Better-known for country houses, coastlines and cream teas, a series of pop-up openings of concrete Brutalist buildings of the 1960s may seem a significant departure for the National Trust.
However, for 10 days from Friday 25th September, the Trust is shining a light on a number of buildings across the nation exposing the significance of Brutalism, a movement that altered the landscape of Britain’s urban environment post war. As part of the celebration, the National Trust is leading a UK-wide series of exclusive tours of Brutalist architecture in London, Sheffield and Norwich.
National Trust and Southbank Centre are joining forces to offer behind-the-scenes access to the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery. Visitors will get a unique view of the original fixtures and fittings, spaces never-before seen by the public, to mark the start of a two-year refurbishment programme of the 1960s buildings. These tours will explore the Festival of Britain, Brutalism and Modernism.
Visitors will be led through underground tunnels, onto stages, into ventilation rooms, and above performance spaces, examining the roles of form and function in the vision, construction and reception of these buildings. Other tour locations include Sheffield’s Park Hill Estate and the University of East Anglia in Norwich.
Park Hill, known for its famous ‘streets in the sky’, is Europe’s largest listed building and is undergoing extensive renovations by award winning property developer Urban Splash. The celebrated campus of the University of East Anglia is considered iconic in its use of Brutalist sharp angles, rough concrete surfacing and exposed services in order to create functional and honest architecture.
The legacy of Brutalism is currently undergoing a critical reappraisal. Heroic and controversial at its outset, it was widely dismissed by many commentators as an unsightly imposition on the public by an out-of-touch design elite. Most specifically, critics claimed when used for social housing it failed to address social realities and contributed to societal ills.
A self-consciously experimental approach to architectural composition, it has always excited debate Today, its defenders argue that the shortcomings of the movement owed far more to the poor implementation of their vision in terms of management and servicing of the buildings. Its austere aesthetic is widely appreciated, particularly by younger audiences.
The National Trust’s Brutal Utopias seeks to foster this debate and engage the public with these buildings which, like them or not, now are as much part of our national architectural heritage as a vernacular farm house or a Palladian mansion.
For all tour information, and to book tickets visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/london