The Raw Charm of Brutalist Architecture Around The World, In 70 Images

by John Griffith

In a recent article, we discussed the unique beauty of Postmodern architecture. Today, we would like to invite you to join us, as we explore one of its descendants – Brutalism. Contrary to widespread popular belief, the term Brutalist architecture does not derive from the word brutal (even though it may seem quite fitting). Rather, it comes from the French term béton brut, meaning raw or untreated concrete.

To the untrained eye, brutalist structures, with their sharp shapes made of drab grey materials, may seem strange, and sometimes even distasteful. However, once you learn more about their history and significance, it is impossible not to find them at least a little bit charming.


Origins of Brutalism

In the beginning of the 20th century Modernism was the leading movement in architecture. It championed bold, utilitarian designs, characterized by crisp lines and a neat, austere presence. Modernist architects saw the decorative style of classic architecture as bourgeois and impractical, and sought simpler, more elegant, and futuristic solutions, with which to replace it.

After WWII the need for cheap and practical housing skyrocketed, and Modernism had to evolve, in order to keep up with the demand. Inspired by this, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret a.k.a. Le Corbusier, one of the most influential Modernist architects, decided to move away from the neat and polished look of his previous designs, and began creating rough, unfinished looking buildings, that relied heavily on concrete. Thus, Brutalism was born. Its simple, rudimentary designs, coupled with the affordability of the necessary materials, enabled people to create a lot of residential buildings in very short span of time. Many public and governmental structures soon followed, aiming to underline the importance of austerity and functionality. Although Brutalism first appeared in Western Europe, it was quickly adopted in North America and the rest of the world. Its utilitarian designs were also favored in the Soviet Union and the countries of the Eastern Bloc, where it branched out into a style known as Socialist Modernism.

Full view of the Geisel Library

geisel library at the university of california san diego, large angular building, made of grey concrete, with multiple windows, brutalist architecture

Rough concrete details are typical for Brutalist buildings

terraces made of concrete, on a tall building, seen in close up, brutalist architecture, blue sky in the background

Characteristics of Brutalism

Honesty was a crucial element in Brutalism. After World War II life was difficult and grim, and Brutalist architecture sought to faithfully reflect this new reality, without softening or decorating it. This idea is evident in the style’s three chief characteristics:

  • Form follows function – the chief mantra of Modernism, according to which the most important aspect of a building is its usefulness. Aesthetics should always take a backseat.
  • Visible structural elements – beams, electrical installations and piping should all be left in the open, for everyone to see.
  • Raw, untampered materials – nothing should be polished or beautified; buildings should be as rough as reality itself.

Although these characteristics were devised in order to render architecture less bourgeois and more accessible to the everyday men and women, the vast majority of people found Brutalist buildings depressing and drab, and failed to see their social and cultural significance. As a result, very little effort is put in the preservation of these structures, particularly in former Soviet countries. In many cases Brutalist buildings are no longer in use, and have been left at the mercy of the elements. Some have become pilgrimage spots for urban explorers.

The Socialist Monument in Buzludzha, Bulgaria, is a very popular spot for urban explorers

socialist building shaped like a flying saucer, made from concrete, and built on a podium, brutalist architecture, buzludzha monument in bulgaria

The Poplavok Cafe in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, looks like something out of an old sci-fi movie, and we love it!

round concrete building, suspended over a lake, poplavok cafe in ukraine, brutalist architecture, seen on a black and white photo

Isn’t this Neo-Brutalist Structure in Seoul, South Korea, beautiful?

angular building made of grey concrete, with rectangular elements, and multiple windows, brutalist architecture in asia

This short video is a great introduction to Brutalism, and explains its philosophy and origins in a fun and accessible way:

Examples of Brutalist architecture

There are Brutalist buildings all over the globe. Some, like The Breuer Building in New York, Habitat 67 in Montreal, Trellick Tower in London, and the City Hall in Boston, are very well known, and have achieved cult status among architects and critics alike. Others, like Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation are protected by UNESCO. Still others stand empty and forgotten in distant corners of the world, visited only by a handful of adventurers every year. Chances are there are at least a couple of Brutalist buildings in your own town – we hope that this article will help you see them from a new perspective, and that you will feel inspired to appreciate their unique, albeit somewhat rough, charm!

In our gallery below you will find over 70 striking examples of Brutalist architecture around the globe. Enjoy, and don’t forget to check out our Architecture Section for more interesting articles.

