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BLOG BEING UPDATED - TRY AGAIN LATER This blog records the controversial era of British architecture, 1960's Brutalism. Many Brutalist buildings have been demolished and many still are under threat


Brutalist event and exhibitions

The Architects

meet the architects behind the buildings

Buildings in danger

add to the list


Brutalism in Britain


Brutalism today

Does brutalism have a future?

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

National Trust: Brutal Utopias

The National Trust, an institution dedicated to the provision of tearooms, gift shops and the conservation of crumbling country houses has begun to recognise the importance of the preservation and promotion of modern architecture. For ten days starting on the 25th September 2015 the National Trust in partnership with others will be hosting a series of unique one off events, tours and talks in celebration of brutalism. 

The tours include, the Brutalist elements of the Southbank complex (Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery) which will be soon closed for refurbishment works, tours of the recently restored Park Hill flats in Sheffield and Denis Lasdens work at the University of East Anglia, Norwich. There will also be the opportunity to rid a Routemaster bus in a series of expert-led bus tours of London’s other iconic Brutalist sites. 

Anyone wanting to take advantage of this opportunity should book straight away as the limited tickets are selling quickly! I was unable to secure tickets for the Brutalism: Brutal or Beautiful? talk ('a discussion of Brutalism’s legacy at the Southbank Centre'which looked very interesting.

Southbank Centre – Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery
Park Hill, Sheffield
University of East Anglia (UEA), Norwich

Other Events:
Brutalism: Brutal or Beautiful? Sold Out :(
Routemaster bus tours

(National Trust website) More information 

Heritage Weekend (19th-20th Sept)

Here are some of the Brutalist Highlights for next weekends (19-20th September 2015) Open house London/heritage open days. This is a work in progress, if you have spotted any good brutalism open please get in touch! 

London - Camden

- 8 Stoneleigh Terrace (Highgate New Town, Stage 1)

Details: OPEN- Sunday 10am-to-5pm (includes hourly tours on a first come basis. Last tour 4pm. closed 1pm-2pm). Promises a tour of a flat and of the estate.  More information

- Alexandra Road Estate

Details: OPEN- Saturday | 10am-to-5pm (Last entry 4.30pm) with regular tours.

NOTE: This was in high demand last year, very long queues, I tried (and failed) to get in! Plan this one well! More information

- Alexandra Road Park (Alexander Road Estate)

Details: Saturday | 10am-to-5pm Hourly tours  
More information

- Royal College of Physicians

Details: Sunday | 11am-to-4pm (Regular architectural and garden tours bookable on the day. Lecture titled 'The Architecture of Sir Denys Lasdun' will start at 2.15pm and will be given by Dr Barnabas Calder.) 
More information

- Swiss Cottage Library

Details:  Saturday | 10am-to-5pm  Sunday | 11am-to-4pm 
More information

For more information, visit the open day websites:
Heritage Open days - England
Open House - London

Friday, 19 June 2015

Robinhood gardens campaign updates - 1

Richard Rogers was featured on the today programme (BBC Radio 4) this morning
highlights - Here (or listen to it HERE from the Programme (from 02.21.40))

Also: A short video on Robinhood gardens

sounddelivery via YouTube

Thursday, 18 June 2015


Write today to Tracy Crouch MP and the Department for Culture Media & Sport, the minster and department whose hands the future of Robinhood Gardens are in!

Contact Details 
Tracy Crouch MP, minster with responsibility - 
(EMAIL) tracey.crouch.mp@parliament.uk

