Bank and Barbican complexes -- but inside them, there are wonders!!!

Murphy said...

Beware of any artform that you have to "understand" in order to appreciate.

It's no longer art. It's a way of separating the enlightened from the regular joes.

damn said...

You've got me thinking about psychetecture and Mister X, a comic I read as a teenager...

"Set in Radiant City, a dystopian municipality inspired by the Bauhaus and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, the series concerned a mysterious figure who purported to be its architect. His radical theories of ‘psychetecture’ were causing the citizenry to go mad, just as he did, and he took on the mission to repair his creation."

angela said...

psychetecture-- love that!
Speaking of--just read on another blog about how Paul Rudolph's design/building for a mental hospital (forgot official name) in Boston seemed to facilitate committing suicide. Must do more research.

Wait-- who are you?

that damn cryingboy said...


je suis le garçon qui pleure!

p.s. I grew up shadowed by Rudolph's evil genius, skating around Boston's Government Center

p.p.s. look here


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