March 27, 2019

Instagrammers Show the Unexpected Beauty of Brutalism

You don’t have to love Brutalism. You don’t even have to like it. But you can agree that it’s an oft-misunderstood architectural style, sometimes characterized by aesthetically displeasing buildings with dark interiors that make you stop and think, “Why?”

But, when you look closer, you can see the intention that went behind the style. In the 1960s and ‘70s, when Brutalist architecture began cropping up in the United States, architects were shifting their ideology to one that believed in showing materials as they were. Concrete became a favorite of many, who appreciated its simplicity, strength, and versatility.

If your curiosity is piqued, and maybe if you’re wondering if Brutalism can be beautiful, just log onto Instagram. We hopped on the site to see how people are capturing these midcentury icons. Here are a few of our favorites.

Scope Arena—Norfolk, Virginia

The 24 buttresses of this domed arena make for an eye-catching sight. Designed by Pier Luigi Nervi in 1971, the building features the world’s largest reinforced thin-shell concrete dome supported by a glass base. The name, Scope, is a shortened version of kaleidoscope, and was chosen to highlight the different activities the arena can be used for.

Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts—Harvard University, Massachusetts

The only building in North America designed by Le Corbusier (considered to be the father of Brutalism), the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts opened in 1963 on Harvard University’s campus. Inside, a ramp crawls up the building’s five stories. It’s situated among Harvard’s more classical buildings, which prompted some controversy, but Le Corbusier insisted that this Brutalist structure was the best way to highlight the visual arts.

Geisel Library—San Diego

This striking library, located at the top of a canyon at the University of California San Diego, was designed in 1970 by architect William Pereira. While a building with this much glass may not seem Brutalist at first, the geometrical design that heavily relies on reinforced concrete sets this up as one of the most recognized Brutalist buildings in the area. Its name was chosen in honor of Audrey and Theodor Geisel, who is better known as Dr. Seuss.

St. John's Abbey—Collegeville, Minnesota

This Marcel Breuer-designed abbey features a flattened bell tower that can be seen from miles away. One wall of the trapezoidal-shaped church is completely covered in stained glass separated by hexagonal pieces of concrete, creating a stunning light effect on the interior. Reportedly, the monks of St. John's Abbey poured the concrete themselves under the direction of Breuer and his team.

Everson Museum of Art—Syracuse, New York

I.M. Pei's Everson Museum of Art (1968) resembles a real-life game of Tetris, with cubic shapes of concrete gallery space overhanging a narrow, blocky base. These galleries are lit with rooftop lights that allow sunlight to stream through, illuminating the open space inside, including a central atrium with a spiraling concrete staircase. The building was constructed almost completely with site-cast concrete.

Washington, D.C. Metro—Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Maryland

The Washington, D.C., metro system transports around 630,000 riders every week via its six lines. The Brutalist-designed underground subway system opened to the public in 1976 to much fanfare. The cavernous concrete interiors of the metro's stations were designed by architect Harry Weese and feature notable coffered concrete ceilings that help lighten the load of the heavy concrete.

Temple Beth Zion—Buffalo, New York

This synagogue, designed by architecture firm Harrison & Abramovitz in 1967, is distinguished by its curving limestone-clad, concrete exterior walls that cast shadows in unusual ways. The front entrance hosts an eye-catching stained glass window that tells the story of Creation. Inside, the concrete surfaces were brush-hammered to create a singular appearance, especially when they catch the sunlight that enters through a rooflight above.

Miami Marine Stadium—Miami, Florida

This example of Tropical Brutalism overlooks seaglass-green colored water in Miami. The concrete stadium can seat over 6,500 people and was built in 1963 by Cuban-born architect Hilario Candela to provide a way to watch water sports like powerboat racing. The cantilevered, folded plate roof singles out this stadium as a feat of modern-day construction and engineering in the United States. It became a National Treasure of the National Trust in 2012 in order to save and restore the stadium, which has not been used for the past two decades.

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Meghan White is a historic preservationist and a former assistant editor for Preservation magazine. She has a penchant for historic stables, absorbing stories of the past, and one day rehabilitating a Charleston single house.

mwhite@savingplaces.org

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