The sixth issue of the quarterly architecture journal Clog opens with Reyner Banham’s definitive 1955 essay, “The New Brutalism.” It lays out the basic tenets of what was, at the time of its writing, both a banner and a category for a “major contribution to the architecture of today.”
On Saturday, Clog celebrated the release of its latest issue, “Brutalism,” a 160-page investigation of the béton brut style that is increasingly the bête noire of architecture. Some 60 people gathered for the issue launch party at the Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association Gallery on Roosevelt Island, a site that editor Jacob Reidel describes as “a Brutalist town in the middle of the East River.”
The island may be dominated by the style, but “the jury's out on what actually defines Brutalism,” Reidel says. Even at Saturday’s launch party, Clog editors admitted defeat. “A difficulty we had as editors was defining the scope of Brutalism. Is it defined by an aesthetic, an ethic, an era, a geography?” says editor-in-chief Kyle May. (Clog is staffed by five editors and two assistant editors.) “As it is, defining styles is never easy—there are too many blurred boundaries—and Brutalism is particularly difficult in this respect."
A mini book at 5.5 by 8.5 inches, “Brutalism” comprises 68 different takes on the style’s definition, but also its history, the concrete that defines it, and demolition and the case for preservation. “We are very deliberate about the juxtaposition and grouping of individual pieces,” says editor Julia van den Hout. So Banham’s thesis is followed by four pieces of commentary on it, including essays by Anthony Vidler and Ben Highmore and a graphic illustrating the number of citations it has received up through 2012. Plates by Iwan Baan of Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh and by Andrew Kenney of Manhattan’s Brutalist buildings are in black and white, as are all text, graphics, and illustrations.
“This stripped down, un-designed aesthetic has been used for every issue, but it seems particularly relevant with the subject of Brutalism,” say editors and issue designers Archie Lee Coates IV and Jeff Franklin, who also run the design shop Playlab. The cover is made of chipboard, and they argue that this “evokes the rough and supposedly ‘honest’ ethos of Brutalism.”
While developers have threatened Brutalist structures with demolition for years, the editors at Clog believe the debate over poured concrete has been narrowcast. “Debates usually focus on a single project and fail to bring the wider context of Brutalism into the picture,” Reidel says. “It was our goal to provide an opportunity for a broader discussion.” And, they hope, a wider appreciation of the style.
Brutalism isn’t a new topic, but Clog is intent on ignoring “an endlessly changing architecture du jour”—whatever garners the most page views or shares from the rapid creation of digital architecture media. “Mere exposure has taken the place of thoughtful engagement, not to mention a substantive discussion,” its website argues. And so it’s the task of Clog—the journal’s moniker is also its ethos.