I did not know that one of the most impressive modern buildings is in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, until I saw its photo in This Brutal World (Phaidon, $49.95). The jaw-dropping structure is a testament to the human aspirations and follies. If architecture, like art, should reflect our world, the still-unfinished (inside) Ryugyong Hotel is it.
Brutalist architecture has had somewhat of a comeback, for reasons I don’t completely understand, though I am not complaining. Perhaps the architects like Tadao Ando who have used concrete on a scale less monumental than the likes of LeCorbusier and Louis Khan, thus breathing in new life into an architectural style that has been all but written off as pure ugliness.
Whatever the case, there has been a slew of books as of late celebrating Brutalism and the raw beauty of concrete. This Brutal World is a welcome addition to this genre. The 224-page tome, compiled by the English graphic designer Peter Chadwick, looks unassuming, but its 300 black-and-white photographs make for a stellar collection of Brutalist imagery from mid-Century to now.
To say that Brutalism is divisive is an understatement. It can be uninviting and cold, but it can also be awe-inspiring and alluring in its purity of lines, and I can hardly think of another modern style of architecture that reflects our desire to leave lasting symbols of human achievement. Brutalism is our Stonehenge, our Great Wall of China.
The book highlights several interesting points. Brutalism is a global phenomenon, stretching from Japan to America, through India, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, not to mention Latin America, where some of the most impressive Brutalist architecture was built in mid-20th Century, the golden age of the continent, before it descended into political and economic turmoil.
This Brutal World contains photos of impressive structures in the former Soviet Union republics of Georgia and the Ukraine, in Brazil and Venezuela, as well as France and Germany. One of the surprises – New Haven, Connecticut had as many entries as New York City (I sense a car trip in this reviewer’s near future).
For those critics that charge Brutalism with lack of spirit, you will find a surprising number of churches in This Brutal World, though I wondered why Tadao Ando’s iconic Church of Light was left out. But this is a minor quibble and no two people will be in complete agreement when it comes to curation. This book deserves to be in your library.
This Brutal World, Phaidon ($49.95)
All photos courtesy of the publisher