Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Bryan Lowder takes a look at the history behind Brutalist architecture on college campuses:
Chances are good that if you went to college in the United States after, say, 1975, your campus featured at least one imposing, bunker-like concrete building in the architectural style known as “Brutalism.” [...] Assuming that your campus did have a Brutalist building, you’ve probably been told a lie about it that goes something like, “Hideous, right? The administration chose that design because it was good at preventing student riots and occupations.” The notion, apparently, is that the style’s typically complex floor plans, dazzling edifices, and oddly placed entrances would discourage those kinds of activities.
Though the riot-prevention narrative is widely known, every architectural historian or critical source that I consulted viewed it as extremely dubious. For one thing, the claim is somewhat anachronistic. Many campus Brutalist projects were planned (if not totally completed) before the student movements of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s really took off, so crafty administrators would have to have been very prescient to foresee the countercultural-quashing usefulness of any particular style.
But more to the point, the philosophy behind Brutalism—which was developed in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, again well before the student rebellions began—was directly opposed to repression and control, a detail which makes the style’s later association with totalitarianism all the more ironic.