Detail of Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation (La Cité Radieuse) in Marseille – a residential building, protected by UNESCO

symmetrical concrete staircase, in front of a wall, covered in concrete tiles, brutalist architecture, black and white art photography

The Bank of Georgia Headquarters in Tbilisi, Georgia

the headquarters of the bank of georgia, brutalist architecture example, tall concrete building, made up of crossing rectangular segments

The Wotruba Church in Vienna, Austria

brutalism examples, the wotruba church, in vienna austria, asymmetrical concrete building, made up of many rectangular segments

The Barbican Centre in London, England

the barbican centre, in london england, examples of brutalism, building with rectangular shapes, covered in concrete and white tiles

A Brutalist building on Water Street, Liverpool, UK

close up of a building, made of grey concrete, brutalism, featuring multiple rectangular windows, with rounded edges, covered in reflective glass

The iconic Habitat 67 building in Montreal, Canada

habitat 67 in motreal canada, large concrete building, made of multiple box-like structures, with rectangular windows, brutalism

A look inside the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption, San Francisco

dome of a modern church, made of concrete, and seen from within, with colorful stained windows, brutalism in architecture

Les Choux de Créteil in Paris, France

pod-like terraces made from grey concrete, attached to a tall building, types of brutalism, black and white image

The Digital Beijing Building

digital beijing building, a large rectangular structure, covered in dark grey concrete tiles, brutalism around the world, tall narrow sections

Hemeroscopium House in Las Rozas, Spain

hemeroscopium house in las rozas spain, two storey concrete building, with large windows, and a long rectangular swimming pool, protruding from the second floor, brutalism today

The Trellick Tower in London, England

trellick tower in london england, tall structure in pale beige, with multiple narrow rectangular windows, and a balcony-like structure, concrete architecture

A lovely Brutalist home with plenty of greenery

concrete architecture, rectangular building with a balcony, and a roof terrace, with selevral small trees, and other plants

Hill of the Buddha, Sapporo, Japan

hill of the buddha, in sappporo japan, concrete architecture, a large statue, surrounded by concrete rings, green grass and shrubs

The Trellick Tower – pocket size vs. original

miniature model of the trellick tower, held by a hand, near the real trellic tower, concrete architecture icons

The Boston City Hall – another Brutalist icon

greyscale image of the boston city hall, seen from a low angle, iconic concrete architecture, qith angular elements

The Innovation Center in Santiago, Chile

innovation center in santiago chile, concrete architecture with sharp edges, several rectangular windows

A Brutalist building in Seoul, South Korea

tall assymetrical building, with multiple staircases, terraces and windows in different sizes, concrete architecture around the globe

One of the many Brutalist monuments, built across former Yugoslavia, to commemorate the victims of WWII

world war II brutalist monument, on the territory of former yugoslavia, concrete architecture statue, shaped like jagged shards

Monument of the Bulgarian and Societ Friendship, Varna, Bulgaria

brutalist design of a monument, featuring four soldiers, with helmets decorated with stars, a city near the sea, visible in the background

The Saint-Pierre Building in Firminy

saint-pierre building in firminy france, made of pale grey concrete, without any visible wondows, brutalist design

A Brutalist-inspired design for a police station in Riga, Latvia

digital model for renovating a police station, in riga latvia, brutalist design, the lower part is made of bricks, while the upper part is consists of concrete and glass

SESC Pompéia, São Paulo

bridge-like concrete structures, connecting two grey buildings, brutalist design, featuring protruding pipes, and small square windows

Unsurprisingly, the SESC Pompéia used to be a factory

sesc pompéia in sao paulo, large brutalist design building, made of brick and concrete, featuring holes in different shapes, and a tall chimney

The Heyward Gallery in London, England

old brutalist design building, in dark grey, with large windows, the heyward gallery, in london england

Buildings on Rue Curial, Paris, France

identical buildings with maze-like decorative elements, brutalist design, seen side by side on a black and white photo

More monuments from former Yugoslavia: in Podgaric…

podgaric monument made of concrete, comemorating the victims of ww II, asymmetric brutalist design resembling wings

…and Ilirska Bistrica.

brutalist art, a cube-shaped concrete monument, in ilirska bistrica former yugoslavia, in honor of the victims of ww II

Skjern River Pump Stations by Johansen Skovsted 

river pumping stations, renovated with designs by johansen skovsted, two concrete buildings, with rectangular windows, brutalist art

Another one of Johansen Skovsted’s creations

johansen skovsted design, brutalist art, of a skjern river pump station, made from brick and concrete, with a rooftop terrace

A Hotel in Morelos, Mexico

hotel in morelos mexico, featuring a ceiling, covered in multiple thin, dark grey segments, brutalist art and architecture

The Building of the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences in San Diego, California

salk institute for biological sciences, in san diego california, brutalist art, courtyard covered in concrete, with angular buildings on either side

Denys Lasdun’s National Theatre in London, England

denys lasdun's national theatre, in london england, brutalist art, large multi-storey building, made of grey concrete, and supported by several concrete beams

Bizarre Socialist Modernist buildings – the Druzhba Sanatorium in Yalta, Ukraine, and the Georgian Ministry of Highways in Tbilisi, Georgia

two examples of brutalist art, socialist modernism buidlings, the druzhba sanatorium in yalta ukraine, and the headquarters of the georgian ministry of highways, in tbilisi georgia

