Event review: the launch of the Journey Through Brutalism exhibition at RISE Gallery

By - Monday 12th March, 2018

We need to talk about Croydon’s brutalist architecture

Photo author’s own.

Turning off from the relentless stream of cars driving up and down Wellesley Road, I glanced up at the unlit tower of concrete and glass soaring overhead and shimmering in the streetlights. The Nestlé building rested peacefully in the crisp evening air. Its slender vertical structure faded to a dark grey, blending seamlessly into the night sky. I ducked my head into St. Georges Walk to find RISE Gallery nestled amongst an assembly of vibrant murals and empty office blocks – a particularly fitting backdrop for an exhibition on brutalism.

On a Thursday evening, visitors from all over London came out in full force to show their enthusiasm for this divisive architectural style, recently celebrating a resurgence in popularity. Brick By Brick had sponsored the private view and as the drinks flowed, the crowded gallery space brimmed with animated discussion.

Bringing this conversation to Croydon seemed particularly relevant as one of the only outer London boroughs to have so many examples of this style of building. Guest speaker John Grindrod, an author who himself grew up in New Addington, treated the audience to witty passages from two of his books. Concretopia: A Journey Around the Rebuilding of Postwar Britain, and his upcoming How to Love Brutalism.

88 Seconds of Fame, by Charlie Lang.
Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

The exhibition ‘A Journey Through Brutalism’ at RISE Gallery brings together diverse artistic responses to past, present and future examples of brutalism. Local architectural heritage is celebrated through photography, collage, animation, painting and sculpture. Brutalist design in Croydon has clearly stimulated emotional reaction as nostalgia and futuristic visions seem to merge at this architectural intersection. 88 Seconds of Fame, a spiralling abstraction of concrete, steel and polystyrene by Charlie Lang, cascaded through the gallery. Alongside this was a series of striking black and white photographs, including some Croydon icons, by Owen Calvert.

This month-long homage continues until 31st March, further stimulating dialogue through artworks, talks and film-screenings. RISE Gallery has also partnered with the National Trust to offer a series of walking tours shining a spotlight on Croydon as ‘one of the most important examples of brutalist and modernist architecture’.

Consider brutalism’s Utopian ideals along cosmetic judgements of style

The cover image for the exhibition features Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67, an iconic housing typology for high-rise village living in Montreal, Canada, completed in 1967. The architect’s urban vision explored the “possibility that high-rise living could be more like living in a village” with the “quality of life of a house” rather than “what they associated with the negatives of apartment housing”. This fundamentally Utopian ideal underpinned the design and development of much brutalist architecture. These social intentions ought to be considered alongside cosmetic judgments of style and aesthetic.

In his book How to Love Brutalism, John Grindrod suggests that we should take a second look and adjust our gaze past the raw aesthetic and monolithic structures. Some buildings “are immediately charming and loveable. With others it sometimes takes me a couple of goes to ‘get’ it. And they are often the ones I end up loving most”.

Head down to RISE this March to make your own journey through brutalism and find a fresh perspective on those towering slabs of concrete and glass that are uniquely Croydon.

RISE Gallery in St George’s Walk is open Tuesday-Friday from 10am to 6pm and on Saturday from 10am to 4pm. The exhibition is free. For information on the guided walks, click here.

Taylan Tahir

Taylan Tahir

Taylan Tahir is a director at MATA Architects. He studied at the Royal College of Art, where he had the opportunity to question negative attitudes towards his hometown in his dissertation titled, ‘We Need to Talk About Croydon’. Follow him on Twitter @taylantahir Instagram @taytahir.

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