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Concrete's Many Fair-Faces


The Local Conditions of a Global Material

Concrete is ubiquitous. Its plasticity allows for nearly limitless forms. Its mutability results in numerous different appearances.Readily available and accessible, it can be found across the globe. It is, perhaps, nowhere quite as ubiquitous as in cities. In the late post-war years, after the dissolution of CIAM and the rejection of International Style Modernism, with its fey white stucco forms, Brutalism offered a new paradigm for urban reconstruction. Its forms were monumental and heroic, its materials straightforward and robust. Though the provenance of the term “Brutalism” seems forever unsettled––Brut as a nod to Le Corbusier’s Beton Brut (raw concrete), or as a play on Peter Smithson’s rumored AA nickname “Brutus,” or, even further, derived from Hans Asplund’s use of “Nybrutalism” in referring to the small cabin of his contemporaries Bengt Edman and Lennart Holm––concrete would prove to be a favored material of Brutalism for its dynamism of form, its versatility of function (structure/enclosure/partition) and its unapologetic appearance.1 Nearly 50 and 60 years old today (and thus entering what might be considered architectural old age), many of the built works of this post-war movement are struggling to meet contemporary standards of performance and aesthetics. Increasingly caught between the conflicting imperatives of preservation and urban renewal, a number of these structures have already been demolished and still more await the wrecking ball...

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