London’s Top Brutalist Buildings

Do monolithic slabs of roughly-finished concrete make you go weak at the knees? If so, you are going to enjoy this roundup very much indeed.

Brutalism’s bold, monumental, and on the whole, deadly serious style remains controversial, years after it was replaced by Post-Modernism and the Neo Vernacular style.

There is a little confusion as to who first coined the term Brutalism — Swedish architect Hans Asplund claims to have used it in a conversation in 1950, but its first written usage was by English architect Alison Smithson in 1952. The term was borrowed from pioneering French architects and refers to unfinished or roughly finished concrete (beton brut in French).

The following are a mix of familiar and somewhat less well-known Brutalist buildings in London. Please add your own personal favourites in the comments section below as there are happily (or not, depending on your standpoint) many examples of this uncompromising architectural style in our beloved capital.

Brunel University Lecture centre
Nearest tube: Uxbridge then take a U3 bus. Map

This imposing mid-60s building famously starred as the ‘Ludovico Medical Facility’ in Kubrick’s legendary film A Clockwork Orange. For this reason alone it is well worth a pilgrimage. It has also appeared in various TV series including Spooks, Silent Witness and Inspector Morse. Its jutting geometric forms mark it as a classic example of mid-period (or ‘Massive period’) Brutalism.

Brunswick Centre
Nearest tube: Russell Square. Map

Designed by Patrick Hodgkinson, this grade ll-listed residential and shopping centre has made several TV and film appearances and even had a song written about it by 90s indie ‘supergroup’ Lodger. The impact of its striking service towers and flying buttresses is softened by the sky blue and cream colour scheme, lending the whole development an almost breezy air.

Royal College of Physicians
Nearest tube: Regents Park/Great Portland Street. Map

Sir Denys Lasdun designed the graceful and discreet geometries of this building. Never a card-carrying Brutalist, he presented a softer version of its often hard-nosed style. Surrounded by the splendid neo-classical terraces of John Nash, The Royal College of Physicians holds it own and manages to be both elegant and entirely of its time.

Centre Point
Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road. Map

How many times have you walked past this Grade ll listed London landmark and never given it a second thought?

Designed by Richard Seifert and completed in 1966 it was described by the Royal Fine Art Commision as having an ‘elegance worthy of a Wren steeple’. Note how the gentle v-shaped window mullions soften and add interest to this slender, Massive period tour de force.

The swish Paramount restaurant and bar occupies the top floors and has outstanding views of London. There is also a free viewing gallery. Phone up beforehand (0207 4202900) to let them know that you’re coming.

The Barbican
Nearest tube: Barbican/Moorgate. Map

This sprawling (and remarkably easy to get lost in) late Brutalist development houses the wonderful Barbican centre, the largest performing arts centre in Europe and home of the London Symphony Orchestra. The accompanying Barbican Estate gives you the impression of being in a Brutalist theme park. Though voted ‘the ugliest building in London’ in 2003 by some dullards, the tranquil waterside setting, complete with fountains and swaying reeds, renders it positively romantic. The soaring towers and vast concrete volumes are also nicely contrasted by the warmly-coloured tiled paving.

A highly recommended 90 minute architectural tour is available.

Trellick Tower
Nearest tube: Westbourne Park. Map

Designed by the wonderfully-named Erno Goldfinger (Ian Fleming appropriated his surname for the Bond villain, much to the architect’s chagrin), the equally loved and loathed Trellick Tower rears up majestically from west London and has featured extensively in television, music promos and film as well as appearing on mugs, bookends and t-shirts. The approach via Westbourne Park tube can take you through the charmingly named Meanwhile Gardens; apart from being pleasantly verdant, the view from the gardens gradually reveals Trellick Tower in all its splendour.

If you like what you see, check out the Brownfield Estate (nearest tube All Saints DLR, Map), where you can see three iconic Brutalist structures — Balfron Tower, Glenkerry House and Carradale House — for the price of one.

Southbank Centre complex and National Theatre
Nearest tube: Embankment/Waterloo. Map

This bold cultural behemoth has been compared to a nuclear reactor and an overgrown car park, and is often as confusing to navigate as an Escher painting. However, its complex and imposing concrete volumes have many fans and there is an enormous amount to see and do in and around it. Have a good look at the texture of the concrete and you will see a variety of finishes, including the imprints left by the wood ‘shuttering’ (moulds) when the concrete was cast in situ. The Skylon restaurant, housed on the first floor of the Royal Festival Hall has wonderful views over the Thames and is recommended.

