In 1955 Reyner Banham wrote an essay titled The New Brutalism, focusing on a recent Alison and Peter Smithson project. The complex, a public school, plainly displayed its own construction materials, such as brick, concrete, and steel. The term brutalism can be misleading, in that it is derived from the French term beton brut, meaning exposed or raw concrete. Many people have assumed it refers to a kind of anti-aesthetic, to a perceived “ugliness” in the architecture (it evokes the Italian word for ugly: brutto).
Beton brut and brutalism can be considered a building philosophy based on a search for beauty in raw construction materials and traces of fabrication; for instance, concrete formwork impressions. In the 1960s and 70s, a period of late modernism that saw a proliferation of “styles”, it was taken up by a number of architects and applied to a wide range of building typologies. Some of the most notable examples were large public commissions and university campus projects in the US, Europe and Latin America, and in many cases the brutalist “style” came to be associated with the ideological systems of the governments that commissioned these buildings, ranging from the British welfare state to the Brazilian dictatorship.
Other structures have accumulated these associations long after construction. This is the case with Clorindo Testa’s masterpiece, the Banco de Londres in Buenos Aires, which now houses the national bank, and has become a symbol of the damage wrought in Argentina by global neoliberalism. An association with this model of global commerce—a system that leaves entire populations vulnerable to private speculation—or alternately, an association with a Latin American totalitarian regime, seems to place the idea of brutality at the heart of brutalism.
Monument Brutal peels fragments from the concrete facades of these buildings and brings them into the examination room—the museum, the gallery—for the viewer’s scrutiny and analysis. The heavy concrete details, carefully reproduced, are laid on the floor in gravitational repose. These fragments are removed from their original context to allow viewers to study whether their acquired meaning continues to hold, whether they continue to represent in the same way after they are brought into the museum—hardly a neutral space, but the most neutral we have for the examination of cultural artifacts. The fragment becomes a monument in that it stands for or represents something else. But what this monument symbolizes is open to debate: The building philosophy of modern architecture? The commissioning regime or corporation? Creative audacity?
For the MACBA exhibition Nonument, I am showing a scale model of Monument Brutal based on a fragment from Testa’s façade. The model is accompanied by documentation of the original building and a short project description. This is a maquette version of the work, which will be presented full-scale in the future.