Department for Culture Media & Sport

(ADDRESS)- Department for Culture, Media & Sport
100 Parliament Street


#SAVErobinhoodgardens is trending


Sent out yesterday 17 June : A letter from Simon Smithson and Richard Rogers asking you to help save Robin Hood Gardens:
"I am writing to ask you to support listing Robin Hood Gardens as a building of special architectural interest, in order to protect one of Britain’s most important post-war housing projects, designed by Alison and Peter Smithson, from demolition.
Previous efforts in 2009 to have the building listed failed, but the case has now been re-opened and we understand that the new Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage will be reviewing the arguments at the end of this week. The buildings, which offer generously-sized flats that could be refurbished, are of outstanding architectural quality and significant historic interest, and public appreciation and understanding of the value of modernist architecture has grown over the past five years, making the case for listing stronger than ever.
The UK's 20th Century Society has submitted a paper setting out why they believe Robin Hood Gardens should be listed (i.e. added it to the statutory list of buildings of special architectural and historical interest). Two further assessments are set out below:
“Alison and Peter Smithson were the inventors of the New Brutalism in the 1950s and as such they were the ‘bellwethers of the young' as Reyner Banham called them. In many ways [Robin Hood Gardens] epitomizes the Smithsons’ ideas of housing and city building. Two sculptural slabs of affordable housing create the calm and stress free place amidst the ongoing modernization of the London cityscape. The fa├žades of precast concrete elements act as screens that negotiate between the private sphere of the individual flats and the collective space of the inner garden and beyond. The rhythmic composition of vertical fins and horizontal ’streets-in-the-air' articulates the Smithsons’ unique proposition of an architectural language that combines social values with modern technology and material expression. Despite the current state of neglect and abuse Robin Hood Gardens comprises a rare, majestic gesture, both radical and generous in its aspiration for an architecture of human association. As such it still sets an example for architects around the world.”
Dr Dirk van den Heuvel, Delft University, Holland.
“The Smithsons were clearly great architects: the Economist Building, completed in 1964 and Grade I-listed in 1988, is without a doubt the best modern building in the historic centre of London. Robin Hood Gardens, which pioneered ‘streets in the air’ to preserve the public life of the East End terraces that it replaced, was the next large-scale job that the Smithsons embarked upon. It was architecturally and intellectually innovative. In my opinion, it is the most important social housing development from the post-war era in Britain.”
Lord Richard Rogers
Last time listing was considered the views of the architectural community were ignored but we believe there is now a real chance of saving the building for posterity but only if the Minister hears, first hand, the views of the profession on the architectural merits of these exceptional buildings.
Can we ask you to support the efforts of the 20th Century Society by writing right now to the Minster to support listing and saying why you believe Robin Hood Gardens should be saved?
Click here to open an e-mail to the relevant Minister at the Department for Culture Media and Sport, Tracey Crouch MP:
Also, can we ask you to forward this e-mail to anyone else you know who might be willing to help save these important buildings?
Yours faithfully,
Richard Rogers and Simon Smithson"

my post on Robinhood gardens 

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Trip to RIBA

A couple of days ago I visited the RIBA for the exhibition -widely advertised- on 'brutalist playgrounds'. The exhibition recreates three significant post-war concrete playgrounds built to provide space for adventure and play for children living in the new council estates. 

The exhibition which is a collaboration between the artist Simon Terrill and the architecture collective 'Assemble' recreates the concrete structures in compressed foam allowing visitors to safely interact with the exhibition - provided they take off their shoes!

Although the exhibition does not give much information on the playgrounds there is an excellent booklet provided for the exhibition featuring a interview with the creators and some background information on the project. The exhibition also features a slideshow of images featuring the structures in their original context which of course is lost in the recreation of these structures in a gallery. 

Images above, top Brunel estate, Paddington middle Churchill gardens Pimlico bottom Brownfield estate (Balfron tower) 

Of the three brutal playgrounds recreated at the RIBA exhibition only this one at the base of balfron tower by Goldfinger survives - however it no longer provides for its original purpose as the metal on the slide has been lost, a brutal playground in another sense of that word! Today it is left as a strange curiosity, in fact I couldn't work out what it was when I visited the brownfield estate.  
image - Guardian

After the exhibition I took the opportunity as I always do to wander around the RIBA building which retains many interesting original features, - although not brutalist - it is a building I love and is a very suitable home for the institution.

The bookshop is also one of the best for architecture and design - which should be expected! -. At the shop I picked up on the brutalist themed stand by the entrance the book (left) on the rise and demise of the Tricorn centre in Portsmouth, one of the early causalities of the race to destroy our brutalist heritage. I will be posting a full review of the book when I have finished, from my initial browse it is clearly an extensive account of the buildings history including the unsuccessful campaign to save it from Portsmouth council. The campaign itself is something anyone interested in preserving brutalism should study, so we can learn how to be successful in the future, as we were in saving Preston Bus station recently,one of the first real triumphs in saving a condemned brutalist building.

