Revisiting brutalism : the past and future of an architectural movement
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Brutalist architecture, popularized in Britain in the late 1950s and heralded as a progressive form of Modernism in the United States until the 1970s, now presents a conundrum to preservationists as it ages. Once critically acclaimed, many Brutalist buildings have lost their appeal over time. The unpolished materials have proven unpopular with many who live and work in these structures, and key examples of the style are now facing demolition. Though “Brutalism” has become a nebulous architectural designation in the preservation community, this paper focuses on a specific subset of late Modernist architecture that primarily utilizes unfinished concrete to promote the philosophy of material truth and unapologetic permanence. While artistry of form and overall functionality affect preservation of Brutalist buildings in the United States, an important factor in the decision to demolish is often overlooked: the interplay of public opinion with critical acclaim, both in the past and within current architectural climates. This project examines the Brutalist approach to architecture and chronicles the shifts in critical and public perspective of several key case studies, focusing on university structures (the Yale Art and Architecture Building, Harry Ransom Center, and the University of Texas School of Nursing), theaters (Morris Mechanic Theater and Alley Theater), and civic buildings (Orange County Government Center, Boston City Hall, and Prentice Women’s Hospital). Understanding how and why shifts in opinion took place is critical in making informed preservation decisions about Brutalist architecture.