For decades brutalist architecture was a symbol of the underclass. Soulless, gray, crumbling concrete structures were something to escape from. Today, however, brutalism is back in style. In an age where gentrification is a dirty word, these hulking masses represent an extraordinary period of incredible optimism and determination to use architecture to transform society. London treats its brutalist buildings with care and respect.
Starkly aggressive, Trellick comprises 32 stories of raw concrete. Once referred to as the world’s ugliest building, today it is an icon of the brutalist movement—studied by architects, featured in photoshoots, and used as a backdrop in films. Architect Ernő Goldfinger, whose surname was famously borrowed for the villain in the James Bond book and film, was known for his austere modernist buildings and utopian dreams. Like many of Goldfinger’s buildings, Trellick aimed to provide modern, well-equipped, affordable flats
Completed in 1966, Centre Point was one of London’s first skyscrapers. Stretching 34 stories above ground, this brutal beehive of concrete and glass remains a dominant structure on the city’s skyline. Receiving a Grade II listed heritage status in 1995, it was said by English Heritage to be “one of the most distinctive high-rise compositions of the 1960s.” Currently at the final stages of its transformation from commercial to residential use, the building will soon house some of London’s most desirable flats.
The Barbican Estate
Completed in 1976, the Barbican offered a new vision for high-density mixed-use neighborhoods. Spanning nearly 35 acres, it is home to around 4,000 people, as well as the Museum of London, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and performing arts hub the Barbican Centre. Described by Queen Elizabeth as “one of the modern wonders of the world,” the estate is one of London’s most recognized landmarks.
With elevated walkways, layered terraces, a dramatic central spine, and enormous ventilation towers, the Brunswick Centre could be a setting for a science fiction film. Architect Patrick Hodgkinson’s vision for the building was optimistic: a modern London village, with family homes, a cinema, and shops. The stepped terraces were designed to open the shopping street to the sky and give each apartment maximum sunlight. The futuristic appearance of Brunswick Centre, which was repaired and restored in 2006, continues to capture the eye of brutalist admirers.
Royal National Theatre
In 1988 Prince Charles described the National Theatre as being like “a nuclear power station.” Clearly not without its criticism, Denys Lasdun’s composition of horizontal and vertical concrete elements is bold and courageous. Housing three auditoriums, the series of interconnected foyers and interlocking terraces is a striking feature on London’s South Bank.