BRIEF THESIS PROJECT

My interest for the topic of my thesis project started during the research for my dissertation about brutalism and a brutalist interior. During this search I figured out why I love brutalism so much and why I have such a big interest in this style.  

I like the way tower blocks are communities where all different kind of people are living and sharing at least one common thing, the tower, their building. The way this whole movement became an evolution of a certain way of thinking, of how we live together and how different cultures are brought together. 

It was all about the utopian belief in making new cities, making cities within cities and making a city within a building, creating high-density buildings. It’s about creating communities within a building.  

Aside from the positive thoughts the high-rise brutalist buildings brought with them, there were also a lot of negative critiques about these structures.  

Paved walking trails are pretty common in brutalist building projects. These ‘air paths’ for pedestrians were often places of criminality. Because of bad maintenance there were filthy slums, juvenility and the scary bits of society. In the end brutalism was often associated with poverty.  

Councils rehoused people from streets and neighbourhood communities, often breaking up extended families and destroying social links. The intimate association of house and street was ruptured. In particular, it meant that parents could not easily monitor children’s playtime.  

Peter Chadwick once said that there is this negative redundant space around the building which prompts anti-social behaviour. I can agree with that because I live in a 7- floor high brutalist tower block and I don’t know the people I live with because there is a lack of communication between the community. This is because there is not enough space, or at least space intended to start conversation. So first I thought about approaching this problem by creating little interventions within the communal spaces like the entrance, the elevator, the ‘air path’ and the roof. But this would become a too small scaled project, almost like a furniture installation.  

That’s when I started thinking on a largely bigger-scale idea. I wanted to reflect the positive and improve the negative elements of the brutalist high-rise interior into a similar structure. That’s when I came to the idea of a car park.  

You can’t go more brutal then a car park. A car park is designed for heavy and shifting loads of moving vehicles and the structures are made of heavy, chunky concrete. The structure of the building is left without any redundant ornaments. The building is there purely for its function. It is literally just stacking up floors vertically.  

Rethinking the function of a car park in London is actually something to really think about, especially in the nearby future. London is the most expensive city in the world to park your car. London has low levels of car ownership and it’s declining over the years because fewer young people in London consider having a car a necessity. Is there still a need for car parks? And what happens with them if they aren’t needed anymore?  

So I stranded upon this beautiful car park in Lewisham in South-East London, which is attached to a shopping centre. Lewisham is situated between Greenwich and Southwark. Why specifically that one? I had never been to Lewisham, but my practise mentor gave me the idea, because Lewisham is apparently upcoming and there is a planned regeneration of Lewisham town centre. A lot of new buildings are popping up and there are a lot of construction sites. I took the trainThe car park is within a 4-minute walk from the station. What shocked me is that there’s a waiting list of 14,000 people for council housing in Lewisham. So I really want my design to be council housing.  

In this car park I want to apply something of the way of the brutalist heroism to the idea of a new kind of interior, an improved brutalist interior, a Neo-Utopian interior.  

The built environment can be a challenging place for all of us, at every age and stage in our lives – whether as a child, adult, disabled, non-disabled, as part of our ageing population. How the home is affected as lifestyle and social/economic structures change through a life cycle is still a big challenge with the range of housing currently available. How does life changes from child to adult to old age affect the way we live? How does this approach the political and socio-economic side of living.  

In Belgium there is a new trend that’s called ‘Kangaroo Building’. The principle of kangaroo living is simple: old and young under one roof. The formula means that a younger couple moves in with an older couple. The original house has been converted into two separate dwellings. This has many advantages. For example, many young families that are inhibited by the high land and construction prices, can build. Older people, for whom their home is often too big when the kids are out of the house, can continue to live together "at home". In a broader sense, this means kangaroo is a win-win situation. The two entities enjoy each other's proximity and support each other. They retain their privacy and can still be assured that there is always someone nearby. As a resident of a kangaroo house, you decide how to live together-and-touch-apart- organizes.  

I want to propose a concept, plan, strategy, and building form that can work for people of all ages, paying particular attention to personal, social and economic changes in people’s lives over time. The aim is to foster more inclusive intergenerational communities. The multi-generation module will be designed to be inclusive for all, and can accommodate varied and changing life styles over time.  