Camden Town Hall Annexe
Nearest tube: Kings Cross. Map

Apparently this distinctly curvy (for Brutalism) and attractive building has been earmarked for redevelopment (i.e to be demolished) so go and have a look at it while it still stands.

Built during the late period of Brutalism, The eye-catching curved corner windows illustrate how architects were beginning to move away from the more block-like structures of the Massive period.

Alexandra Road Estate
Nearest tube: Swiss Cottage. Map

A high-density, low-rise housing project, this Grade ll listed building is mounted on rubber pads to minimize noise from the busy railway alongside it. Presumably the relative scarcity of windows on the side facing the tracks, greatly adding to its monumental appearance, was also designed with noise reduction in mind.

The best view of this arresting stadium-like aspect is from Abbey Road, just to the west of the estate as it crosses the railway lines.

Institute of Education, Bedford Way
Nearest tube: Russell Square. Map

Completed in 1979, Sir Denys Lasdun’s enormous structure puts the ‘massive’ into Massive period Brutalism. The huge concrete service towers are highly characteristic of Lasdun’s style but here they are elegantly married with long lines of dark tinted glass windows which hark back to the earlier, pre-Brutalist, International style. A gorgeous hunk of a building, the classic view of it is from the south west corner of Tavistock Square, just to the north.

Ministry of Justice
Nearest tube: St James’s Park. Map

Truly colossal, Basil Spence’s building was accused by Lord St John of Fawsley of ruining St James Park. However, it has a particularly impressive aspect when viewed from the southern area of the park. Unmistakably Massive period brutalist, the cantilevered projection near the top is said to have been inspired by medieval Italian fortresses according to Alexander Clement in his excellent book, Brutalism: Post-war British architecture.

St Giles Hotel
Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road. Map

If you are an out-of-towner and are looking for somewhere to stay in London, how about the thoroughly Brutalist St Giles Hotel? It’s handily located for visiting the many Brutalist buildings in central London. The building comprises four large cantilevered towers with the windows cleverly arranged on sawtooth projections allowing lots of natural daylight and a good view from every room.

 

If you fancy getting up-close and personal with a few of the buildings, a short tour is easily possible. Start at King’s Cross to admire Camden Town Hall Annexe on Euston road opposite the station, then take a short walk south to the Brunswick Centre on Hunter Street. Just west of this is London University on Bedford Way. Afterwards make for Tottenham Court Road and head south along it; you will pass St Giles Hotel on your left shortly before arriving at Centre Point.

Text and photographs by Toby Bricheno; @TobyBricheno

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  • http://twitter.com/cmc1985 Christopher Calvert

    How could you miss the Archway Tower? Surely one of the best/worst examples of brutalist architecture! http://www.flickr.com/photos/albedo/3626014372/

    Erm… beautiful :-)

    • Toby

      Nice choice Christopher! It is certainly imposing, but the relative lack of raw concrete and prepoderenace of glazing reminds me a lot of the International Style – perhaps it should be classed as an International/Brutalist hybrid?

    • Jeane Trend-Hill

      Oh God yes, I had to work in Archway Tower sometimes, it was dire!

  • thomass

    Not massive but Lambeth Towers deserves a mention! 

  • http://twitter.com/Concrete_Geek Charlotte Illsley

    What a great blog. Interesting to learn about the stories of the buildings that most of us never even appreciate. 

  • rp

    and no Citibank tower in Lewisham!

  • http://twitter.com/beefqueen beefqueen

    As Centrepoint was included, worth pointing out its precursor, One Kemble Street in Holborn – similar to Centrepoint (look at the windows) but smaller and round. 

    • Toby

      Excellent suggestion! Not too far from Centre Point too if you would like to compare and contrast.

  • VisionsofCody

    Brixton Barrier! http://www.urban75.org/brixton/features/barrier.html

  • gerrrman

    Sampson House is brrrrutal

  • James

    Ludgate House deserves a mention. It’s brutalistic, but doesn’t look anywhere near as concrete slabby as some of the others listed! 

    • Dean Nicholas

       Ludgate House, Brutalist? Pish posh, it’s as art deco as the day is long.

    • HHGeek

      Ludgate House is a tribute to the previous home of the Daily Express, the wondrous deco building in Fleet Street. Nothing remotely brutalist about it, not least the lack of concrete.

  • Tommaso Dimitri

    Off to Hackney Road..I <3 it :)

  • http://twitter.com/Exploring20CLdn 20th Century London
    • Toby

      There was a fascinating (and enjoyably 70s-tastic ) short documentary about Sir Basil on Sky Arts the other day. It’s also on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiparXjr-UI

      • Martin_Schwoerer

        thanks for posting this beautiful video!