Also from the shop I bought two of the 'brutal London' models which I had previously been reluctant to pay the £6 postage! (from the company based in Poland =website= here) getting them for the bargain price of 4.99 (each)! I bought the Trellick tower and Robinhood gardens estate models as these were the most interesting models (and indeed buildings!)

Friday, 5 June 2015

Facebook group for brutalism

Interesting new group for British examples of Brutalism on Facebook 
(Link here)

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

EVENT: Freedom of the City: Discovering Southbank Skate Spot

An event at the Royal festival hall by the London society, 'Freedom of the City: Discovering Southbank Skate Spot' which charts the successful campaign against the proposed 'Festival wing' development (which would have seen the under-croft, long cherished by skateboarders and graffiti artists transformed into commercial retail units) by the Long Live South Bank campaign. 

The event will take place on Monday 8th June, it will involve a walk-talk with questions welcome to stimulate debate  

Long Live South Bank also have a new book out (as well as other merchandise to help their cause -- link HERE) featuring some brilliant pictures of the Brutalist South Bank centre. 

- Find out more about the 'Long Live South Bank' Campaign HERE 
- Find out more about the London society HERE


Monday, 1 June 2015

EVENTS/EXHIBITIONS: London Festival of Architecture

This years London festival of architecture which will run through-out June brings with it a series of interesting events for any architecture fan. Below I have listed the events which may be of interest to fans of Brutalist architecture. Unfortunately the rather inadequate booklet does not give a description of the events so I am going by the names! If you have any other suggestions let me know.  


'The Brutalist Playground' 
where: RIBA 
when: 10 June -16 August (10am-5pm) 

'The Barbican Exhibition: Building a Landmark (already featured)'
when: 25 May - 29 November (in Barbican opening times)
where: Barbican foyer at the Barbican centre

'TACK-ON-TOURS: The Ugliest Buildings in London' 
where: Hoax Theatre
when: 6,7,13,14,20,21,27,28 June 11am and 3pm each day 
- also inevitably featuring many brutalist buildings!

'Rise and Fall of the Council Estate'
where: RIBA
when: 23 June (7-8.40pm) 
- Possibly of interest, it will give a wider context to the rise of fall of the brutalist style in Council estates.  

> For more information visit the London Festival of Architecture website here

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Camden Town Hall Annex

The former Camden Town Hall Annex opposite St Pancras and Kings Cross stations on the Euston road looked was thought to have been lost after Camden council moved out of their old premises and put the site up for sale. It was anticipated that the buyers would apply for demolition given the sites prominence and potential, with the enviable 'eyesore' arguments used as justification. However perhaps surprisingly the scheme put forward for the building has chosen to keep the building, however with one large addition. A rooftop extension (the plans can be viewed HERE along with a good analysis and critique of the scheme!). Although it is interesting that they have chosen to retain the building (possibly solely on cost) the rooftop extension is not a welcome addition, far too big for the building which already dominants the area around it and would not respect the buildings original form.

What do you think? Is the rooftop welcome given that it will entail the future of the building (albeit with a large modern extension tacked on the top)? Is the building worth preserving at all?

ARTICLE - Time Out: Balfron Tower

Balfron tower which has been previously featured on this blog was built in 1963 by the pre-eminent brutalist architect Erno Goldfinger and was the first in a series of similar social housing schemes, the most noble other example of course being the later Trellick tower in Kensington. The article in the weekly free London listings magazine Timeout focuses on the impending gentrification of Balfron tower with its conversion from its built purpose of social housing provision to private ownership. Balfron has lagged behind Trellick tower in this regard which was transformed in the 1990's from a 'no go area' to highly desirable real estate. Undoubtedly its transformation under 'right to buy' (effectively privatisation) was important in saving the tower as a feature of the west London skyline (and becoming listed by English Heritage) and facilitating the investment which the building had lacked for so many years under council ownership. 
This process of gentrification which will now be repeated at Balfron (which is already listed) comes two decades after Trellick, primarily due to its less attractive and peripheral location, a stones throw from the roaring Blackwell tunnel approach. However it is comforting to see that the 'Popular HARCA' housing association regards Balfron tower as viable in private ownership, suggesting that there is a ready market and appreciation for such brutalist icons (perhaps forcing a rethink at Robin hood gardens?). However what is concerning is the transformation of these icons has led to a corruption of their original idealism and a blurring of the context in which they were built. Trellick and Balfron towers along with many other brutalist housing schemes were built to house London's poorest with the use of high quality materials and design based on the egalitarian principle that everyone deserved a decent home and standard of living. The process of gentrification can often be brutal for tenants who are effectively thrown out of their homes as there are no plans for any provision of affordable housing in the new scheme, unlike the Trellick scheme in the 1990's despite the housing crisis being much more intense today. 

