One may, not incorrectly, believe that we are living in a Brutalist time. The world financial markets are crashing, the unemployment rate is climbing, the value of the dollar is sinking, and if that wasn’t enough LA’s on fire. It gives a literal, new meaning the the Public Enemy track “Burn, Hollywood Burn.” So, in that brutal context, maybe it’s only appropriate that the Brutalist style is again chic.
Brutalism is an architectural style that grew out of modernism and was popular from the 50s through the 70s. The word itself is derived from the French expression “béton brut,” which means raw concrete, and which is the most popular, though certainly not singular, material used to build Brutalist buildings.
The appeal of Brutalist architecture is not its’ aesthetic. It’s its’ honesty. Brutalist designs lay bare the function of the structure. There’s no wanting for facades or anything without structural relevance. Brutalism is stark and hard. It’s serious and direct. Intellectual. Industrial. It’s a logical progression from the functionality of modernism. I’d argue that it’s also subversive in that you must appreciate the honesty first, before you can rationalize any beauty. For these reasons, it’s often reviled. How many people want to think through beauty?
But it’s now been a while since the 70s and our appreciation of function over form has again gained currency. Combine that with an industrial aesthetic, which has grown into an arguably gentrified, bourgeois commodity: loft-lust. Then top it all off with a culture in which lies are pervasive, and you have a ripe environment for Brutalism to again obtain relevance. The right (or wrong) conditions exist which allow the eye to see the beauty.
In Brutalist furniture, the materials are often metals and not concrete, and to me one designer comes to mind: Paul Evans, whose pieces you can find scattered through some of the stores of the LCDQ. Now, I’m not sure if Evans is considered a true Brutalist. His pieces are often highly decorative, which seems to betray the Brutalist ideal. That said, there is a raw (brut) honesty to his work. It’s definitely industrial and the decorative flourishes are often imprecise – sometimes blobby, sometimes sharp, often blocks – reinforcing the implied, tertiary significance of aesthetics. The decoration is sculpted from the heavy structure. And though he’s probably most famous for his “Cityscape” pieces, which I have a hard time describing as Brutalist, much of his other work exhibits this dark, almost apocalyptic acceptance of the harsh realities of the world. The furniture may not look comfortable or luxurious, but it’s engaging and reflective, which makes it art, and, in turn suggests an oxymoron. I guess I’m not sure how I feel about Brutalist art – just like I’m not sure how I feel about these times we’re living.