What to think of all the postwar concrete buildings around us? Recently, I came across an interesting article by Nicholai Oroussoff in the New York Times (18/3/09) dealing with this issue. He talks about the Robin Hood Gardens, a massive housing project completed in1972 in East London. Today, it stands as an icon of the concrete brutalistic era. Many people agree that in its current state, the Gardens look repulsive. The views differ, however, discussing how to deal with this. Some want to demolish the “ugly mastodont”, whereas others see the beauty of the concrete in a desperate need for restoration.
Oroussoff suggests a generation gap in the opinions:
“For an older generation of architects these buildings embody the absolute nadir of the welfare state. Destroying them would be an act of mercy. But for younger architects the aggressive concrete forms that gave the movement its name are a welcome antidote to the saccharine Disney-inspired structures of today.”
Myself, I went through 10 years of early school life in a concrete brutalist building. It’s of course difficult to determine how much our schools’ architecture affects our early lives…
…One thing is for sure, however; the building did not fill my adolescent head with empty promises or design hype nonsense. It was there, the walls were grey and concrete, no illusions. Nobody promised me a rose garden.
Looking at some of the contemporary schools, fighting for attention and students, promising them “disney saccharose” comfy sofas or free laptops, I am silently thankful for my years in a simple brutalist school!
A recent exhibition Funhouses in Hayward Gallery, London deals with this very issue. Here’s a quote from IconEye’s William Wiles article & interview with the artist Matthew Darbyshire (born 1977):
Lurid colours, wonky mirrors and wiggly handrails … public architecture under New Labour has adopted the design language of the seaside funhouse, says Matthew Darbyshire.
icon What got you thinking about funhouses?
Darbyshire : […]I spent a month or two walking up and down the South Bank and the hub, the Southbank Centre, and looking at all these public-access buildings like City Hall, the Tate, Coin Street Community Centre and around the London Eye, and they’ve all got this iridescent noughties palette of lime green and sexy pinks. There was a sort of plague of interaction and accessibility, quite positive social efforts to try and include people, but I am questioning these efforts. It is effectively a compromise on the artists’ part and on the [part of the] curators if you have to fulfil these aims and objectives and fulfil other people’s agendas.[…]
I find this debate very interesting. Which do you prefer? Should we restore the old, raw concrete and appreciate the style? Or should we embrace the newer, more “fun”, or “disney-like, saccharine” curves? Obviously, if you say neither, you are welcome to leave comments…
Link to another hanba post dealing with the brutalist utopias: Steven Holl’s Utopia
Funhouse is at the Hayward Project Space until 12 July http://www.haywardgallery.org.uk/
Upcoming: Not into grey nor pink? The next post will be about an exhibition called “The future architecture is green” in Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen. 🙂