  • Jean-Michel Genre

    Good work – many of these buildings are unjustly maligned…if you can look beyond the concrete some of the forms are beautiful. Good article (doffs cap).

  • slowsnail

    The Goldfinger building is being refurbished, with new bathrooms and kitchens by the housing association, HARCA. They claim it is one of the most expensive refurbishments by a housing association. But guess what, despite the promise years ago, as part of the deal to go from Council to Housing Association, along with a display flat showing its new kitchen and bathroom… the present tenants are being decanted and not allowed to return… the flats are going to the ultra rich, replacing the present, diverse east end community! Who said Housing Associations believe in community!

  • slowsnail

    Sorry I forgot to say it was the Goldfinger building, Balfron Tower!

  • http://twitter.com/dgbdgb dgbdgb

    Could add Salters Hall see http://www.saltershall.com/history.php on Fore Street in the City of London which dates to 1976, and is another Sir Basil Spence work. 

  • TA

    Park Tower Hotel in Knightsbridge 
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/shields_t/529767022/

  • Paul Wixon

    Ah Toby, loving your work here: “voted ‘the ugliest building in London’ in 2003 by some dullards”

    Is it just me or does the phrase “Massive Period Brutalism” sounds like a description of domestic violence?

    I think the only one I didn’t know (and love) from this list was: the Institute of Education on Bedford Way. How could I miss it? I commuted past it by bike most days for a year!?

  • Martindickie

    What about the grime-stained tower of London Metropolitan University in Holloway Road? Great list btw!

  • Tomedwall@hotmail.com

    Priory green estate worth a mention

    • Toby

      Definitely. Glad to hear it’s cleaned up its act recently too!

  • Toby

    If you’d like to find out more about some of the conecpts about Brutalist housing, there’s a short and charmingly low budget documentary here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/davehillblog/2011/jun/22/london-new-brutalism-film-appreciation

  • Chris Duncan

    Keeling House not on the list? Insanity.

    • Toby

      Yes Chris I’m afraid it isn’t but I’m very glad that you have mentioned it. Denys Lasdun’s work is already well represented on the list and I wanted to include a variety of architects, hence it’s omission.

  • Adrian

    I’d make a bid for the Centenary Building at City University London. Originally built as an electronics lab, now used as lecture theatres… 
    http://www.buildington.co.uk/buildings/london_ec1/northampton_square/centenary_building/id/1569

  • Thom Chesshyre

    how on earth could you forget Robin Hood Gardens?  Not to mention Trellick Tower’s twin brother, Balfron…

    • Toby

      I was wondering when someone was going to mention Robin Hood Gardens! I had to leave quite a few famous buildings out in order to include some less well-known examples and also to keep the list to a manageable length. However, Balfron Tower is actually mentioned; it’s included in the description of Trellick Tower Thom.

    • HHGeek

      Love Robin Hood Gardens. A shame that local development has put paid to any appreciation, and the godwawful road system around there must have denied any joy in living there.

  • Giuseppegazerro

    the only building in London which is really *ugly* is the Shell tower opposite (or in front?) of the London Eye

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/OKEONAMLFIOS5WI7MPQY6SXBCQ IRMO

    You Londoners can boast of the quantity of brutalist building you have, but it’s we, the people of Boston, who can boast of the creme de la creme in beton brut: a building that has driven people to self immolation.

  • bdadoun

    For those who have seen it, the interior of SOAS library is pretty damn brutalist. I love it as an observer, but slabs of grey concrete are not always what you want to be surrounded by when revising for exams!

  • Fiend’s Brave Victim

    bdadoun: Try the library at the Gulbenkian foundation in Lisbon—the whole building is brutalist-luxe, built with private money rather than the public-funded and therefore poorly constructed brutalist buildings that partly got them their poor reputation. Warm murals, thick carpets throughout. It’s a cathedral to the industrial Enlightenment, I can’t imagine a more productive place to revise.

    • Toby

      I couldn’t agree more; I visited the Gulbenkian a few years ago and it’s a wonderful building in a beautiful setting.

  • GaryF

    So depressing. Knock them all down!

  • GHBone

    Er, no mention of Guys Tower yet? Best building in London. It seems to me that the main reason the Shard has been built is to screen it from the eyes of precious north Londoners…

  • Jeane Trend-Hill

    Have to say I’m quite fond of Trellick Tower – not when I had to visit someone on the top floor when the lifts were out, but other than that………….

