Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism.
With Brutal London: Construct Your Own Concrete Capital, recently published by Prestel, you can pop-out and build nine modernist London structures, from the circular 1960s Space House tower to the blocky 1976 National Theatre. Created by the Poland-based design studio Zupagrafika, which has also made papercraft projects for brutalism in Paris and the modernist Eastern Bloc of Warsaw, the book follows their release of standalone Brutal London models. They state in the book that the models’ “playful character helped break the perception of concrete estates as merely bleak reminders of the unfulfilled dreams of urban utopia.”
I wouldn’t be much of a brutalist model reviewer if I didn’t try to construct my own tiny concrete utopia. In a forward to Brutal London, architect Norman Foster recalls an early encounter with modeling: “My first memories are of a pop-out paper model of a circus my father built for me — it actually worked as well.” My own recollections of creating paper models are likewise distant, and my skill with crafting at a level generally between mediocre and mangling. Yet since the majority of the card stock models are basically big rectangles — thanks Le Corbusier for your Cité Radieuse influence — they’re not too complicated. Even the daunting 1970s Alexandra Road Estate with its diagonals of balconies, and the 1960s Balfron Tower with its suspended corridors, folded together with some patience. While I feel like the end results are a bit stark — a somber gathering of grey right-angles — working with the paper, I appreciated the little details such as small graffiti tags on the walls, and different colored curtain and satellite dishes on the miniature windows.
The model pages are preceded by some brief architecture history written by John Grindrod, author of Concretopia., with photographs of the real-life buildings by Peter Chadwick of This Brutal World. Many of the sites in Brutal London are post-World War II council estates, erected to supplant Industrial Revolution-era slums, and the rubble left by the Blitz. As with concrete modernism around the world, they’re now facing preservation challenges as they decay, and the rather stern grey façades are torn down for more modern buildings. Robin Hood Gardens, for instance, is planned to be demolished.
“Council estates are being lined up for redevelopment,” writes Grindrod. “The City of London too is losing most of its mid-century office developments — and the streets in the sky that linked them — as it moves to replace them with a glossy CGI landscape pulled straight from Inception. We should treasure our familiar landscape of post-war brutalism while we still have it.”
Brutal London: Construct Your Own Concrete Capital is out now from Prestel.