From the U.K. to Lithuania, Musement takes a look at 6 of the finest examples of Brutalist architecture found around Europe.
Brutalism, from the French béton brut, or raw concrete, has something of a cult following. From Instagram accounts dedicated to this style of architecture to thick coffee table books, it clearly has a following.
Although initially derided by architectural critics and citizens alike, and throwing up a host of cliche terms, ‘concrete jungle’ and ‘concrete monstrosity’, 40 years on we have come to appreciate the grandeur and daring of Brutalism’s finest buildings.
This guide to Europe’s most striking Brutalist gems gives a sense of the buildings, along with some practical information about how to get to them. We have spent many a day lost looking for forts and memorials, and have found that it’s always best to have a rough idea of where you’re going.
Of course, we could go on to describe Brutalist masterpieces the world over but have limited ourselves to the best examples in Europe for now.
1. Southbank Centre
We’ll start with one that’s easy to find, just cross London’s Waterloo Bridge and head for the sounds of skateboards screeching through the undercroft on the south side of the river Thames.
The building that the Southbank Centre is a part of was initially designed to be on multiple levels and would link itself to a series of raised walkways throughout the city. Unfortunately, these were never built, as there was no overall body in charge of the design, and each new building was expected to provide links to the as yet unrealized network. Walking through London you can still see these stairwells that lead nowhere.
Beneath the concrete pillars lies a space that skateboarders have colonized since at least the 70s which makes for a nice contrast to the street art on offer upstairs. The flow of traffic once led skaters deep into the subterranean spaces, but has since been fenced off and barred away from the public, in a much more orderly version of what once was.
2. Hermit’s Castle
Hermit’s Castle stands in Northen Scotland, not too far from the small town of Achmelvich. This Brutalist wonder is difficult to find on Google Maps as it blends into the rocky landscape around it, per the intention of architect David Scott.
This tight little space fits one person only, with concrete bed and shelves built into the structure. There is a campsite nearby so you might have a better time spent sleeping there.
3. Ninth Fort
The Ninth Fort in Kaunas, Lithuania, was built as a memorial to the victims of Fascism. The Baltic States suffered awful losses at the hands of the Nazis and then the Soviets, and so there is an extensive network of memorial architecture, none of which is actually Brutalist, but does deserve a mention nonetheless for its staggering scope and vision. Take the bus no 23 or 35 and have the location pinned on your maps, as it’s a fairly long way out of town.
4. Slavín memorial
Bratislava, Dukla, Prešov, Košice, Liptovský Mikuláš, Zvolen, Banská Bystrica, Lučenec, Komárno, Nitra, Žilina. These are the Slovakian cities and towns ‘liberated’ in battle by the Soviet Army, and now glorified in marble relief, for all to see, on the sides of Bratislava’s Slavín memorial.
Though not strictly Brutalist, this marble wonder has all of the characteristics and swagger of the better-known sites. From up above Slovakia’s capital city you get a wonderful view of Petržalka district, built up in the socialist realist style, and the UFO that hovers over the city’s main bridge, Most SNP.
5. Balfron Tower
Balfron Tower, the 26-story residential predecessor to Trellick Tower, is located on the DLR line in the Poplar district of London — architect Ernő Goldfinger created both. The latter ironed out some of the initial problems discovered in Balfron, but sadly, became the focus of a media backlash.
A series of unfortunate decisions led the building to become synonymous with crime and drug dealing, to which the architect had a front-row seat after he rented out an office space directly in front of his creation.
It is said that writer J.G. Ballard’s inspiration for this novel High Rise was the Trellick Tower and its slow demise. Nowadays though, we have a much brighter view of these two linked sites and can appreciate their intelligent designs, and the series of mistakes that led to them becoming ostracised.
6. Unité d’habitation
Unité d’habitation is Le Corbusier’s masterpiece in Marseille that has inspired a generation of architects. This residential giant has room for 1600, one of which is the distinguished architecture critic, Jonathan Meades. Take one of the many guided tours on offer, or even rent a room for the night.
This guide to Europe’s most Brutal buildings is just the beginning of all there is to see. Did we miss anything special? Do you disagree with any of our choices? Let us know in the comments.