Concrete: A brief history

For some Brutalist buildings are things of beauty – for others, they are eyesores. Jonathan Meades looks back at the history of the material that divides.

In the 1950s and ‘60s concrete buildings began to rise up all around the world, as the school of architecture known as Brutalism flourished. Brutalism drew its name from its adherent’s material of choice: béton brut or raw concrete.

Jonathan Meades looks back to the ancient roots of concrete as a building material – to the Pantheon in Rome and the Pont du Gard in the south of France. After centuries of neglect, Victorian engineers began to take an interest in concrete again in the 19th Century, but it was in World War Two that the architectural potential of the material was realised and the future of 20th Century architecture was set.

The German architect Freidrich Tamms designed many military structures for the Nazi regime: flak towers, bunkers and other fortifications. What was revolutionary about Tamms’s martial buildings was his appreciation for “concrete’s plastic capacity, its potential as a sculptural medium,” says Jonathan Meades. He argues that the Nazi Tamms paved the way for Brutalism, which was to become one of the most important architectural styles of the post-war period.

Episode 1 of Jonathan Meades’ Bunkers and Brutalism screens on 22 and 23 August 2015 on BBC World News.

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