The Twentieth Century Society

Review: This Brutal World

Paul Chadwick (Phaidon, 224pp, £29.95)

Reviewed by Catherine Croft

This is one of several recent books of dramatic photographs of buildings from around the world that – with a few caveats – are labelled ‘brutalist’. Chadwick, an art director and graphic designer who works in the music business, set up the This Brutal House Twitter feed in 2014. He gives each building just one terrific black and white image, with little information on each beyond architect/date/location, but his book’s strength lies in the implied conversations between similar shapes and forms. Grouping some surprising companions together across decades and continents, he encourages close examination of visual form.

Like Barnabas Calder, he gives us his life story in brutalist encounters. He grew up in Middlesbrough, and the Gateshead Car Park and the Pasmore Pavilion make predictable appearances, and there is a serendipitous school trip to the Breuerski resort at La Flaine. I like his personal fusion of musical knowledge and architectural collage, and his list of sources that goes ‘Proust, Marcel; Pulp; Rand, Ayn…’. But when he concludes that ‘Brutalism can now shed its sense of danger’ and has overcome its dystopian associations, I think he’s overly confident – the recent demolition of Birmingham Central Library and the undecided fate of many more of these buildings show that, despite the interest shown by this flood of brutalist books, there is still a way to go.