Brutalist architecture is having something of a renaissance. The Brutalism Appreciation Society now has well over 45,000 Facebook followers – whilst Brutal London’s author Simon Phipps has over 17,000 of his own followers on his Instagram, @new_brutalism – and over twenty books on Brutalism have been published in the past year.
Phipps traces his preoccupation with Brutalism to growing up in Milton Keynes during the 1970s. I trace my own to growing up in Newcastle – famed for the ‘Get Carter carpark’, amongst others – in the 1980s: what I once saw as hideous, grey, boxy buildings which represented everything I felt was ugly and uncouth about my hometown have become arresting spectacles I would walk across town to look at.
Brutal London is both a striking photographic collection and succinct guide to the best Brutalist architecture in London. Dividing the city into thirteen geographical sections – Camden, Greenwich, Hackney, Hammersmith and Fulham, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Lewisham, Southwark, Tower Hamlet, Wandsworth, Westminster and City of London – Phipps takes us through the highlights (of which there are many) of these concrete wonders. There’s also a handy overview of building information at the back, a pictorial and factual index.
The brief but illuminating introduction charts Phipps interest in this divisive architectural style – the characteristic detail, texture and shapes he observed as a child and then experimented with as an art student. He also outlines a swift history of the movement – Brutalist from the French ‘Béton brut’ (raw concrete) – and the changing face of its reception in Britain. There is certainly a love-hate relationship towards Brutalism in the UK, as Phipps writes elsewhere, with infamous examples such Robin Hood Gardens in London now awaiting demolition. In this respect Brutal London is a timely work, preserving parts of London that may not be with us forever and hopefully garnering a new-found appreciation for the remaining buildings in order to safeguard them from a similar fate.
But this isn’t just a book full of (albeit stunning) moody black and white photographs of imposing concrete structures; it’s also about urban exploration. Phipps outs himself as a flâneur: ‘peripatetic surveyor of the urban terrain.’ The elevated walkways, communal squares and gardens of Brutalist estates provide a unique space to view or else obscure the city; the almost dystopian appeal of Brutalism seems to suit the current political and financial climate.
Simon Phipps is a photographer and creator of the New Brutalism collection of photography on Tumblr, Instagram and Twitter. He is a graduate in sculpture from The Royal College of Art. He grew up in Milton Keynes where his parents were architects involved in the design of the city. He has forthcoming exhibitions of his photography at the Foundry Gallery in 2016 and The Architectural Association and the Museum im Bellpark (Kriens, Switzerland) in 2017.