As the University of Liverpool prepares to launch its Masters programme in Modern Architectural Heritage at its Campus in London, Professor Neil Jackson from the University’s School of Architecture takes a look at the BBC’s new series on post-war Brutalist architecture which compares its reception to that of the eighteenth-century English Baroque and High-Victorian architecture.
“Brutalist architecture was born out of the architectural Modern Movement and was popular, with architects, from the 1950s to the 1970s. Brutalist buildings, normally large and constructed of exposed concrete, provoke to this day strong opinion – you either admire them or despise them!
‘Ahead of popular taste’
“BBC presenter, Jonathan Meades, says that ‘worthwhile architecture is ahead of popular taste.’ This was the case with Sir Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral, which was disliked by many when it was built, but is now admired the world over.
“Similarly, Victorian architecture was derided until long after Queen Victoria died: it was not until over half a century later in 1957 that the Victorian Society was founded.
“By understanding the eighteenth-century English Baroque of Sir John Vanbrugh at Blenheim Palace or Seaton Delavel in Northumberland, or the High-Victorian Gothic buildings of William Butterfield or George Edmund Street, Meades argues, we might achieve an understanding of twentieth-century Brutalism. These are buildings with verve and vigour which owe as much to the Sublime, that eighteenth-century counterpart to the Picturesque, as they do to John Ruskin’s 1849 Lamp of Power .
“The man, to use Meades’ example, who says he doesn’t know much about architecture but does know what he likes is neither the deaf man at a concert, nor the blind man in the art gallery, for they are sensitive to vibrations and to textures or smells.
“Meades’ man is the illiterate, the uninformed, the philistine. He simply needs an education: this will neither help him to like nor to dislike, but to understand architecture. And with understanding comes toleration, reconciliation and sometimes even love.
“Remember, beton brut is the French term for raw concrete. Brut-alist is concrete-ist. How different its reception would have been had it been called, as Meades suggested, ‘Chummy Gigantism “” darling concrete blobs.'”