Not Brutalism

...but what is it?

brutalism not rough concrete beton brut paul evans
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Above: Hanging lamp designed by Tom Green for Feldman Lighting in the 1960’s. Photo: Very Vintage LA

Within the purview of Mid Century Modern / Modernist design if there is one term that has been misapplied more than any other it would have to be the term Brutalist. And while possibly turgid discussions of the various ‘isms’ of Modern design could help clear things up, it might be best to avoid being pedantic and illustrate here what is and is not Brutalism.

It is a mystery as to how the Brutalist label came to be incorrectly applied to Modern/ist furniture. It seems about 10 years ago it began popping up – most often in dealer descriptions – for a style of (predominantly 1960’s) furniture and accessories that people considered ‘brutal’ in appearance. Whether it was a roughly textured bronze lamp base, woodblock collage door fronts, or hard edge copper wall art if it looked ‘brutal’ then it was called Brutalist. But they are not, there is no such thing as a Brutalist lamp, sofa, or clock, despite what a perfunctory search on 1stdibs or Google image might have you believe.

Then what is Brutalism? Brutalism is the term for Modern concrete architecture which takes its name from the French phrase ‘Béton Brut’, meaning ‘raw concrete’. One of the signatures of Brutalist architecture is to leave the concrete unfinished – or raw. And this name may also the source of the confusion as many Brutalist buildings – particularly those made in the 1960’s and 1970’s – are what many might say are quite ‘brutal’ in appearance. Upon seeing these structures and hearing the term Brutalist many assumed the name came from the look, not the material from which it was built.

So, one might ask, what’s the problem with people using the term ‘Brutalist’ to describe ‘brutal-looking’ furniture? There are two things wrong with it. First and foremost it’s incorrect. Secondly, so many of the pieces labeled ‘Brutalist’ are beautiful objects deserving of its own proper ‘ism’ and this brings us to the yet unanswered question, “What do we call it?” There have been a few terms bandied about by some experts and auction houses – sculpturalism, structuralist, and even ‘Rough Modern’. Whatever term finally wins the label game for this distinct style of furniture and décor it would seem the product of lazy thinking (IMO) that nothing original was thought of and in the end the co-opted, incorrect term of ‘Brutalism’ becomes the norm.

Some examples of Béton Brut - or Brutalist - architecture. Click on Image for full size

 

Sometimes concrete is used a material for furniture building. Whether not they these can be considered Brutalist is perhaps a debate for another time. Here are a few examples, both old and new, of concrete furniture.

brutalism not rough concrete beton brut paul evans

Made from concrete reinforced with fiberglass this garden furniture was designed by Willy Guhl for Eternit of Switzerland in 1956. Photo: modernity.se

brutalism not rough concrete beton brut paul evans brandon gore hard goods

Striking contemporary concrete and steel chair designed by Brandon Gore and produced by Hard Goods. Photo: hard-goods.com

brutalism not rough concrete beton brut paul evans

The cast concrete ‘Alban’ chair designed Etienne Hotte in 2011. Espresspo.com

brutalism not rough concrete beton brut paul evans corbusier

Prototype concrete desk lamp designed by le Corbusier for the Chandigarh, India project in the 1950’s.


Here are a few books that show off great brutalist architecture

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Richard
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Richard

Thanks for this education. I too was misinformed

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