Exploring Brutalist Architecture in Boston

Exploring Brutalist Architecture in Boston

Like many of the dated styles currently undergoing popular revival—’70s bell-bottoms, 80’s Memphis, and ’90s flannel among them—Brutalism has gone through its fair share of fanfare, and likewise revulsion. The architectural movement first arrived in the 1950’s as an extension of modernist ideals, then newly rendered in concrete. (Its name, in fact, stems from beton brut.

French for “raw concrete.”) In the form of government buildings, hospitals, and public housing, it was once the marker of the prosperous urban boom—that is, until around the end of the ’70s, when a backlash set in.

“Originally seen to reflect the democratic attitudes of powerful civic expression—authenticity, honesty, directness, strength—the forceful nature of Brutalist architecture came to signify precisely the opposite: hostility, coldness, inhumanity,” says Boston-based architect and curator Chris Grimley, coeditor of the newly published Brutalist Boston Map.

Yet somehow, popular opinion has once again changed course, and Brutalism is now regarded less as an eyesore and once again as a stroke of genius (as evidence: a sea of well-followed fan Tumblr and Instagram accounts).

For concrete enthusiasts seeking in-person encounters with Brutalist buildings, Blue Crow Media’s Brutalist Boston Map provides both a travel companion and mini encyclopedia, charting the locations, dates, and histories of more than 40 various architectural gems. These include the graceful curves of Paul Rudolph’s 1971 Government Service Center, a “tour de force in bush-hammered concrete,” according to Grimley, as well as the checkered 1977 Madison Park High School, a little-known collaboration between Marcel Breuer and Tician Papachristou.

For intrepid concrete enthusiasts, the Brutalist map series also extends to Washington, D.C., London, Paris, and Sydney. The other plus side to this renewed interest in these once-hated structures is that after decades of neglect, local governments are now reconsidering their preservation and reuse, giving them some much-needed TLC.