Brutalism, Bauhaus, Biden


Before he left the White House, Donald Trump signed an executive order that banned any future Federal buildings being built in a Brutalist style.  

It was a bizarre choice considering that Brutalism as a design method has been over for 40 years, but this clearly didn’t register. This maligned view of concrete was another example of why existing great Brutalist buildings on both sides of the Atlantic, which could be successfully repurposed and reused, are often the victims of demolition.  

On this topic I felt compelled to write a letter to the FT Weekend following a recent article which brilliantly covered this story. 

My message in that letter was that President Joe Biden would do well to embrace European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s ambition to create a new Bauhaus movement to inspire designers for a net zero world.  

Brutalism may be long gone, but a Bauhaus movement for 2021 would require a new appreciation of materials and attitude to craft, as well as embedding sustainability at is heart from the outset.

A new Bauhaus would not require a departure from materials like concrete that were so integral to the original movement, but rather provide new opportunities for its use, new innovations in manufacture, or simply build on its role in reducing carbon over the whole life of a building.

Embrace this and we might move beyond the misconceptions of concrete that are partly driving the careless destruction of great buildings that could often so easily be repurposed. 

Far from being anachronistic, this material provides opportunities for creativity, and a way of building safe, comfortable and energy efficient buildings that can be adapted, reused and recycled as part of a net zero society. 

The UK concrete and cement industry’s ambitious ‘Roadmap to Beyond Net Zero’ is clear about this commitment and the significant decarbonisation that has already been achieved in the UK. 

The reality is that all governments, businesses and people need to change behaviours and finance a net zero society. Perhaps a new Bauhaus for our times could provide a design and cultural movement that we can all unite behind. 

By Elaine Toogood, Head of Architecture, The Concrete Centre