9 Examples of Brutalist Architecture in Film | Architectural Digest


Plenty of architectural styles bring the drama, but few do it so immediately as brutalist architecture. Graphic, dramatic, and, to some, (pick your poisonous adjective) ominous, hulking, or depressing, brutalist buildings—large, angular, solid concrete structures—have become a reliable cinematic set piece, capable of providing an instant mood and suggesting an entire universe.

Although brutalist architecture may provide the visual equivalent of a smack upside the head, the term wasn’t intended to suggest a viewer-brutalizing effect. Rather, “brutalism” was a play on the French term béton brut (raw concrete), reflecting the buildings’ main construction material, left unfinished. The intention of the pioneering brutalist architects—Alison and Peter Smithson—was to make architecture more “honest” and organic, a response to the slick glass towers of modernism. (Ironic, considering that brutalist buildings have become so ingrained with fictional worlds on film.) If a building is mostly made of concrete, they said, why hide the concrete between glass curtains: Bring it forward, make it focal. The effect on artists’ imaginations was heavier than the originators envisioned.

Many of the initial clients for architects championing brutalism were municipalities and institutions pressured to expand during the booming ’50s and ’60s. It’s why so many government headquarters, university buildings, libraries, and public housing projects were built in the brutalist style. And it’s also possibly a reason filmmakers started realizing that these significant, streamlined, shadow-casting edifices set a certain tone.

Brutalism as a popular architectural style petered out in the ’70s, shortly around the time brutalist buildings first began to appear on screen as sci-fi representations of a dystopian or authoritarian future. Coincidence? Maybe. And although brutalism is a hugely controversial architectural style today—loudly derided as ugly and passionately defended as unique—brutalist buildings still help get moviegoers’ hearts racing and stomachs dropping.

Below, take a look at 10 examples of brutalist architecture captured on film.

Alphaville (1965)

A scene from Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville.

Photo: United Archives GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo



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