concrete abstraction. on a critical theory of brutalism
we are currently writing an article on a critical theory of brutalism which will be published in DIALECTIC IV, a refereed journal of the School of Architecture, University of Utah, in spring 2016. you’ll find the abstract below:
Inbetween hip hop tracks, step-by-step instructions in diy art magazins for creating your own concrete egg cups, and electronic music labels that employ brutalist aesthetics, concrete recently has seen an upsurge in (pop) cultural attention. But besides the view that mistakes concrete for being beautiful there is very different perspective on concrete, one that takes its sensual awkwardness serious. Coming from the old brutalist intuition, this view understands concrete buildings as reminders that there is something fundamentally wrong with society. Brutalism is the architectural answer to the catastrophes of the 20th century. In return, this turns brutalist buildings into objects of rejection and hatred.
This is the setting in which we want to analyse brutalist architecture. Brutalist buildings do not serve as escape routes. They do not flesh out a perspective beyond capitalist society. And they shy away from establishing a safe haven within precisely the kind of wrong society which they aim to denounce. Brutalism is no counter-culture. But following Hegel one has to say: »philosophy must beware of the will to be edifying«. A statement that is all the more true for (post-Shoah) architecture.
The potential of brutalist buildings lies somewhere else. They serve as interruptions. By exposing their fabric, basic structures, they expose their own conditions of production and reproduction and shed light on the structures of capitalist society. We argue that, emphatically put, brutalist buildings can be read as anti-fetishistic buildings. This means they are interesting phenomena for a critical theory of architecture that asks for the service and ethics of architecture, even though – or precisely because – they are not examples of counter-culture in a strict way.
We want to demonstrate these thoughts at the example of a peculiar building: the former headquarter of the Deutsche Bahn AG in Frankfurt, Germany, built in 1993. This building is a spectacular combination of the Hayward Gallery in London and the Centre Pompidou in Paris, of brutalism, bowellism and post-modernism. With its combination of concrete and glass and its formal transparency it serves well as an example for the specific relations of visibility on which we focus.
cncrt abstraction, May 2015