The Twentieth Century Society

Review: Concrete Concept: Brutalist Buildings around the World

Christopher Beanland (Frances Lincoln, 192pp, £20)

Reviewed by Catherine Croft

This book includes an ‘A-Z of Brutalist Architecture’ by Jonathan Meades in which he points out that neither Sheppard Robson’s Hall of Residence in South Kensington (listed but scandalously demolished, despite a C20 Society campaign) nor any of the practice’s other brutalist buildings feature on its website today. ‘Are its current architects embarrassed by their predecessors’ work?’ asks Meade. More likely they think potential clients will be scared away.

Christopher Beanland is a novelist and architectural journalist, and like Paul Chadwick (whose book is also reviewed here) he brings a culturally broad and vividly personal perspective. But you learn far more from Beanland’s book about each of his selected 50 buildings, not only from his astute observations, but also from the range of images showing the buildings in detail as well as in dramatic profile. He also bucks the trend by showing many of them in colour.

As the books reviewed this issue show, brutalism today seems to have become a flexible term, connoting swagger, coolness, lack of compromise, a strident imagination and lots of concrete (and the last was definitely not a necessary part of the 60s package). What it will all shake down to remains to be seen, but the sheer style and verve of these publications will do a lot to ensure that the buildings themselves get the appreciation they deserve.