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Equatorial Brutalism

Generally speaking, architects are the only people I know who like Brutalist architecture. In fact, architect, professor and author Witold Rybczynski once proposed the following litmus test to determine whether a building is indeed an example of Brutalism: “If people don’t hate it, it can’t be Brutalist.”

But as I have argued before, sometimes architectural styles take a bit of time to settle in and become fully appreciated. Consider how improbable it would seem to demolish a beautiful old Victorian home today. And yet Toronto, and countless other cities, did this on many occasions. Regent Park, Toronto was once Cabbagetown South.

Brutalism also took on different sensibilities around the world.

I love this recent piece in T (NY Times Style Magazine) by Michael Snyder called, “The Unexpectedly Tropical History of Brutalism.” In it he uses the term “Equatorial Brutalism” (a new one for me) and discusses the “surprising apotheosis” of Brutalism in equatorial countries (and in particular Brazil). It is a good follow-up to my recent post on Oscar Niemeyer’s work.

So here’s an excerpt from Michael’s article. If you don’t already like Brutalism, maybe it’ll get you a little bit closer.

What these buildings shared, beyond an aesthetic — though they shared that, too, with their radical porousness, their blunt geometric forms and their extensive use of raw concrete — was a commitment to architecture as an instigator of progress. But in the tropics, Brutalism reached an unexpected apotheosis: Infiltrated by lush plants and softened by humidity, buildings that looked cold and imposing against London’s constant drizzle or Boston’s icy slush were transformed into fecund, vital spaces. Concrete surfaces bloomed green with moss. The panels of glass necessary for sealing rooms against the northern chill either disappeared or receded from view, encouraging cross-ventilation while also protecting interior spaces from direct sun. The openness and transparency that the Smithsons had pronounced became a practical reality in these humid environments, both theoretically and literally: Built from inexpensive, readily available materials, equatorial Brutalism was as accessible and functional as it was symbolically potent, resulting in buildings that would define new societies growing around them like vines. Here, Brutalism wasn’t only an architecture that shaped the future or confronted the past — it was an architecture of freedom.

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash



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