It will be all about understanding the people – their needs, their concerns, and what they really want from a building – and engaging the more social aspects of the built environment that others overlook.  

It will be a concept that addresses the use of space throughout our lifecycle 

I will do this on the 3th, 4th and 5th floor of the car park and take sections as the Trellick Tower and Unite d’Habitation as inspiration.  

As my Artefact I created a construction of tetris-shaped blocks in different materials which are aging in 3 stages. “Generations” come in contact with each other and the open space between them is communal space to engage communication.  

DISSERTATION - CONCLUSION

Why is it that brutalist architecture knows an upswing these days? Because of the transcendent architecture, its heroic attitude and the way these buildings dominate their surroundings 

Maybe there is the additional possibility that younger people might have gotten a little bored with the sleek towers and bland quality of a lot of new architecture. We are unconsciously falling in love with the nostalgic aspect of the movement and the fascination for concrete.  

Brutalist buildings function well when things are shared, when there is a social cohesion, because that’s what the architects intended. This shows particularly in the tower blocks and high density building schemes with shared amenities. That’s what is part of the philosophy of the development: a sense that apartments are for immediate functional needs, whilst the cultural and social components of living are out ‘in the open’.  

Nowadays, most buildings are either for corporate use or impossibly expensive apartments in the private sector. In the Barbican there is a ‘public’ feeling in a way that very few modern developments have. This is of course an illusion, because the apartments are private and very expensive, but there is a sort of welcoming quality to the public space and a sense of exploration in three dimensions. This is certainly because of the beautiful open public terrace, the public arts centre and the path walks.  

When brutalism started, it was everywhere and in everything. All things were brutal, all things were concrete. Today, brutalism is still alive. Nowadays, it doesn’t only use concrete, but also adds steel, glass and other materials. Architects still design and build brutalist buildings.  

Architects like LiebeskindMies Van Der Rohe and even Zaha Hadid call themselves modernists, but are in a way also brutalists. They have a certain brutalist attitude and aesthetic in the use of powerful, repetitive graphic shapes 

During this search about why there is a revival I figured out why I love brutalism so much and why I have such a big interest in this style. I love the abstract, clean, geometric forms that are used, the story of repetition, the maze-like feeling. I like the way tower blocks are communities where all different kind of people are living and sharing at least one common thing: the tower, their building. The way this whole movement became an evolution of a certain way of thinking, of how we live together and how different cultures are brought together. When you’re on the balcony of a tower block you feel like you’re part of something larger.  

I associate the Stoic cool of Brutalism with the fact that we are looking to the essence today. Materialism has had its day and sobriety and tranquillity are the new luxury. The building and its construction is shown for what it is and celebrates its simplicity and poetry.  

Nowadays the progressive brutalist architecture seems to get the recognition it deserves.  

After my whole research into what a brutalist Interior is, I found out that the question should not be ‘What is a brutalist Interior’, but should rather be ‘How could the spirit of brutalism be rendered in interior design?’. It’s difficult to define a brutalist interior, because every architect has a different approach to the interior design 

Brutalism is all about the impression of the outside: a chunky block of concrete in different shapes. The inside of tower blocks is not as impressive as the outside volume of concrete. It’s about creating more living surface, high-density housing. In tower blocks the interior is trying to create a liveable place within a small surface area. In Lampens’ house this is not the case: his houses are large dwellings built in a completely different context. In all cases however the architect tries to create a more spacious vibe by using big windows. The relationship between outside and inside feels really important. In the Barbican and Arlington House, the less important rooms (in the architect’s eyes) such as the hallway, the kitchen and the bathroom don’t deserve direct light and views to the outside. That’s where Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower created an excellent solution by bringing the light in every room. The same thing happens in the Lampens house. Because of the window play, he creates incidences of light in every place of the house.  

In the tower blocks, the designer let the owner decide how to furnish the flat. In the house Van WassenhoveJuliaan Lampens designed the totality, even the chairs. In both cases it’s almost impossible to change anything because of the structure. All the systems, like heating, ventilation, electrics, water and the rubbish disposal are processed in the building. The problem being that today, these systems are outdated, which creates difficulties.  

