Ben Howe
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Travel, videos and music written, filmed and photographed by Ben Howe.

Brutalist Architecture; New York, London, Prague & More

When traveling overseas in can be interesting to choose a unique theme and investigate this. For example, when I visit a new city I like to explore it's Brutalist architecture. First, I research the city's notable buildings in this style, then, when I get there, I try to find them. It gives me a reason to visit neighbourhoods or parts of town that might not otherwise be on the tourist trail. I like these monumental buildings when I do eventually find them. 

For those unfamiliar, Brutalism became common during the 1950s-1970s, particularly in government and educational buildings. It is big, concrete and rugged; chunky, bold and often bleak. Sometimes it is associated with dark and dystopian themes. Brutalism has also featured in films of that nature, such as Resident Evil or A Clockwork Orange. It is kind of place that you might expect to find cold war spies, aliens or possibly zombies.

Brutalism is found all over the world from the Americas all the way through Europe, Asia and down into Africa. Some planned cities were laid out to a brutalist influenced template, such as Chandigarh in India, whose master plan was conceived by the great Le Corbusier, or the modernist Brazilian capital of Brasilia. In Asia, Africa and South America these kind of places imagine a utopian or ideal future, a vision in contrast with darker associations that have also developed, mostly more recently.

Žižkov Television Tower Prague

Brutalist Buildings in the Soviet Union

Some of the most spectacular and space age can be found in the former Soviet Union and Europe. While most tourists will be exploring the old town and Charles Bridge in Prague, perched high on a hill nearby is the Žižkov Television Tower, as pictured above. In the Balkans the landscape is dotted with strange and wonderful monuments or memorials, as excellently as written about and photographed here in the Bohemian Blog. In fact, these unique and interesting structures are sprinkled across all the former Soviet states from Eastern Europe, through the Baltics and down to the Central Asia deserts. One excellent publication on these is CCCP: Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed by Frederic Chaubin

University Village Manhattan

University Village Manhattan

North America also has it's fair share of Brutalist buildings. In New York the AT&T Long Lines Building is pretty mysterious (main picture at the top). Is has no windows. What is going on in there? Also there are is the University Village (pictured above) and the Kips Bay Towers (pictured below)

Kips Bay Towers Manhattan

Brutalist Buildings in Africa

Africa also has a number of interesting Brutalist buildings, as shown and described in this article in The Guardian. One notable building is the 1973 La Pyramide, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. While it it's pyramid like structure sure is unique, it was also totally impractical and the building is now uninhabited. Another notable example is an abandoned 1980s Ministry of Defence Building - also called "The Pentagon"  in Liberia which became an Ebola treatment centre. 

Another interesting African location is the cylindrical hollow skyscraper Ponte Tower Apartments in Johannesburg, South Africa. Built in 1975, it started out being a wealthy and prestegious white aparthied era development, but in subsequent years developed into dangerous and very rough place. It has a cavernous cylindrical spooky dark centre - with only a small glimpse of the sky above and rubbish at the bottom. In fact, this building so fits a dystopian vision of decay it has has featured in many movies including Resident Evil, Judge Dredd and an extended Drake video. This is a great article about it called The South African Building That Came to Symbolize the Apocalypse.

Now it is slowly reviving itself into a place occupied by both black and white residents. This excellent video captures some of the story of this place, interviewing various residents and subtly capturing some of the building's majesty.

The Case for Brutalist Architecture is a great place to start if you are wanting to learn more about the history, context and philosophy behind the movement. While it does tend to focus on the better known North American, European and Japanese examples, it is surprising how many buildings there are out there across the world. 

Below is a timelapse video made by myself of Brutalism in New York, London and Prague. This was shot with a Canon 5D MarkII during a short work trip in 2014, so was made with quite limited time. Music by Sonya Waters. 

Brutalism in Japan - yes even Japan has Brutalist architecture. See below video on Brutalist Tokyo.