This essay will explore the similarities between these dissimilar movements. This matters because it:
- Increases our understanding of “Brutalist” works and challenges the reductionism which often follows categorization
- Illuminates a key theme of both movements: a building can be a concretization of a particular cultural milieu, free of dogmatic aesthetic rules
- Shows their shared view of the importance of materiality in architecture
Critical regionalism is defined by Kenneth Frampton as a category of modern buildings which are expressive of their local “rooted culture.” They mediate a dialectic between global modernity and local vernacular in order to resist the placelessness and reductionism of the International Style (Frampton 1994: 314).
Frampton notes that critical regionalism is not a style but “a critical category oriented towards certain common features . . . or rather attitudes . . . (Frampton 1994: 327).” Frampton expressed these features as a series of points, including:
Point 1: Critical Regionalism and Vernacular Form: rather than mimicking the stylistic features of vernacular architecture, Critical Regionalism draws on its ability to establish “bounded domains and tactile presences with which to resist the dissolution of the late-modern world (Frampton 2007: 378).”
Point 2: The Modern Movement: modern architecture’s “cultural legacy remains infinitely rich . . . (Frampton 2007: 380).”
Point 6: Typology/Typography: “topography is unequivocally site-specific . . . the concrete appearance of rootedness itself . . . . [a building should] relate to existing topographic features (Frampton 2007: 382).”
Point 8: Artificial/Natural: “the provision of natural light in relation to diurnal and seasonal change . . . the modulation and control of direct natural light . . . . [and] the provision of natural shade . . .[are] the rooted forms of climatically inflected culture (Frampton 2007: 383-84).”
Point 9: Visual/Tactile: “the architectural object is open to levels of perception other than the visual. . . . Materials and surfaces can be as much a part of an overall perception of architecture as . . . visual form. [this includes] movement as it effects the sense of poise experienced by the body. . . such experiences are particularly expressive of hierarchical spatial episodes (Frampton 2007: 384).”
Concerning Critical Regionalism’s use of vernacular forms, Frampton states that:
While opposed to the sentimental simulation of local vernacular, Critical Regionalism will, on occasion, insert interpretive vernacular elements as disjunctive episodes within the whole. (Frampton 1994: 327)
A building, therefore, might be classified as an example of critical regionalism if it:
- Has the emancipatory qualities of modern architecture without its placeless reductionism
- Follows the site’s topography
- Maximizes the use of natural light
- Enhances tactile and kinesthetic experience
Brutalism was a movement in architecture from the 1940’s through the 1970’s. The buildings associated with it are characterized by sculptural forms, strong use of repetition and raw exposed materials – typically concrete and masonry. Brutalism holds a “reverence for materials.”
It drew inspiration from vernacular architecture and found “its closest affinities in peasant building forms. We see architecture as the direct result of a way of life (Banham: 46).”
Reyner Banham emphasized how the Brutalists – the second generation of modernist architects – possessed the earlier generation’s interest in indigenous and vernacular architecture and art:
They saw, in Mediterranean peasant buildings, an anonymous architecture of simple, rugged geometrical forms . . . unaffectedly and immemorially at home in its landscape setting. (Banham: 47).
Brutalism was strongly influenced by the work of Le Corbusier. Its name is derived from béton brut, the raw exposed concrete-work explored by Le Corbusier. In addition to this richly tactile material, Le Corbusier also used other rough-hewn materials such as stone and rough brick.
Brutalism had its critics, both in the profession and in the general public. However, it’s currently undergoing a reevaluation and re-appreciation. Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural critic Paul Goldberger states that:
There is a particular kind of beauty to the magnificent three-dimensional compositions of say, Paul Rudolph, who trust that sculptural and spatial complexity will excite us more than it will confuse us . . . . (Hay: 30)
In Part 2, I’ll illustrate the shared principles of Critical Regionalism and Brutalism using examples of architectural works.
Banham, Reyner. The New Brutalism: Ethic or Aesthetic? New York: Reinhold Publishing Corporation, 1966.
Frampton, Kenneth. “Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance.” The Anti-Aesthetic. Essays on Postmodern Culture. Ed. Hal Foster. Seattle: Bay Press, 1983.
Frampton, Kenneth. Modern Architecture: A Critical History. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1994.
Frampton, Kenneth. “Ten Points on an Architecture of Regionalism: A Provisional Polemic. Architectural Regionalism: Collected Writings on Place, Identity, Modernity, and Tradition. Ed. Vincent B. Canizaro. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2007.
Hay, David. “Defending Brutalism: The Uncertain Future of Modernist Concrete Structures.” Preservation, Winter 2013. http://www.preservationnation.org/magazine/2013/winter/defending-brutalism.html#.UjsZfMZ6ZAE
Wolfe, Charles R. “Lessons From Italy’s Matera, the Sustainable City of Stone.” theatlantic.com. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/09/lessons-from-italys-matera-the-sustainable-city-of-stone/244622/
© Donald E. Armstrong and Material Practices, 2013