Brutalism is having a bit of a fashion moment right now, perhaps because its blocky forms work so perfectly on Instagram et al for showing off a certain kind of urban grit. This is the second time in recent months that the National Trust has embraced the style, having previously held a pop-up opening of a flat in Ernö Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower in east London.
The Trust has expanded its offering this time, holding tours behind-the-scenes at the Southbank Centre in London, as well as of Sheffield’s Park Hill Estate and the University of East Anglia in Norwich. Perhaps as proof of Brutalism’s current popularity, the London and Sheffield tours are already sold out, however the National Trust has stated that it will share extra tickets via Twitter during the tours’ run.
While Brutalism may be undergoing a critical reappraisal, for many it is still dismissed as ugly and is associated with a failure in 1960s social housing. Joseph Watson, London creative director of the National Trust, acknowledges that the style is divisive, though argues strongly for its preservation.
“Like them or not, it is indisputable that these places represent a distinct moment in British architectural history,” he says. “It is not so very long since a generation spoke of ‘Victorian monstrosities’ and systematically worked to erase that era in built form. We are now in danger of doing the same with Brutalism.” Watson recognises the political dimension to the development of Brutalism in the UK, pointing out that it arose in a period of time when “power lay with local government and with people”.
The Southbank tour comes as a £25 million, two-year refurbishment project begins on the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery. The tour is packed with architectural and design treats, taking visitors into spaces including the service corridors (where episodes of Doctor Who have been filmed), the ventilation room, which features original machinery from the 1960s, and into the projection box overlooking the Queen Elizabeth Hall. It is a delight to see how the original, and beautiful, design touches of the building rub up against the everyday life of the space, which is of course a working building.
The National Trust tours take place from September 25 until October 4. More info is at nationaltrust.org/london and follow @nationaltrust on Twitter for the chance to snap up one of those elusive extra tickets.