The Austere Style is Updated for Modern Homeowners
Stark and unadorned, Brutalist architecture is a touchstone of postmodernism. And although the style has detractors, it’s getting a lot of attention from modern audiences.
Social-media apps like Instagram have united Brutalism fans, and accounts posting photos of landmarks in the style have tens of thousands of followers. Books on the subject abound as well, from the exhaustive Atlas of Brutalist Architecture, which made The New York Times list of best art books in 2018, to art historian Chris van Uffelen’s Massive, Expressive, Sculptural: Brutalism Now and Then.
The word “brut,” meaning raw or rough in French, defines the style itself, according to van Uffelen. “The buildings aren’t made from refined materials,” he says. “They are used as they are found, without paint or other adornment. The wall speaks for itself.”
Ecoscopic House is a Brutalist-style property nestled at the foot of the Sierra Madre ranges in Mexico.
It was the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier who first used rough concrete to create sculptural structures, van Uffelen says. The material often had residual impressions in the surface or subtle differences in its texture.
Today, architects still take cues from Brutalism. Concrete allows for impressive silhouettes, and glass and wood elements add a natural flow without being obtrusive.
Brutalist homes can also provide a striking contrast with the landscape around them. At Solis, a Renato D’Ettorre–designed house in Queensland, Australia, concrete, stone, and glass frame views of the Coral Sea and the islands beyond, says Carol Carter from Queensland Sotheby’s International Realty. The three-bedroom, five-bathroom home had been listed for A$15 million and was sold late last year for an undisclosed amount.
“The concrete sits beautifully,” she says. “It lends itself to the environment in a way you wouldn’t normally think.”
This Brutalist-style home in Australia, which was asking A$15 million, has sold.
There are views from every window at Solis, Carter says, and the home features ample indoor-outdoor areas that work together to create movement throughout the home. Downstairs, wood-grain patterns in the concrete and other subtle details add character to the private areas of the house.
Concrete also helps keep the home cool, Carter adds, which is important in the tropics. It’s equally important at the Ecoscopic House, another example of Brutalist architecture that’s nestled at the foot of the Sierra Madre ranges, on the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico.
“It’s never too hot or too cold,” says Beatriz Ramirez of Monterrey Sotheby’s International Realty. The four-bedroom, four-bathroom home is listed for 24.5 million pesos. Architect Manolo Ufer designed the Ecoscopic House to maximize views, Ramirez says. Huge glass windows look out onto the property’s gardens and the mountains beyond. Inside, plant-scapes and angled walls and entrances are unexpected elements that seem organic and abstract at the same time.
Van Uffelen notes that the first wave of Brutalist homes in the 1970s didn’t take the raw materials inside.
“That has changed,” he says. “Now people want those naked walls inside.” Instead of covering the walls with art, many owners keep them raw, rough, and unadorned to bring focus on elegant or interesting furniture, he adds.
“The contrast between the furniture and the walls is one of the key elements that people like,” Van Uffelen says.
He notes that architects around the world are continuing to explore the style in other ways. Many use stairs and windows as sculptural elements, or add natural features, such as living walls or plantscapes, to their designs.
“These aren’t copies of Brutalism in the 1970s,” he says. “You can see at first glance that these are modern buildings.”
Many [architects] use stairs and windows as sculptural elements