Brutalist interiors – a look inside the Instructional Centre of the University of Toronto

interior of the university of toronto's entry hall, brutalist art and architecture, big open plan space, with a large staircase, and multiple light sources

The Pierres Vives building in Montpellier houses three French government departments

pierres vives building in montpellier france, concrete multi-storey building, with rectangular shapes, and asymmetrical deatils

The Hotel Adriatic II, Opatija, Croatia

croatian hotel in opatija, made from multiple, white cube-like shapes, decorated with various green plants

Rudolph Hall in New Haven, Connecticut

rudolph hall in new haven connecticut, grey concrete building, with multiple windows, and rectangular segments

Another view of Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation

multicolored balconies on a grey concrete building, le corbusier's unité d'habitation, in marsille france

Buffalo City Court Building in Buffalo, NY. Note its remarkable narrow windows

buffalo city court building, in buffalo new york, three tower like structures, made of smooth concrete blocks, with tall narrow windows

The Mill Owners’ Association Building in Ahmedabad, India

the mill owners' association building, in ahmedabad india, made of concrete, and featuring multiple windows

Three great examples of European Brutalist architecture

residential buildings in brutalist style, three examples from europe, multi-storey tower-like structures, with many windows

The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City

whitney museum of american art, in new york city, terraced building covered in grey tiles, with several asymmetrical windows

Another view of The Barbican Centre, London, England

yard of the barbican centre, in london england, multiple white benches, near a building made of grey concrete, and decorated with white tiles

The High Point building in Bradford, England

high point building, in bradford england, old beige concrete structure, with brown reflective wondows

Can you believe that this super cool structure is a bus stop in Casar de Caseres, Spain?

bus stop in spain, made from concrete, with asymmetrical wave-like shapes, seen in a greyscale image

The Ruse municipal building, Ruse, Bulgaria

municipal building in ruse bulgaria, tall terraced concrete structure, with multiple reflective windows

The Boston City Hall is often described as the “ugliest building in the USA.” Do you agree?

ugliest building in the world, the boston city hall, grey concrete multi-storey structure, with windows in different shapes

The Headquarters of the Bank of London and South America in San Nicolas, Buenos Aires

headquarters of the bank of london and south america, in san nicolas buenos aires, concrete structure with oval and rectangular, and round windows

The Ilinden Monument in Krusevo, Macedonia

ilinden monument in krusevo macedonia, pale round structure, with multiple round, and oval protruding windows

The grounds of the Brazilian Museum of Sculpture in Sao Paulo

grounds of the brazilian museum of sculpture in sao paulo, yard covered in stone pavement, with a large concrete bridge overhead

King’s College London’s Macadam Building, as seen from the front…

front view of king's college london's macadam building, dark beige brutalist structure, with multiple rectangular windows

…and from the back

back view of the macadam building, a campus of king's college london, grey rectangular structure, made of concrete

A monument in Jasenovac, Croatia

wing-shaped concrete monument, in jasenovac croatia, built on a green hill, with a pathway and a small tree

Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation was built between 1947 and 1952

unité d'habitation built by le corbusier, large rectangular residential building, with balconies painted in different colors

Prentice Women’s Hospital, Chicago, demolished in 2013

prentice women’s hospital, composed by three cylindric, tower-like structures, with oval windows, demolished in 2013

The Royal Festival Hall in London, England

off-white building of the royal festival hall, in london england, made of concrete, and surrounded by multiple green trees

The City Theater of Tehran

city theater of tehran, round building with an ornamental roof, supported by multiple concrete columns

 Centro de Exposições do Centro Administrativo da Bahia, Bahia, Brazil

centro de exposições do centro administrativo da Bahia, in bahia brazil, large dark concrete structure, suspended in the air, by big metal ropes, tied to two columns

Balmoral Beach House in Sydney, Australia

balmoral beach house in sydney australia, angular structure made of concrete, featuring brown wooden elements

The Dead Sea Visitor Center in Neve Zohar, Israel

dead sea visitor center, in neve zohar israel, raw concrete structure, featuring beige natural stones, surrounded by desert

A Concrete Beach House in Valparaiso, Chile

private house in valparaiso chile, situated on a beach, near the sea, and made of pale grey concrete

Salters’ Hall in London, England

white multi-storey building, made up of rectangular segments, and featuring windows, covered in dark glass, salters hall in london england

The building of the Institute of Scientific and Technical Information in Kiev, Ukraine

institute of scientific and technical information, in kiev ukraine, saucer-shaped building, with windows going around its middle

Assembly Building, Chandigarh, India, designed by Le Corbusier

assembly building in chandigarh india, designed by le corbusier, oval concrete segment, propped up by several large concrete walls, featuring holes in different shapes

John Griffith

John Griffith is a young, passionate journalist. Writing has been John’s hobby ever since he was a boy. He has worked in some of the UK’s most successful news portals over the course of his professional career but found his forever home at Archzine.