Monday, February 22, 2016

Elegance from Brutalism


Chances are I've seen plenty of examples of Brutalism in architecture. I was just ignorant of the term.

An article in Wired drew my attention to the style. Unfortunately the article is from last November and a few aspects of it are dated. It ended up in my "to blog" folder and didn't see the light of day until just now. Other stories to cover, other things getting in the way, and so on. But it's interesting enough that I could not let it simply turn to digital space dust. It deserved a post.

As stated in the article, Brutalism involves "muscular massing, structural gymnastics, and rough slabs of raw concrete" in building design. Apparently, the city of Boston has something of a concentration of the style, but it is Los Angeles that has exhibited it as art. Woodbury University's WUHO Gallery in LA held an exhibition last November titled Matter, Light, and Form, featuring the Brutalism collection of architectural photographer, Wayne Thom.

The art exhibition includes photographs of famous buildings in the Brutalist style, including San Francisco's Transamerica Pyramid and the Denver Art Museum. From the article:

"Brutalist architects could levitate concrete like it was weightless and twist stone like clay. Other late-modern masters bent and waved mirrored glass and invented new typologies from steel and aluminum. “It was truly the merger of art and science,” Thom says of the genre’s best work. In all, Thom worked for more than 50 years, documenting upward of 2,800 projects. His archives were recently acquired by USC. “I wanted to share the architects’ skill and audacity, and stir curiosity,” he says. He likes to compare his photography to writing sentences, with elements like lighting, camera angle, color, texture, and material acting as adjectives describing a building."

Another interesting aspect of the photographs from the exhibit: Thom never manipulated his images in Photoshop. He also didn't use artificial lighting. Instead, Thom wanted to capture the buildings in a "truth of the moment" sense, not as an artificial scene. The Wired article relates a wonderful anecdote where Wayne Thom dashed all the way from Catalina Island to the CNA Building in a storm, all so that he could capture the red skies in the mirrored glass of the exterior, a sort of apatetic architecture. He even made a work crew stop installing a railing so he could get the perfect, unblemished shot. What an artist!

Go to the link and sift through the gallery of images. Conceptually, I can understand why the buildings are called "brutal," but that is art in its own right. We may simply be travelers on this world, but we can create habitats upon it that are both elegant and striking. My next excursion to downtown Chicago will include at least a peripheral search for Brutalism. Walking up and down State Street and Michigan Avenue, calling out "Brutalism! Brutalism!"

Okay maybe not that but you get the idea.



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