Redeeming bad architecture in urban environments

uts tower sydney urban designThink of the most unattractve buildings you know. Sydney’s UTS tower and the Police Centre in Surry Hills, Melbourne’s Total House and Harold Holt Swim Centre, the Perth Concert Hall and the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra probably feature on the list.

Brutalist buildings take their unfortunate moniker from “béton-brut” – French for “raw concrete”. Built in Australia between the 1950s and 1970s, they offered a building type that was cost-effective, sustainable – before the word became jargon – and had well-designed spaces that could accommodate many people. They are almost universally, however, slated for their ugliness. Besser blocks – large, nearly hollow, concrete bricks – feature heavily as reported by Michael Bleby.

Now, however, the structures with influences ranging from Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier to Ned Kelly – picture artist Sidney Nolan’s square black helmet with slits in it – are undergoing a revival. Or at least, they will if one group of Melbourne aficionados has its way.

“We think they’re big, beautiful buildings,” says Rachel Elliot-Jones, a convenor of Brutalist Block Party, a month-long campaign that kicks off next month to highlight the much-maligned building style. “We’re drawn to the materiality, the raw nature of the buildings, the sculptural forms. Whether or not we are of the personal opinion they are ugly or not, it’s about preserving diversity and significance in our city.”

At a time when urban sprawl is recognised as a risk to Australia’s social fabric by creating a nation of distance-based haves and have-nots, brutalist buildings show how to avoid that risk, Elliot-Jones says.

“We need to find ways of living closer together,” she says. “Brutalist architecture at least attempted to provide a solution to that. A lot of structures around that time have provided places to commune with, ways to come together.”

In many cases, however, brutalist housing has stigmatised the residents, particularly when they have concentrated people of disadvantage in one area, Weirick says.

“The strategy of using that architecture for social housing was a terrible mistake,” he says. To read more click here.

The 9th International Urban Design Conference will be held in Melbourne in November 2016.  To express your interest in the 2016 Conference CLICK HERE.

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