Brutalist Architecture in London: A Guide to the City’s Iconic Buildings

London’s brutalist architecture is a polarizing topic that divides opinions. The post-war architectural style, characterized by its clean lines and severe structures, is either loved or hated. However, for those who appreciate the style, London is a treasure trove of Brutalist architecture.

Some of the city’s most iconic buildings, such as The National Theatre, The Barbican, and The South Bank Centre, are excellent examples of Brutalist architecture. But there are also lesser-known gems waiting to be discovered, like The NLA Tower and Trellick Tower. In this article, we will explore some of the best Brutalist architecture in London and provide practical tips and a map to help visitors discover the city’s Brutalist treasures.

Key Takeaways

  • London is home to some of the world’s best Brutalist architecture.
  • The National Theatre, The Barbican, and The South Bank Centre are some of the most iconic Brutalist buildings in London.
  • Practical tips and a map are available to help visitors discover the city’s Brutalist treasures.

What is Brutalism?

Brutalism is an architectural style that emerged in the post-war era in the 1950s and gained popularity until the 1970s. It is characterized by the use of poured concrete or brick to create monolithic, blocky and severe styles and geometric structures.

One of the defining features of Brutalist architecture is its emphasis on showcasing the materials used in building construction, as well as the functional components of its structures. This means that elements such as lift shafts, ventilation ducts, staircases, and boiler rooms are integrated into the building’s fabric in ways that celebrate them as distinct features rather than hidden away.

In London, Brutalism was widely used in the reconstruction of the city after World War II, particularly for social housing and government buildings. However, its popularity led to its use extending beyond these spheres.

Best Brutalist Architecture in London

London is home to some of the most striking examples of Brutalist architecture in the world. These buildings, with their raw concrete facades and geometric forms, have become an integral part of the city’s landscape. Here are some of the best examples of Brutalist architecture in London.

The Barbican

The Barbican Centre is one of the most iconic examples of Brutalist architecture in London. Designed by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, the building was constructed in the 1980s to help regenerate the Cripplegate area of the City of London. The complex includes a mix of residential and commercial spaces, as well as the largest multi-arts and conference venue in Europe. Visitors can explore the labyrinth of pedestrian walkways and discover the hidden gem of a conservatory.

Trellick Tower

Trellick Tower, designed by Ernö Goldfinger, is a 31-storey tower that looms over Ladbroke Grove. Completed in 1972, the tower is one of London’s most recognizable Brutalist buildings. The tower’s unique design combines a main block of social housing with a service tower, connected via covered walkways every three floors. The cantilevered boiler house atop the service tower is the only curved element of the building.

Royal Festival Hall

The Royal Festival Hall is the largest venue in the Southbank Centre. Designed by Robert Matthew with Leslie Martin and Peter Munro, the building was constructed in the 1950s to represent the optimism and forward-thinking attitude of postwar Britain. The building’s avant-garde structure was meant to reflect the programme of events happening inside, creating a synergy between form and function. The interior features “classless-designed” bars and restaurants, as well as an open foyer policy that allows public access during opening hours.

National Theatre

Denys Lasdun’s National Theatre is a grand example of public sector Brutalist architecture. Built to make theatre accessible to the masses, the structure features a large Olivier Theatre that seats 1,160 people, alongside two smaller theatres that also seat significant numbers. The building’s complex layering of concrete reveals itself in stages, adding to the grandeur of the structure.

Alexandra Road Estate

The Alexandra Road Estate, designed by American architect Neave Brown, is a swooping swish of striking architecture and intricate design that reflects Brutalism’s utopian vision. The estate winds alongside Camden’s railway line and is a listed building. Brown also designed the Dunboyne Road Estate and Winscome Street Row Houses in Camden.

Brunswick Centre

The Brunswick Centre is a multi-purpose residential building and shopping centre in Bloomsbury. Designed by Patrick Hodgkinson, the building’s cream and sky blue colour scheme provides a different take on Brutalism. The centre was supposed to be part of a larger development razing its way through Bloomsbury, but in the end, only The Brunswick section was built. The light-filled walkways and symmetrical designs are some of London’s best.

Royal College of Physicians

Denys Lasdun’s design for the Royal College of Physicians is a modernist masterpiece that overlooks leafy Regent’s Park. The Grade I listed building manages to be sympathetic to the area’s palatial Regency architecture while also standing out as a Brutalist gem.

The Standard

The Standard is a Brutalist building that is softer and curvier than other buildings in this guide. It was the former Camden Town Hall Annexe and is now a swish hotel. The building’s pale Brutalist concrete frame is thrown into relief by the Gothic buildings of St Pancras looming in the background.

Centre Point

Centre Point, designed by Richard Seifart, was unveiled in 1966 and was one of the tallest buildings in London. The building was famously underutilized and was transformed into a block of luxury apartments in recent years.

Brixton Recreation Centre

Brixton Recreation Centre is a Grade II listed building that was nearly a failed project due to labour disputes and political struggles in Lambeth council during the late 70s and early 80s. The project was almost abandoned several times, but the recreation centre was completed in 1985. The building is another slice of Brutalist architecture that is now a much-loved community space.

78 South Hill Park

78 South Hill Park is a Brutalist building in Hampstead designed by Brian Housden. The building has an interesting origin story, as Housden redrew his plans to be more avant-garde after visiting influential Dutch designer Gerrit Rietveld. The result is a striking example of Brutalist architecture in Hampstead.

One Kemble Street

One Kemble Street is a cylindrical structure that was once home to the Civil Aviation Authority. The building is a fine example of the brash, brutalist architecture of the 60s, with little

Brutalist London Practical Tips and Map

For those interested in exploring London’s brutalist architecture, there are a couple of walking tours available such as the “London: Brutalist Architecture & History Walking Tour” and “Brutalism for Beginners.” It is worth noting that most of these buildings are open to the public, so visitors should take the time to explore the interiors as well as the exteriors. In some cases, visitors can even enjoy performances, dinner, or drinks in the buildings themselves, such as the Royal Festival Hall and the National Theatre. As the distances between the buildings can be considerable, it is recommended to wear comfortable shoes when walking from place to place.