Many architectural styles bring drama, but few do it as immediately as Brutalist architecture. Graphic, dramatic, and to some (choose your poisonous adjective) grim, imposing, or depressing, Brutalist buildings—large, angular, solid concrete structures—became reliable cinematic scenery, capable of creating instant mood and suggesting a the whole universe.
Although brutalist architecture may provide the visual equivalent of a slap on the head, the term was not intended to suggest an effect of brutality for the viewer. On the contrary, “brutalism” was a play on the French term gross cement (raw concrete), reflecting the main construction material of buildings, left unfinished. The intention of the pioneering brutalist architects – Alison and Peter Smithson – was to make architecture more “honest” and organic, a response to the smooth glass towers of modernism. (Ironically, given that brutalist buildings have become so entrenched in the fictional worlds of film.) If a building is mostly made of concrete, they said, why hide the concrete between curtains of glass: Bring it on, give it back. -the focal. The effect on the artists’ imaginations was heavier than the creators had imagined.
Many of the first clients of architects advocating brutalism were municipalities and institutions forced to expand during the booming 1950s and 1960s. This is why so many government headquarters, university buildings, libraries and public housing projects were built in the Brutalist style. And that may also be a reason why filmmakers began to realize that these prominent, streamlined, shadow-casting edifices set a certain tone.
Brutalism as a popular architectural style died out in the 1970s, soon after Brutalist buildings began appearing on screen as sci-fi representations of a dystopian or authoritarian future. Coincidence? May be. And though Brutalism is a wildly controversial architectural style today – highly derided as ugly and passionately defended as unique – Brutalist buildings still help make moviegoers’ hearts pound and stomachs drop.
Below, check out 10 examples of brutalist architecture captured on film.