What Kinda Architecture is This?

Here is a picture of the main Sacramento Superior Court.

Here’s an animated virtual courthouse tour.

It was built in the 1960’s. I can only describe the style as a big wide fat box made of a lot of exposed concrete.

As you can see, the windows all around the building have a huge concrete grid in front of them that protrudes from each side of the building. The verticle concrete “bars” in front of the windows create verticle slits to look through. The window glass sits behind this concrete grid or frame by a good six feet or so.

There are many buildings from the 1950’s and 1960’s that share the same sort of features. I lack the architectural knowledge and vocabulary to describe the style, etc.

My questions are:

  1. Who the hell decided that a huge wide concrete box was attractive? Is there a name for this style or this trend during the time period? Was concrete considered a newfangled daring construction material at the time?

  2. Why did they decide to put a concrete grate over all the windows? Many buildings fom this era have some kind of concrete or metal framework obstructing the windows all around the building. Is there an architectural term for this, besides “ugly”?

The architectural style is aptly called Brutalist .

Many many government buildings and universities subscribed to this style of building in the 60’s and 70’s.

Yep. As to why it was used, it’s (a) cheap, (b) fast, and © an acceptable compromise in committee-based public works where you have some people advocating modernism, some people advocating classicism, and so on. The trend has faded because so many of the buildings are, as you say, pretty ugly (though there are a few striking exceptions), which naturally caused © above to shrink in acceptability.

“Brutalist” is right. People have been complaining about Boston City Hall (pictured in the Wikipedia article, and put up circa 1969) ever since it was erected, and there are still calls for it to be torn down and something more user-friendly put in its place. “Aztec tomb” is how it’s been described. The main complaint isn’t really the style – it’s the vast quantity of unused and unusable space inside, while all the offices feel crowded. Add to this the vast treeless, brick-lined (and therefore unplowable) plain outside (across which the wind howls in the winter), and you have the makings of a modernist wasteland.

Tastes do change. When it was new, Boston City Hall was well thought of by many architects. Bolding added:

Naah, it’s not a matter of tastes changing – it’s who’s doing the talking. A lot of non-architects apparently hated it when it was brand new (and still do). I don’t doubt that a lot of architects still love it. But they don’t have to work there.

In 1969, many American architects were on crack. At the nation’s bicentennial, they were freakin’ insane.

The maintenance of the air conditioning, or the quality of the coffee, is probably more at fault if people ‘don’t want to work there’. I’d never seen the Boston example before, but it strikes me as a typical piece of brutalism toned down with sops to neoclaccism. Genuine brutalism doesn’t pretend to be a ‘normal’ structure with a few additions. From what I can see from the OP, Sacremento withs with Boston, not with good architecture.

Can I play?

How about this one?

This is Drayton Tower, an apartment complex in downtown Savannah. IIRC, it was built in the late 50s. The local historic types hate it.

Nahhhh - certainly not brutalism. Just bland utilitarianism. (BTW, one of my pet peeves is the misuse of the term to describe any run-down or uninspiring concrete building…)

OK, how about this one? - this is Portsmouth’s (UK) much-despised (and now at long last, demolished) Tricorn centre - photographs can’t really do justice to the eye-twisting ugliness of this building - it looked like an ad-hoc jumble of distorted concrete. But what style? Brutalism again?

My “favorite” example of Brutalism is the Humanities Building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It is a bad building in many respects other than just plain ugliness and is happily slated for demolition. It, along with neighboring Vilas Hall, are Wisconsin’s contributions to the classic college urban myths: 1. The architect died of embarrassment after the building was finished, or 2. the building was accidently constructed “inside out”.

In his book “Shockwave Rider”, John Brunner referred to this as the “Shitabrick” style of architecture. I think its more descriptive than brutalism.

Not everyone agreed. That page outlines some of the inherent problems with the building (which were separate from the brutalism) - and some of the neglect heapd on it.

This can be a problem - a lot of things were tried out at this time, some of which didn’t work well, and these get conflated with the architectural style. IMO, that Humanities Building looks desperately unimaginative, but the hall works much better.

Since this thread seems to have become a “spot the Brutalism” forum, I’ll pile on: Is this building (also, here) an example? This was the music building at the college I went to, and I have to say that it’s actually a very well-designed building — if it’s Brutalism, then Brutalism can’t be all bad.

It looks like it has elements of brutalism - in particular the bold diagonal blocks for the stairways.

And that’s the important thing - like or loath the Tricorn Centre, or the Hayward Gallary, or anything else, brutalism was influentual. Without brutalism’s use of stark geometric shapes, often in asymmetrical arrangements, we wouldn’t have this or this. Without the wilful exposure of the basic materials of construction, we may not have the proliferation of fully-glazed buildings. Without both, the plans for the Freedom Tower would be far less interesting.

I’m not an architect and had never heard of Brutalism before reading this thread, but it seems to me that Brutalism is kind of like International style (rectangular shapes, etc.) except it’s always made of concrete? If you took one of the buildings previously identified as Brutalist and constructed it out of something other than concrete or brick, would it still be Brutalist?

Where do you draw the line between Brutalist and non-Brutalist? Here is the Johnson Art Museum at Cornell. It’s concrete and parts of it are kind of chunky, but I’e never heard it referred to as Brutalist. Why not? Does it have something to do with the way it’s situated on the land?

Good question. The term comes from the French béton brut - ‘raw concrete’ - so strictly, yes, it only deals with concrete structures. But I would see no reason in expanding the concept to cover other materials, although this is a moot point as the style itself is historical. You’d be creting ‘neobrutalism’, or some such :wink:

I’d call that an excellent example of brutalism. Trouble is, it’s a concept so disliked in some quarters that the term gets avoided.

Yarr. I hate hate hate brutalism. Unfortunately, many of the buildings were built in its heyday, so I have to suffer through their enduring ugliness. Plain concrete is a horrible choice in the Houston heat and humidity – it provides a prime breeding ground for mildew and moss, and as a result always looks filthy and run-down.

It makes me wish I had applied myself more in high school, so I might have gone to Rice, which is all in a neo-Byzantine style and as a result is one of the best-looking campuses I’ve ever seen.

Heh. Many of the buildings of the University of Houston, that is.