There is a place that can steal the odd look at the resounding, towering, 80-meter-high red brick neo-Gothic building that houses Saint Pancras train station, north London. Right in front of such a British icon, on Argyle Street, a red pill-shaped exterior elevator runs up and down the hotel’s 10 floors The Standard London. In addition to ensuring a until recently unprecedented view of the old station, its installation has given a pop touch to its own façade, which previously went completely unnoticed as a cold office block. It is another example of facelift to the brutalist architecture that the British city is carrying out in recent years. The first to celebrate are the many detractors of this postwar movement. With rough aesthetics and little or no elaborate materials, almost always limited to cement, steel and some glass, his proposal preferred to defend intellectual values close to socialist ideas rather than beauty. The idea did not last long, between the fifties and seventies of the last century, but its traces are still present in one of the capitals of world architecture. Here are some clues to appreciate them.
The Standard London
Dirección: 10 Argyle St., WC1H 8EG. Metro: King’s Cross y St. Pancras.
The architecture studio Orms has been responsible for creating the external identity of what is the first accommodation opened in Europe by the American hotel chain Standard International, opened in the spring of 2019. Rather than destroy the building, those responsible for this renovation preferred to maintain its legacy and add three upper floors in the form of modern lofts that break the monotony of forms of the facade. A slight change in the windows of its more than 200 rooms ended up taking away that honeycomb look, so common in brutalism. And the eye-catching elevator the color of telephone booths was added. But all these changes do not erase their past identity, they simply adapt it to modern times.
Dirección: 103 New Oxford St., WC1A 1DB. Metro: Tottenham Court Road.
Like The Standard London, the austerity of this 34-story tower that serves as a guiding beacon in the bustling Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street locks in unexpected luxury. In 2011, the studio of designer Sir Terence Conran, who passed away last September, was commissioned to build in the building of Center Point more than 80 new luxury apartments, accompanied by a swimming pool, movie theaters and spas for residents and their guests. After years of remodeling, Brexit stopped the sale of many of these apartments and, despite its lavish metamorphosis, it has been forced to repeat its own history. Designed by Swiss architect Richard Seifert in the 1960s, even its central location failed to attract enough companies to occupy what were then offices. The concrete monster became known among Londoners as “the empty skyscraper” and was seen as an affront to the thousands of homeless people in the city. A group of activists pretended to occupy it during a weekend in the mid-1970s and even founded an NGO with their name, the Centrepoint Charity, to make the situation of inequality more bloody.
Dirección: Silk St., Barbican, EC2Y 8DS. Metro: Barbican.
Much friendlier is the reality of this complex of ocher concrete buildings located north of the City, although its image is just as unappealing. El Barbican It is one of the largest cultural centers in Europe, as well as an architectural curiosity. Some of its moles look like twins from Madrid’s Torre de Valencia, which overlooks Retiro Park from O’Donnell Street. But the heads of the British institution are proud that its headquarters was chosen as the ugliest building in London in 2003 by the residents of the city, and they remember it every time they have the opportunity. Deep down, they are aware that experts value the revolutionary concept behind their ugliness. More than 4,000 homes are crowded around a huge interior patio, whose lake and vegetation manage to soften the exterior features that live up to its name: barbican means fortification. Classical music concerts, exhibitions, cinema screenings, restaurants and cafes also inhabit it. Its architects, the Chamberlin firm, Powell and Bon, decided to create a city within the city and Queen Elizabeth II inaugurated this urban experiment in 1982, after a long period of gestation. A couple of years later, Prince Charles publicly dismissed this trend during a memorable talk he gave at the Royal Institute of British Architects.
Address: Belvedere Rd., Bishop’s, SE1 8XX. Tube: Waterloo.
London’s brutalist epicenter is, again, also a cultural hotbed. On the south bank of the River Thames, near Waterloo, the Southbank Centre It is home to the lively and exquisite Hayward Gallery exhibition center and several concert halls, including the Royal Festival Hall, as well as the British Film Institute cinemas, which screen classics from all eras. And that’s why Londoners flock to these unattractive buildings time and time again. More than 4,000 events are held here each year, half of them free of charge – although their agenda is suspended as a result of the pandemic. Conceived in the 1960s by a group of architects from the London County Council, including some of the future founders of the British avant-garde group Archigram, the gigantic multi-block building filled with elevated walkways attracted the first few skaters from the United Kingdom, who found shelter under its concrete columns. Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and Archer Humphryes Architects’ award-winning restoration and renovation work a few years ago incorporated 21st century materials (and some color), both on and off their premises. Beside him, the brutalist National Theater, created by Denys Lasdun, also inspired kind comments from the heir to the British throne, who compared it to “a nuclear power station.” Is it the ethics or aesthetics of brutalism that offends Prince Charles so much?
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.