Aesthetic Exploration – Brutalism

Brutalism is an architectural style that arose in the 1950s in the United Kingdom. The style arose during building reconstruction in the post-war era. Brutalism is a style where the raw materials used to construct the building are exposed. Buildings usually have a dark worn out aesthetic to them. A great example of this is the engineering center here at CU Boulder(1). The engineering center was completed in 1966 and designed by Charge William C. If you notice the building is made of old concrete and has a very different shape than typical buildings that you might see in downtown Boulder. It is said that the building was meant to resemble the Flat Irons.

CU Boulder is not the only university that features brutalist architecture within its campus. Other universities such as the University of Massachusetts, Toronto Scarborough, and Harvard have halls and libraries that are brutalist. My personal favorite is the Geisel Library at the University of California, San Diego designed by architect William Pereira (2). The library is interesting in the way that it features brutalist architecture while also having a futuristic aesthetic at the same time.

One of the earliest inspirations of brutalist architecture is the Villa Goth. The Villa Goth is a brick home constructed in Uppsala, Sweden in 1950 by Bengt Edman and Lennart Holm (3). The house features a plethora of exposed I-beams, pure brick walls, and poured concrete in most of the rooms. Swedish architect Hans Asplund coined the term New Brutalism to describe the home. The Villa Goth inspired many brutalist architects such as Le Corbusier and Marcel Breuer.

Modern brutalist buildings have gotten more experimental with the style of the buildings. The aesthetic started to emerge as an art form so lots of the buildings were built to look more like sculptors and art pieces. An example of this is the Johannes XXiii church in Cologne, Germany (4). As you can see the roof of the building is not like a typical roof that you would see on a church, school, or any other building for that matter. The top has different slabs of concrete that protrude through square structures that give the building a different kind of look.

Brutalist architecture is only accepted by some because of the old decaying aesthetic that it gives off. For example, the engineering center at CU Boulder is wildly made fun of and said to be designed by an architecture student who “received a failing grade.” For others, however, brutalist architecture is seen as a form of art and a different way to approach modern architecture as to add variety among building design. 

“(1) Charge William C.,

“(2) William Pereira, 2017,

“(3) Bengt Edman, Lennart Holm, 2016,

“(4) Heinz Buchmann, 2019,

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6 Comments. Leave new

  • Heider Iacometti
    February 4, 2023 4:20 pm

    I really enjoyed this post Jose, just like the common folk, I was one of those people who thought that the Engineering Center was a failure of a building, until you enlightened me. I never realized that the chaotic disorganization of the building was intentional by design based off it’s art form, thank you. For a method to make this post better, I’d recommend setting a featured image, and I feel like a photo of the engineering center would be the perfect representation for this aesthetic.

    • Thank you Heider! I definitely have gained a new appreciation for the style of the engineering center. Ill make sure to add a featured image as soon as I can!

  • Alexandr Vassilyev
    February 3, 2023 12:51 pm

    Hi Jose,
    I very much enjoyed reading your post about Brutalism. In particular, your comparison of early Brutalist architecture to sculptures was great. I’m interested in learning more about your discussion regarding why many people don’t find Brutalist architecture appealing. Do you think that the decaying aesthetic of Brutalist buildings is intentional? The architects specifically selected concrete as their building material, so perhaps they intended their buildings to change with respect to time?

    • I am not completely sure about the intention of the aesthetic. The Goth Villa was built in the 1950s which is the post war era so it is quite possible the designer choose to design it how it is on purpose to capture the deterioration of civilization that war implements on society. I think the tendency of people to want technological advancement is the reason why people are not a huge fan of the aesthetic. We want out society to progress and flourish rather than die and decay.

  • Peter Jakubczak
    January 28, 2023 7:48 pm


    This is a super interesting post. I was considering doing brutalist architecture as well! I really like how you showed many examples of brutalist architecture and the certain features they all have. You can’t talk about brutalism without pointing out the beloved Engineering center!

    I noticed towards the end that you mentioned a failing architecture student designed the Engineering center. I’m in a Design for Inclusion course and we learned that this is actually a popular myth. The Engineering center was actually designed during the space race. Funding was given to CU because they explained that the Engineering center would allow for state of the art research to help combat the space race. The building is designed to be more beneficial for research, than the student. For example theirs a lot of entrances for bigger vehicles (when they were transporting the large equipment required for this research). Did you find anything about this online? There are some interesting old newspaper articles that my professor showed us.

    • Very interesting! I didn’t know the space race played a very large part in the development of the building! I read a few posts on the architecture on the CU website but didn’t find anything specifically about that. Ill have to do some more research on that and find out more.


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