Pieces of Brutalist Architecture You Should Know

An offshoot of the 20th-century modernist movement, Brutalism is known for its hard-edged, geometric, and industrial style construction. While the name often refers to its harsh and utilitarian aesthetic, Brutalism actually originates from the French term "beton brut," which means "raw concrete." If you'd like some examples of Brutalist architecture, here are five of the style's most famous buildings on earth. Best of all, you get to add five more cities to your list of favorite destinations.


Habitat 67 (Montreal, Canada)

Credit: Adrain Wojcik/ iStock

An ultimately failed attempt at overhauling urban living, Habitat 67 is nonetheless a style icon of the 1960s and a unique example of Brutalist architecture. The building debuted at the 1967 World's Fair as Moshe Safdie's graduate thesis project. At the time, Safdie was an Israeli–Canadian student at McGill University. Due to the attention garnered by his Habitat 67 project,  Safdie would go on to become an internationally renowned architect and urban designer.

With a modular design way ahead of its time, Habitat 67 consisted of 354 concrete "boxes" stacked atop each other in a rather abstract configuration. Each apartment — made up of one to four boxed units — had its own outdoor space, often on the roof of another unit.

The unusual architectural framework was heralded as a solution to the housing crisis in high-population, urban environments. Safdie utilized prefabrication techniques to construct the basic modules, which were then lifted to their proper places and connected by steel cables. Due to the high cost of construction and water seepage in the concrete walls, Habitat 67 was considered an architectural failure. However, it inspired future housing innovations, such as garden suburbs, that have since emerged as pragmatic solutions for urban sprawl.


Genex Tower (Belgrade, Serbia)

Credit: nedomacki/ iStock

Officially known as the Western City Gate, Genex Tower comprises a pair of skyscrapers connected at the top by a two-story footbridge. The shorter of the two towers (at 26 stories high) is a commercial building occupied by the offices of the Genex Group, from which the structure got its nickname. Meanwhile, the taller tower (at 30 stories high) has been reserved for residential use. A rotunda atop the service shaft of the shorter tower once hosted a revolving restaurant.

Built in 1977, the Genex Tower is Serbia's second tallest building. Despite the adverts and colorful banners adorning the sides of the towers, the concrete exterior still preserves the original Brutalist aesthetic traditions. The Eastern City Gate — a trio of residential buildings on the opposite side of the city — was also done in the Brutalist style. Together, the two "gates" lend the city a distinctively utilitarian and modernist charm.


Wotruba Church (Vienna, Austria)

Credit: [AUT]side/ Flickr/ CC BY-ND 2.0

A far cry from most European cathedrals with their Gothic spires or Baroque arches, Wotruba Church is made from 152 disparate concrete blocks assembled in a haphazardly pile.

Bizarre Brutalist connotations aside, this Stonehenge-like sanctuary is no less ecclesiastic than its more traditional cousins. Even today, it continues to serve as a gathering place for weekly Catholic masses.

Built on the site of a former Nazi barracks, the church was commissioned as both a religious and artistic endeavor during a period of declining religiosity in Europe. Today, it sits on a hillside with a gorgeous panoramic view of Vienna. The church is named for its designer Fritz Wotruba, although the sculptor died a year before the building was completed in 1976. Fellow architect Fritz G. Mayr presided over the building project after Wotruba's untimely death.


Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban (Dhaka, Bangladesh)

Credit: Saiful Aopu & Nahid Sultan/ Wikimedia Commons

Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban is a symbol of democracy in a region with a tumultuous, tortured past. This architectural wonder was initially intended as a legislative building for East and West Pakistan.

However, it was appropriated as Bangladesh's National Parliament House and the headquarters of the Bangladesh National Assembly in 1982. Curious as to why? Prior to 1971, conflict raged unabated between East and West Pakistan.

On December 16 of the same year, East Pakistan seceded from Pakistan to form the new country of Bangladesh. Pakistan (formerly West Pakistan) reluctantly recognized Bangladesh as a sovereign nation in 1974. The new Bangladeshi government lost no time in commissioning Louis Khan, the famed Modernist American architect, to create one of the most iconic buildings in Bangladeshi history.

To honor the local culture, Louis Khan used local materials and shapes abstracted from Bengali culture.

Construction of the building was completed in 1982. The final framework consists of eight halls placed concentrically around a major parliamentary chamber, which acts as a hub from which all the auxiliary offices extend. Both the hub and halls are constructed from concrete and inlaid marble; an artificial lake surrounds the entire complex. In addition to being the home of the Bangladeshi legislature, the building is also a major tourist attraction today.


Geisel Library (San Diego, California, United States)

Credit: Sherry Smith/ iStock

Named for Dr. Seuss, the beloved children's author, the Geisel Library at the University of California is one of the most prominent pieces of Brutalist architecture in the United States. Its construction was completed in early 1970. Unlike the other buildings on this list, the library combines the concrete structures typical of the Brutalist style with the retro-futuristic look of plate glass.

The library was commissioned in 1965 and designed by architect William Pereira to honor Theodor (Dr. Seuss) and Audrey Geisel for their distinctive contributions to literacy in America. It's situated at the peak of a canyon in the center of the San Diego campus.

During the design phase, Pereira concluded that the library should be shaped like a sphere in the characteristically hard-edged style of the Brutalist tradition. Accordingly, such a shape would facilitate circulation and maximize the amount of incoming daylight into the building. The ultimate structure preserves this intent, with floors that taper off above and below the widest central layer located on the sixth floor.

Meanwhile, the building's core contains the elevators and stairs. All of the tapered floors are supported by sixteen concrete piers, creating a unique structure as enigmatic as the author for whom the building was named.


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