Brutalism and the Welfare State: Histories of Displacement, 1952-2017

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Abstract for
The Brutalist Turn conference
Azrieli School of Architecture, Tel Aviv University, and the Azrieli Architectural Archive, Tel Aviv Museum of Art
14-16 April, 2019

My presentation will look into the intersections of New Brutalism and welfare state politics, using the case of Alison and Peter Smithson to unpack some of the dominant myths of the period. I will use some of my recent research findings to hypothesize that when looking at the British welfare state system we are not so much looking at a universalist project of citizens’ emancipation but at a continuation of disruptive development at the cost of lower class communities in particular.

It was Kenneth Frampton who suggested a direct link between the New Brutalism and the welfare state in his famed Modern Architecture: A Critical History (1980, 1985). Yet, the link is not quite substantiated in his 7-page discussion of the architecture of the Smithsons and Stirling and Gowan.

I will first contextualize the case of Robin Hood Gardens and demonstrate its rather exceptional qualities, not only in terms of its architecture, but especially in terms of the local council policies, and the larger history of the construction of the London Docklands and its immediate housing districts.

Secondly, I will highlight some of the propositions as conceptualized by the Smithsons for the welfare state-architecture nexus, and how they – at first optimistically but also naively – developed their ideas over the years, from the cheerfulness of the House of the Future in 1956 to the pessimism of ‘The Violent Consumer’ in 1974, and from an embracing of the ideas of the Labour politician and Minister for Health and Housing Aneurin Bevan as he put down in his testimonial In Place of Fear (1952), to Team 10’s dismissive discussions of the ‘Labour Union Society’ mid-1970s.

My presentation will be concluded with a few observations concerning the afterlife of Robin Hood Gardens, the demise of the British system of planning and housing, and the ruthless metabolism of a ‘superstar city’ like London (Richard Florida, 2017), which devours its own architecture and history in its relentless strife for capitalist hegemony as driven by the speculative logic of global real estate surplus value.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventThe Brutalist Turn conference - Tel Aviv, Israel
Duration: 14 Apr 201916 Apr 2019


ConferenceThe Brutalist Turn conference
CityTel Aviv


  • Welfare State
  • Modern Architecture
  • New Brutalism
  • Architectural History


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