What Is Brutalist Architecture?

Brutalist architecture refers to an architectural style that emerged in the mid-20th century. Brutalist designs are characterized by raw, exposed concrete and bold geometric forms. Brutalism remains the last significant architectural movement to come to the US.

Brutalist architecture has weathered much criticism over the years because of its lack of warmth and its harsh style, but it has also gained some devoted fans who love the bold and innovative look.

What is Brutalist Architecture

Le Corbusier was the father of the brutalist movement, which emerged in the 1950s. The style was embraced in western countries, and by the 1970s, brutalist buildings could be found in most cities and on college campuses. As a design movement, it was centered on a harsh aesthetic featuring rough, bleak surfaces and non-traditional geometric shapes.

Famous examples include government buildings like Boston’s City Hall, Genex Tower, or the Pirelli Tire Building, which are made of concrete and have odd-shaped windows.

The architectural style is often used as a backdrop in dystopian cinema due to the utilitarian nature of the buildings. 

As renewed interest gains momentum, many see the style as a form of maximalist architecture due to the large framed buildings.

Key Features Of Brutalist Architecture

Brutalist Architecture History and Features

Let’s look at a few characteristics that define the brutalist style.

Exposed Concrete 

Concrete is the most important component of brutalism. When the movement first emerged, concrete was rare. The material was considered high-end and modern. Other materials can be used, such as rebar, but most of the structure will consist of reinforced concrete, or CMU. 

Grim Tower Blocks 

Brutalism centers on geometric shapes and block designs. Blocks help give Brutalist structures a dense and heavy aesthetic. 

New Brutalism

Brutalism has its artistic merits. Unlike the earliest examples, today’s brutalist buildings aren’t all about reinforced concrete, rebar, or rough surfaces.


Overhangs may not be a constant, but they’re not uncommon. Unlike a pyramid, where the bottom is bigger than the top, brutalism architecture flips this design, starting small and ending large.


Brutalist buildings do not rely on color schemes. They are monochromatic. Their lack of color makes them easier to film, which is why they’re used as backdrops in movies. The architectural style is also synonymous with dystopian landscapes.  

Small Windows

Brutalism eschews large windows, preferring smaller ones. In Brutalism, architects consider large windows a distraction and believe small windows help focus attention on the structure.


Brutalist architecture is associated with functionalist principles. This means that the designers sought to create the building’s design without unnecessary embellishment. 

Brutalist Architecture On US College Campuses

Every college campus in America has at least one brutalist building. US college campuses embraced brutalism in architecture because the buildings were cheaper and easier to build.

One unconfirmed theory behind the style’s widespread emergence is how the buildings suppressed student protests.

Here are some examples of Brutalist-style buildings on famous college campuses.


What is Brutalist Architecture

The man responsible for the brutalist movement was responsible for one US construction project – the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University. Le Corbusier designed it and built it in the 1960s. He intended the multi-story ramp to serve as a metaphor for open dialogue between art forms. 


Yale University’s Rudolph Hall

Yale University’s Rudolph Hall is another early addition to the brutalist architecture movement in the United States. Designed by American architect Paul Rudolph, the nine-story building has 37 levels, and two of its floors are underground.

Rudolph’s design challenged contemporary notions of heavy and light space.

University of Washington

University of Washington

Located in Seattle, Washington, the University of Washington’s Red Square is a three-way monument to the brutalist school from the 1970s. 

The first building in the brutalist series was Kane Hall. Designed by Walker & McGough in 1971, the exterior is pure brutalism, while the interior is a different style. Narrow columns and recessed windows are trademark characteristics of brutalism architecture.

Odegaard Undergraduate Library

The second building is the Odegaard Undergraduate Library. Designed by Wallace, McKinley & Associates, the library opened in 1972. And just like Kane Hall, the library features red brick and recessed windows.

Meany Hall for the Performing Arts

The third building is Meany Hall for the Performing Arts. Designed by Kirk, Wallace, McKinley & Associates, the performance hall opened in 1974. The building’s lack of windows gives it a looming presence, but the interior acoustics are cleaner in buildings without windows.

Brutalist Recreational Architecture

Brutalism’s influence extends beyond government buildings and college campuses. When skateboarding peaked in the 1970s and 1980s, along with it came the advent of skateparks.

Brutalist Recreational Architecture

With concrete surfaces and odd shapes, the skatepark became a clever tribute to the brutalist movement.


Southbank Centre

Located in London, England, the Southbank Centre is known worldwide as a skateboarding hotspot. Opened in 1973, the building served as the foundation for the city’s skateboard culture. Without the building, skateboarding wouldn’t have developed the way it did. 

SLO Skatepark

Located in San Luis Obispo, California, the SLO skatepark is a 17,000-square-foot tribute to brutalist designs.

Brutalist Architecture Worldwide

Let’s take a look at a few important works of brutalist architecture and how the style has impacted the world.

New York City

Brutalist Architecture Worldwide

Although primarily a mid-century modern design, brutalism is still alive today. It fell out of favor during the 1980s and was nearly non-existent in the 1990s and 2000s when it came to new construction. 

The name itself is enough to deter a lot of people. But the name comes from the French term for raw concrete rather than a brutal nature.


What is Brutalist Architecture

The small urban area uses every inch of its outside space. Located in Medellin, Colombia, the neighborhood is known as Comuna 13.


Constatin Brodzki brutalist movement
Jessy van der Werff from Wikimedia Commons licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International

One of Belgium’s greatest architects, Constatin Brodzki, was a leading figure in the brutalist movement. He began his career in the 1940s and rose to prominence in Europe. Brodzki later became a respected figure in American architecture.


Hotel Avesto (1984). Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Image © Stefano Perego

Many Soviet and Asian architectural designs feature brutalist influences. Brutalist buildings erected in Uzbekistan during the 1970s remain an integral part of the nation’s landscape. The color splashes featured on the Circus in Tashkent make it a brutalist treasure.

North Caucasus 

Hotel Amanauz (Photo; Thomas Paul Mayer)

The North Caucasus is known for its contributions to the art world. Across the region, statues stand on the side of cliffs. However, Hotel Amanauz is in a different league.


NDDB Building. (Photos: Arhan Vohra)

Designed by Indian architect Achyut Kanvinde, the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) opened in 1985. When most people think of India, brutalist architecture doesn’t come to mind. However, the architectural movement is a natural fit with the country’s geographic landscape.


Negev Brigade Monument (Photo: Stefano Perego)

The Beersheba Divinity in Israel features bare concrete. It’s a place where crowds gather daily at the Statue of Israel, built-in 1948.