Carte Brute Feature & Interview, Maisons et Ambiances, 2021. Explore more on Heartbrut.com

Maisons et Ambiances Magazine

Two-Page Interview & Feature

Destinations

Concrete has never been so on-trend. Prada and Yeezy, the brand of rapper Kanye West, hold their fashion shows at the headquarters of the French Communist Party in Paris, the legendary work of Oscar Niemeyer. We take selfies at Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation in Marseille. And when we go to the Barbican in London today, it’s more for the building than the exhibitions. What was an architectural nightmare for some has become a successful hashtag. In Switzerland, the map CARTE BRUTE by HEARTBRUT shows the brutalist face of our country in 50 buildings. A meeting with its creator, Zurich-based writer and photographer Karin Bürki.

What is brutalism?

Karin Bürki: A Brutalist building is usually made of exposed, reinforced concrete. Its forms are massive and angular, and its appearance is often austere. The origins of the movement are attributed to Le Corbusier for his post-war buildings, such as the Unité d’habitation in Marseille (1947-1952). But it was the British couple Peter and Alison Smithson, in the 1950s, who defined the term in relation to the material left unfinished.

 

Born out of the ruins of the post-war years, Brutalism espoused an egalitarian ethic. Concrete allowed for quick and inexpensive reconstruction, providing a much-needed solution to the demand for large-scale (social) housing as cities expanded. Architects around the world embraced this field of experimentation, and the trend prevailed between the 1950s and 1980s. Then disillusionment set in. The ugliness of Brutalism was denounced, even condemned as inhuman. Today, young creatives are once again enthusiastic about these works, which they tend to find online.

Indeed, #brutalism is a hit on social media. According to critic Alice Rawsthorn its digital success is due in part to its pixelated texture. You are also very active on Instagram with your account @heartbrut_official. How would you explain its appeal?

KB: Brutalism and photography go hand in hand. The images are very geometric and expressive, yet easy on the eye. These are all qualities that are very popular on social media. The heightened materiality of the buildings probably also holds an ‘exotic’ fascination for a generation that has grown up in a dematerialised digital culture. When I first started posting pictures of Brutalist architecture on my Instagram account, I was struck by the wide range of people who were interested in it. Brutalism seems to strike a chord across all ages and profiles. In real life, concrete buildings polarise opinion, but online the opposite happens. Ironically, Brutalism is a great common denominator on Instagram!

In 2018, you published “Brutalist Beauties No 1”, a limited edition of postcards featuring buildings from London and Zurich. In your new card, CARTE BRUTE, you present 50 objects from all over Switzerland. Were you able to observe a specifically Swiss Brutalist style while photographing them?

KB: Yes. I think it is characterised by a certain pragmatism and meticulousness of execution, resulting in a style that is neat rather than rough. Swiss architects tended to explore the nobility of concrete rather than its roughness, creating a synthesis between technical and purely rationalist expression and artistic ambition. The spectrum is wide, however, ranging from the austere box to the grand architectural gesture.

What do you think is THE brutalist destination in this country?

KB: Without hesitation: Basel and its surroundings. It is the perfect place to discover the richness of our Brutalist heritage. There are as many historic buildings to discover as there are more recent ones: The St Anthony’s church, designed by Karl Moser in 1927, was the first church in Switzerland to be built in reinforced concrete. I also recommend a visit to Hermann Baur’s Masonry Hall (1961), arguably the most beautiful concrete origami in the world. Lovers of contemporary architecture should visit the Helsinki Dreispitz residential tower (2014) by Herzog and de Meuron in Münchenstein. Take a trip to the region around Basel to see the famous Goetheanum (1928) in Dornach and the Neumatt School (1962) in Aesch.

And your favourite?

KB: La Tulipe, in Geneva. I think of it as a crystal that has fallen to earth. It is also a world apart from the masculine asceticism that characterises most of the Brutalist buildings in this country. It is a rare and radical celestial object in the Swiss cosmos.

Karin Bürki: A Brutalist building is usually made of exposed, reinforced concrete. Its forms are massive and angular, and its appearance is often austere. The origins of the movement are attributed to Le Corbusier for his post-war buildings, such as the Unité d’habitation in Marseille (1947-1952). But it was the British couple Peter and Alison Smithson, in the 1950s, who defined the term in relation to the material left unfinished.

 

Who are the contemporary figures of brutalism to follow in Switzerland?

KB: If we’re talking about expressive architecture, inspired by the “all-over-rough” texture of brutalism, I would cite Herzog and de Meuron of course, but also Buchner Bründler, Gus Wüstemann, or Valerio Olgiati.