This Brutal World: Peter Chadwick’s Homage to Brutalism

Rachael Steven (Creative Review) on Chadwick’s new illustrated book, published by Phaidon

Born and raised in Middlesbrough, graphic designer Peter Chadwick grew up in a town surrounded by concrete. His fascination with Brutalism began with a glimpse of the Dorman Long Coke Oven Tower, a monolithic structure with a single row of narrow windows and the company name printed in stark lettering on one side. “Uncompromising and faceless, the structure fuelled my imagination,” he says. “I didn’t realise it was possible to build something so tall and so imposing using only concrete.”

Now, after decades researching Brutalist buildings around the world, Chadwick has compiled a book celebrating the divisive architectural style. This Brutal World features hundreds of black-and-white images of apartment blocks, chapels, theatres, galleries and hospital buildings from Sheffield to Nepal and Tokyo. Many were built in the 1960s and 70s but there are plenty of contemporary examples too, highlighting Brutalism’s influence on architects from Thomas Heatherwick to Zaha Hadid.

“Theres a definite visual language [among newer buildings featured] that link to the older Brutalist canon,” says Chadwick. “When you look at some of Zaha Hadid’s work for example, beyond those organic futurist shapes there’s some very solid concrete legs, or a sort of faceless concrete wall that looks like a fort … there’s all these little architectural details and hints that are taken from Brutalism,” he adds.

Images are arranged not by chronological order or location but visually, grouping shapes or unusual features. There are spreads showing conical buildings and taller towers as well as some startlingly futuristic structures and a page devoted to concrete staircases. Examples were chosen based on the quality of photographs and the building’s design and Chadwick has sourced some beautiful, futuristic and innovative examples, some world-famous and others, lesser-known.

In his introduction, Chadwick describes the book as both a loving homage to Brutalism and a visual manifesto: “I want to take the opportunity to reinvent and reappraise the term Brutal. To celebrate the very best of the traditional canon of Brutalism, bring to light many virtually unknown Brutalist architectural treasures that I have come across in my real and virtual travels … and also to propose that Brutalism lives on in so much contemporary architecture of the late twentieth and early 21st centuries,” he writes.

Once a symbol of a Utopian vision for a brighter future, Brutalist buildings in the UK have been much maligned in recent years – the term ‘Brutalism’ has been used by politicians as a byword for run down and neglected estates and the imposing style has become, for many, associated with urban decay. [Read More]

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