Brutal Utopias: See pictures as the National Trust announces a Brutalist Architecture Celebration

By Culture24 Reporter | 22 September 2015

National Trust to run brutalist tours of Southbank Centre, Sheffield's Park Hill and University of East Anglia

A photo of a large square dimly-lit brutalist hall at the Southbank Centre in London
National Trust experts are about to take people behind the scenes at the Southbank Centre© Sophia Schorr-Kon, courtesy National Trust
At a time when the often-derided legacy of brutalism is receiving something of a reappraisal, the National Trust is about to launch a series of pop-up openings of three concrete examples of the uncompromising 1960s architectural style.

An overhead photo of the brutalist buildings at the University of East Anglia on grass
The Ziggurat buildings at the University of East Anglia© John Fielding / Flickr
The Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery will be the subject of public behind-the-scenes tours for the first time. Sheffield’s Park Hill Estate – Europe’s largest listed building – and the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, will also be explored during a ten-day programme the trust admits is a “significant departure” from its traditional picturesque attractions.

A black and white photo of the brutalist Park Hill complex of flats in Sheffield
Park Hill in Sheffield© Urban Splash
“Like them or not, it is indisputable that these places represent a distinct moment in British architectural history,” says Joseph Watson, the London Creative Director of the group.

A photo of a large square dimly-lit pair of clocks at the Southbank Centre in London
Pre-heaters for the TV and Green rooms at the Southbank Centre© Sophia Schorr-Kon, courtesy National Trust
A photo looking upwards at the grey brutalist architecture of London's Southbank Centre
Southbank Centre organisers have described the National Trust as apparently unlikely partners on the project© Sophia Schorr-Kon, courtesy National Trust
“It’s not so very long since a generation spoke of ‘Victorian monstrosities’ and systematically worked to erase that era in built form. We are now in danger of doing the same with Brutalism.”

A photo of the brutalist Park Hill complex of brown brick flats during the day in Sheffield
Park Hill is known for its levels, dubbed as streets in the sky© Urban Splash
The tours aim to take brutalism, modernism and the Festival of Britain as their themes, leading visitors through underground tunnels, ventilation rooms and above performance spaces.

A photo of the brutalist buildings at the University of East Anglia on grass during the day
The university campus is considered iconic in its use of sharp angles, rough concrete surfacing and exposed services© Geoff Markham / Pixabay
Park Hill is currently the subject of extensive renovations, and a two-year refurbishment programme is about to begin at the Southbank Centre sites.

A photo of a large square dimly-lit brutalist hall with large pipes at the Southbank Centre in London
Visitors will be able to see the original fixtures and fittings at the Southbank Centre© Sophia Schorr-Kon, courtesy National Trust
Simon Gawthorpe, the Managing Director of property developers Urban Splash, says their work could create a “mid-century modern quarter” in Sheffield.

A photo of the brutalist Park Hill complex of brown brick flats during the day in Sheffield
Its critics have often claimed that brutalist architecture contributed to societal ills when used for social housing© Urban Splash
A photo of an installation reading I Love You Will You marry me at Park Hill in Sheffield
New designs suggest Park Hill could become a new quarter for Sheffield© Urban Splash
“The Park Hill building stimulates strong opinions,” he observes.

A photo of a door leading the way to a BBC control room at the Southbank Centre in London
The way to the control room at the Southbank Centre© Sophia Schorr-Kon, courtesy National Trust
“There is almost reverence from admirers and intense emotions from those who have lived or visited it over the years.

A black and white photo of a large brutalist building being constructed at the University of East Anglia
The teaching wall at the UEA© UEA
“Our aim is to recapture the sense of community which was at the heart of the original vision.”

  • Brutal Utopias: a National Trust Celebration of Brutalist Architecture runs from September 25 – October 4 2015. Visit Brutal Utopias for full details.

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Three places to see brutalist architecture

Hayward Gallery, London
Considered an icon of 1960s brutalist architecture, the gallery plays a vital role in the visual arts in the UK and internationally.

Workplace Gallery, Gateshead
This gallery is located in Owen Luder‘s brutalist architectural masterpiece Trinity Court, famous as the setting for the 1960‘s cult movie Get Carter starring Michael Caine.

Tate Britain, London
Concentrating on the collaboration between the sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi, the artist-photographer Nigel Henderson and the architects Alison and Peter Smithson in 1953, the current exhibition, New Brutalist Image 1949–55, highlights how this office project became the test-bed of ideas for the group’s design and installation of Parallel of Life and Art which underpinned the movement that the critic Reyner Banham would famously label ‘New Brutalism’.
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