  • Jesse

    I live in Balfron Tower, Erno Goldfinger’s precursor/test run to Trellick tower. Despite how ugly the building and the surrounding Brownfield estate is from outside, the interiors are extremely well thought out. I’ve seen cross-section plans and floor-plans of the building and it is labyrinthine. 

    Walking around the building and sometimes lying in bed or looking out from the balcony (every flat has one) you can’t help but feel a sense of awe for the genius of this brutes remarkable sensitivity to the needs of it’s residents. Large kitchens and Living rooms bathed with light, and well insulated from neighbours noise.As someone mentioned above, it’s a crime that all the tenants are being kicked out and the refurbished flats being sold to the rich. Another testament to the nonsense, that neighbour Canary Wharf has had a trickle down effect on the surrounding area.

    • stuart crundwell

      I live there now and I love it! The tower itself has a kind of brooding quality about it. As you say the interiors are well designed. Everyone who comes here loves it too. Sadly we are all leaving soon. The whole area seems to be undergoing a makeover probably in preparation for some kind of sell off.

  • Conrad

    Luder’s Eros House, Catford. London Zoo’s Casson Pavilion. Gibberd’s leisure complex at Fulwell Cross. St George’s Fields (also by Hodgkinson). Alton Estate in Roehampton. Thamesmead. 78 South Hill Park. Camberwell College of Arts extension. Fenwick’s, Brent Cross. The south buildings of Kings College (backing onto Temple Place), and the Maltravers St office complex next to it.

    Personally I wouldn’t call the Royal College of Physicians ‘Brutalist’, it’s too sleek.

  • Fiend’s Brave Victim

    Eros House is crap though really, not RG’s best work by a mile. At least someone had the foresight to list something of the man’s work though—everything else of this era is all but gone with the demolition of Trinity Centre and Rocket in Gateshead. 

  • Conrad

    I disagree, it has some character to it; although, on reflection, I prefer his Hendon Hall Court (staying in London).

  • Sean

    The Aylesbury estate, Walworth

  • Youandme

    Demolish the lot – completely pig ugly.

  • manabouttown

    Robin Hood Gardens anyone? Demolished for soon to be but still classic Brutalism brought to you by Smithson, its iconic and shouldn’t go!

    Any students out there, Brutalism is a fantastic subject for your dissertation.

  • jack

    looking further afield Cables Wynd House in Leith is well worth a shout:
    1141851
    250px-LeithBananaFlats.jpg

  • http://twitter.com/JacquesShaw Jacques Shaw

    Brutalism in itself is…. Ok, I guess. But about 75% of the buildings based on the aesthetics are, to be quite honest, horrid (And that includes the
    Unity Residential!). But the worse thing about it are the fans of it. Take note that if any criticism is made against buildings of these kind, pro-Brutalists WILL
    call you a “luddite”, most likely while wearing a pastel blazer and
    listening to “indie” music. This will happen even if it is the single
    ugliest building known to man.

  • Over the River

    We have a few Brutalist-style buildings in Washington, DC USA and they fall in and out of favor. The headquarters building of our Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) stands as a classic example. Budget problems kept it from having a marble veneer, so it stands with exposed concrete facing Pennsylvania Avenue.

  • Gabby

    Acland Burghley School on Burghley Road in NW5, built in the 60s, I would think it qualifies, although a lot of more recent buildings seem to have ganged up on it. I’ve been trying to find out who the original architects were.

  • Zappa

    Spurs West stand, 1981 by Mather and Nutter, with it’s long horizontal lines emphasised by exposed aggregate spandrel panels, exposed grey brickwork internally and brown aluminium glazing to the boxes and main entrance.

  • PingPing

    Love the lecture center at Brunel Uni, a lot of the campus is pretty brutalist too, its a shame some of it has been rebuilt. I live quite near it & have always loved the buildings there, It makes me happy that I now study there & can look at the lecture centre every day :)

    • PingPing

      I also love that it was in a clockwork orange
      in fact as a Civil Engineering student, i have my lab in tower D & lectures in the lectures center wich were both locations for the film

      • HHGeek

        & have you indulged in the age old Brunel practice of watching the film & trying to work out which room in the halls of residence is used for Alex’s hospital stay?

  • Martin

    If you like post war architecture, then pop along to see the new Exhibition at the Wellington Arch – even if you don’t, the photos are amazing. http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/wellington-arch/exhibitions-at-the-arch/current-exhibition/