Recording the best of British brutalism
Photographer Simon Phipps has been documenting Britain’s post-war architecture for almost twenty years. A new book, ‘Finding Brutalism’, features around 200 of Phipps’ photographs of some 160 buildings in all parts of the country completed between the 1950s and the 1980s, captured in gritty, high-contrast black and white. Images are reproduced at a generous size – one or two to a spread – and bolstered by essays by Catherine Ince and Owen Hatherley, and a conversation between writer and academic Stephen Parnell and Kate Macintosh, architect of the Dawson’s Heights housing that perches craggily on a south London hilltop.
The book appears at a time when the rough-cast and boldly plastic buildings of the post-war era have found a new appreciation. That has come too late to save examples such as The Smithsons’ Robin Hood Gardens in east London, which features intact in ‘Finding Brutalism’, but has since been partially demolished. Another entry, The Hayward Gallery, has had a happier fate: having dodged various efforts over the years to disguise or modify its character, it has recently emerged from a renovation by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios in a state close to its original form. But the future remains uncertain for many of the other buildings catalogued here, such as Peter Wormersley’s Bernat Klein Studio, which currently lies empty and is a long-term item on Scotland’s Buildings at Risk Register. Only time will tell whether the new appreciation for Brutalism has staying power, and this book captures these buildings on their way to a better future, or whether the tide will turn again, and the ‘Finding Brutalism’ prove to be a record of a vanished past.
Robin Hood Gardens, London, 1969–72, Alison and Peter Smithson for GLC © Simon Phipps, Courtesy Museum im Bellpark
‘Finding Brutalism: A Photographic Survey of Post-War British Architecture’
Eds. Hilar Stadler and Andreas Hertach
Park Books, 258pp, £32