The outside is very dense and overwhelming, but because of the big windows becomes airy again. The same thing happens inside, so in a way the exterior is reflected into the interior. In the tower blocks there’s no cohesion between the exterior and the interior, but in the house Van Wassenhove there’s a complete cohesion between them. However, in a way they are also juxtaposed, because the house is a play of geometric forms and the landscape is organic.  

This idea goes beyond just the interior. For most of the brutalist architects it’s more a political statement they want to make by building these chunky concrete buildings and megastructures. It was all about the utopian belief in making new cities, making cities within cities and making a city within a building, creating high-density buildings. It’s about creating communities within a building. It’s about breaking loose with tradition. In most of the cases the exterior gets reflected into the interior. Brutalism goes back to the pre-historic way of thinking, of admiring the materials for their inherent qualities as they are found.  

The socialist organisations had great belief in the future, progress, technology and this all starts with understanding the world and its needs. Concrete symbolised this future and technology.  

This dissertation will be a starting point for next year’s project. I will try to apply something of the brutalist heroism to the idea of a new kind of interior.  

DISSERTATION - TRELLICK TOWER

To catch a glimpse of and feel the atmosphere of the Trellick Tower, I booked an AirBnb for one night. I booked a room in the flat of a very kind woman on the 18th floor. The apartment was a 4-persons flat with 2 bedrooms. The 2 bedrooms, the living area and the kitchen looked like they had about the same surface area and looked like squares. The owner of the place had kept the interior completely intact. I really liked and appreciated that she kept it the way it originally was. It’s just a really beautiful and authentic looking place. Everything is painted white; the floors, the walls and the ceiling.  

I could definitely see myself living in Trellick Tower. Everybody is very social and has a certain appreciation for the building. Waking up with the view from my room was amazing.  

This is my view of the Trellick Tower through the eyes of my camera… 

DISSERTATION - INTO BRUTALISM

My interest for the topic of my dissertation started at the beginning of my first master at the Royal College of Art. The whole year we did projects in Margate, an English east coast town. For the first semester I was assigned to the Arlington House, a significant brutalist tower block. After digging into the past and the architectural elements of the building I was intrigued by the brutalist way of building.  

This brought me to my first question: Why do I admire this style? How come I like these big heavy chunks of concrete? Is it because of the repetitive shapes? The material use? The brutalist aesthetic dates mainly from the 60s and 70s, and has become related to other celebrations of mid-century modern. Why does the brutalist style feel current and exciting for someone of my generation?  

I have also noticed I am not the only person interested in brutalism. At the beginning of 2016, several lectures about brutalism were programmed and a lot of books appeared about the subject. On trend websites brutalism was THE topic! There is a certain buzz, enough to speak of a brutalism revival. Which brings me to my second question: Why is there a revival of the brutalist movement? Brutalism is increasingly popular among students, designers, architects. Why is that? Could it be the ambitious scale of the projects or the emotional power of the forms that makes brutalism so attractive? Or is it the idea of living in a megastructure and sharing amenities? Or are there other reasons why brutalism is revisited by many architects, writers, etc., nowadays?  

After going to lectures and events, reading books and looking at a lot of photographs and hear people talking about brutalism, my last question is: What is a brutalist interior? Why are people always talking about brutalist architecture, but never about a brutalist interior? Does a typical brutalist interior even exist? Does it reflect the exterior? Is there a cohesion between the exterior and the interior?  

My dissertation was a search into the uprising trend of brutalism. It explored the idea of a brutalist interior mainly by looking at the interiors designed for Arlington House in Margate, the Barbican and the Trellick Tower in London and the house Van Wassenhove in Sint-Martens- Latem, Belgium.  

I wanted to try to understand what the design priorities of the time were and how they contributed to a way of living. It was also an inner search into what I admire about the brutalist way of building.  

In the next few blogs I will show some interior impressions from the The Barbican, the Trellick Tower and The House Van Wassenhove through pictures and will write a synopsis of my conclusion.