The consequences of the gentrification of Balfron tower are mixed and can be contested. On the one hand privatisation will allow the capital invested which the tower has been so deprived and is likely to make the building financially viable which will ensure its survival and future. Yet on the other hand the idealism in which it was built has clearly been lost, the egalitarian and the progressive environment determinism (in which it was believed good design would improve the lives of the poor) which are so often central to the narrative of brutalist buildings is in danger of being forgotten and brutalism as a style to be perceived as elitist with only the privileged who can afford a newly refurbished apartment in Balfron tower appreciating its merits - which is far from its original progressive aims.  

Read the online addition HERE

EXHIBITION: 'The Barbican Exhibition: building a landmark'

The latest in a series of exhibitions about the building of the Barbican has opened in the Barbican arts centre featured a series of fascinating (and many unseen before) pictures during construction which spanned several decades and the overcame many technical challenges (such as the burial of the underground lines underneath the arts centre as well as the creation of acceptable sound acoustics in the confined space of the new underground theatre).

Directions: the exhibition is set in the corner by the stairwell and entrance from the Highwalk on the ground floor (If entering the complex via the main lakeside entrance it is on the right-hand side near the cafe).   

More information on directions and the exhibition HERE

A unrelated series of photographs which compliment the exhibiton can be seen HERE

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

ARTICLE: Barbican estate value soars

This recent offering from thespaces website charts the rise and rise of house prices in the iconic brutalist barbican - 'Brutalist beauty: the Barbican Estate’s value soars', in the last year alone it has risen by 10-15%! As the article charts there is a ready market for these flats with their very central location but mostly amongst British buyers, with there being a lack of foreign interest. One result of this has been the retention of original features and lack of radical alternation (which in the long run may also add to their price)
However, the Barbican was built for and has always catered for more exclusive residents unlike other brutalist schemes such as Balfron Tower which should be more of a concern. 

- Also see their six music videos featuring brutalist architecture

Saturday, 2 May 2015

FILM: a short film on Milford Towers

WATCH: A short film on the Brutalist South London Milford towers in Catford by southlondoninterest 

Also catch their Blog Post on Milford Towers which I was asked to contribute to

Friday, 30 January 2015

Birmingham city council - Postcard protest

Send a Postcard (or a letter or email contact@birmingham.gov.uk) to Birmingham city council regarding their scandalous decision to demolish Birmingham's central library (design by John Madin)! Or to English heritage for allowing them to do it and not listing the building!

A local organisation Blue Phoenix has produced a series of postcards of the library (shown below) which you can buy at a very reasonable price HERE in order to support the campaign

Contact details:
Birmingham City Council
B1 1BR

* - it won't cost you anything! so why not?

Thursday, 29 January 2015

2015 and Birmingham's central library

2015 will mark a sad year for all those who campaign to make sure the best examples of brutalist architecture are preserved for future generations and not carelessly lost. Despite an increasing awareness of the architectural importance of these buildings it appears that planners, councils and most importantly those who we entrust to guard our heritage  have not learn from the mistakes of the past and will continue in the name of modernity and progress to eradicate the best work of previous generations. I am of course talking specifically about the decision not to preserve Birmingham's iconic central library designed by John Madin which is imminently facing demolition. And yet there has been some genuine success over the last few years with the notable example of Preston bus station which was ear marked for demolition but saved thanks to the tireless efforts of a dedicated local campaign leading to national interventions (and listed status). 

Perhaps Birmingham's central library is an equivalent Euston arch or coal exchange (Victorian buildings demolished in the 1960's) by which I mean a necessary loss in our own time in order to galvanise campaigners, the general public and government action as these loses did in the 1960's (led by the Victorian society). After these losses many people woke up to reality which was a concerted effort to destroy the Victorian past in which as a consequence public taste and perceptions did change to embrace the conservation of Victorian buildings. Whether this is an accurate comparison only time will tell! 

Goodbye central library! Pictures of Birmingham central library in the Birmingham post