Few architectural movements can compare to Brutalism. From its monstrous styles to it’s cultural and political symbolism, these structures often mean so much more than just architecture. Despite rising to prominence in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the tides turned not long after. Many of the structures were panned by critics, governments and populations alike, and what was once a favored style soon became an eyesore for many. Despite this, the concrete monsters continued to live on and the past decade has seen a re-evaluation of the movement and a new appreciation has taken place all over the world. Unfortunately, for many of the brutalist beauties, it’s already been too late.
However, luckily for us there is #SOSBrutalism. Defined as a growing database that currently contains over 1,100 Brutalist buildings but, more importantly, a platform for a large campaign to save the beloved concrete monsters. This is an unprecedented initiative and #SOSBrutalism is open to anyone who wants to join the campaign to save Brutalist buildings! It is a powerful tool that allows fans of Brutalism to communicate with one another across all social media platforms. It has also lead to a renown book and exhibition, jointly organized by the Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM) and the Wüstenrot Stiftung. It was on display at the DAM, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, from November 9, 2017 until April 2, 2018.
The Brvtalist has followed the movement for some time and we thought we would reach out to the organizers to get a better sense of the history of the project and find out what we can do to help save brutalism all over the world. Curatorial Assistant Felix Torkar was kind enough to speak with us and shed some light on a few structures that are currently in danger. (see our Q&A below)
The Brvtalist: The database and accompanying book is listed as the first global survey of Brutalism since the 1970's. Where did you start on putting this together and tell us a bit about how the database is compiled.
Felix Torkar: At the Deutsches Architekturmuseum (German Architecture Museum), we are lucky to house a comprehensive architecture library. SOS Brutalism was planned as a three part project in cooperation with the Wüstenrot Foundation. An exhibition, which was held in Frankfurt in 2017/18 and will travel to other locations in the future, a book by the same name, which is the first comprehensive global survey on the topic, and thirdly an online database for Brutalist buildings and their current status.
We started by sourcing articles from architecture magazines of the time as well as monographs of the big names of Brutalism like Paul Rudolph or I.M. Pei. Interestingly enough, searching for the term Brutalism didn’t go far, as the term was not that widely used during its heyday. On the other hand browsing 1960s and 1970s books with titles like “Contemporary Architecture” or magazines from the concrete industry like “Beton Prisma” proved to be goldmines for long forgotten gems.
For the start of our database we were able compile a few hundred buildings. The real breakthrough, however, was to go public and start our social media campaign #SOSBrutalism. Putting our database online and presenting projects on social media platforms allowed us to quickly gain a following. We asked the people, if they are aware of any buildings, that we have missed, and the response has been huge. Meanwhile the hashtag allowed preservation activists to connect between each other as well. We are still getting so many suggestions, pictures, infos and description from around the world, that are still constantly growing and are currently looking at well over 1000 projects on sosbrutalism.org.
TB: I would love to also shed some light on some endangered structures. Are there any (maybe 1-3) you could tell us about right now?
FT: The former Central Animal Labs of the Free University Berlin, designed by Gerd Hänska, located in a fascinating building that looks like a cross between a Star Destroyer and a battle ship. It has since become something of a mascot for German Brutalism fans. The construction is actually highly functional with a decentralized ventilation system keeping the exhaust pipes as far away from the façades of the controlled test environments as possible. Its appearance and function gave it the nickname Mouse Bunker. The building has been mostly empty for years and the university would like to demolish it. I think the better way would be to convert the labs for other purposes – the university is constantly expanding and building new structures after all. Heritage protection is unlikely, but not impossible and the lack of decisions during the last eight years lead to some hope that it might not be too late.
Karlovy Vary’s Hotel Thermal was planned by the prolific Czech architect Vera Machoninová and is a tremendous technological feat. Machoninová was a highly skilled engineer as well and created daring cantilevered sections. In addition, it is a project with an enormous attention to detail. Everything from city planning to the cutlery was carefully designed. Unfortunately it has been dilapidating for years and is in bad shape. A new owner just started questionable renovations without further guidance against the will of the architect and her grandchildren, who are fighting for its preservation.
Sirius is fascinating Sydney apartment complex, designed by Tao Gofers. It has been threatened by demolition for years. Because of its fantastic location and view of the harbor there are plans to replace the mixed social and accessible housing with luxury apartments and of course there is a lot of money on the line. Through multiple petitions, campaigns and protests it has gone against all odds and still hasn’t been demolished. There seems to be a bit of a stalemate at the moment. The fight is not over.
TB: How can people who want to preserve brutalism all over the world get involved and/or help save the structures?
FT: We are still looking for new buildings, as well as updates and current images of catalogued projects. We also regularly post appeals for help with petitions and other forms of protest for buildings, currently threatened by demolition. If you have something for us please get in touch via Email (firstname.lastname@example.org), Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Tumblr. And if you are just looking for your daily fix of concrete monsters, feel free to follow us.
TB: What's coming up next for SOS Brutalism?
FT: We will continue to campaign for the preservation and protection of Brutalist buildings. The exhibition will go on tour as well and we will have more to announce on that in the coming months. SOS Brutalism will continue to act as an active central database of Brutalist buildings and we will continue to try to educate a broader public. Save the concrete monsters!
Thank you to Felix Torkar for taking the time to speak with us. We urge fans and activists alike to get involved with this great cause! For more visit: http://www.sosbrutalism.org