In the House and Leisure Back to Black July issue we feature an exclusive interview with Michèle Lamy, who with fashion designer Rick Owens, produces an extraordinarily minimalist furniture line. Lamy describes the furniture as ‘brutalist’, but what is brutalism?
In this week’s Deep Dive we speak with leading local cement manufacturer PPC’s architect and widely respected architecture educator and critic, Daniel van der Merwe, who we asked for help in understanding one of architecture’s more mercurial movements.
‘It’s important to note that brutalism was a movement that came about after World War II, and was part of an anti-aesthetic movement that didn’t try to use concrete in a ‘pretty’ kind of way. The direct result is what I would call a search for honesty, that played with concrete texture to create an almost unfinished aesthetic that I suppose a lot of people would see as ugly, but is inherently part of brutalism’s search for honesty,’ Van der Merwe explains.
A number of famous architects (including Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn) drove the movement during the 20th century, and it is now being revived by a new wave of nostalgia on the internet and in independent publishing. Social media is overflowing with hashtags like #brutalism, which at the time of publishing had been used over 430 000 times on Instagram.
‘Like any word it is being reinterpreted,’ says Van der Merwe. ‘There is on the one hand a style called “brutalism”, probably a term given to the movement, and then people appropriate these words, and the meaning changes.
‘People use the word “modernism” as a word for a new, functional aesthetic, but it’s different from Modernism as we know it at the start of the 21st century. So we need to double-check what the word means when it is used today: does it refer to an anti-aesthetic, or make reference to the brutalist style?’
Famous examples of brutalist architecture can be found all over the world, like Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation, and Trellick Tower by Ernő Goldfinger, but in South Africa a lot of post-war buildings have been renovated, with little drive to protect them.
The Johannesburg Grand Central Water Tower by GAPP Architects in Midrand, Gauteng, and Ponte City, in Johannesburg, are two shining examples of South African brutalism.
johannesburg grand central water tower by GAPP Architects
Johannesburg Grand Central Water Tower, 1996, 40 m, Midrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, 1996 by GAPP Architects & Urban Designers. Original Photo: Anonymous (appropriation/edit: AMS) #neobrutalist #brutalist #concrete #architecture #grandcentralwatertower #gapparchitects #brutalism #neobrutalism #midrand #johannesburg #southafrica #architectureporn #amsmediagroup #amsmedia #amillionshades #amillionshadesofgrey
ponte city by feldman, hermer and graskopff
What do you think brutalism is? Is it a movement, or a moment? Let us know on Instagram by tagging us in a picture of your favourite brutalist building.