Concrete, that grey blocky mass of a material. It's easily spotted on every London street corner and has been used to beautiful effect across many buildings in the capital. Is there anything simpler, more contemporary than cubes of concrete? This post will pick out some of our favourite modernist pieces for you.....
The absolute king of modernist brutalism, the Barbican is monolith of the modern movement of the 20th century. Built in the 1980s by the City Of London Corporation, the Barbican was seen as a failure in its day, voted by many as the ugliest tall building in the country. But almost 40 years later, its popularity is now growing fuelled by consumer desire for clean lines, minimal shapes and modernist heritage. The Barbican really does tick all the boxes. Seen now as a brave vision for architecture, a series of buildings that draw parallels from their surrounding urban environment but, brutally, channel the idea of change and progress. Very grey, very London; a utopian vision perhaps not; but a vision of what is possible, definitely. Don't believe me, just Google flat prices of the Barbican blocks.
Hackney Filter Beds
This one is a Mali secret, the Victorian filter beds and water pumps can be found in the Lea Valley; just a stones throw from the Princess of Wales pub, if you fancy a wee tipple after your wonder. The water pumps once used natural filters to clean the water before it was pumped back to town. In its day, it supplied clean water to the whole of Stoke Newington, pretty cool to see such a useful piece of history. Walking around the beds are quite mysterious. Concrete structures that are now fighting nature with every slab, covered in moss and flora. You can see below the beautiful symmetry in the Victorian engineering. Go check it out:
Blink and you might miss them but across the capital are all manner of interesting concrete structures. We especially love the one below. A combination of blocky shapes that cut into and rest on each other. So simple, so refined and so simply grey; concrete in all its minimal glory. Perhaps a bit hard for the bum though?
Arguably the big daddy of the concrete modernist movement. Every single aspect of this 1960s building is unbelievably creative. The architects clearly thought long and hard about producing a structure that wouldn't age, would alter in different lighting and simply surprise the viewer with every gaze, behold the Haywood Gallery. A construction of simple clean lines that are juxtaposed by triangles, turret windows and sheets of glass. It truly needs to be admired for its brave vision, of which we couldn't name a comparative. The Haywood is closed until January 2018, but viewers can still get really close to the building, just a minutes walk from the South Bank. When it re-opens expect a non-stop program of modern art, neatly presented in the most modern of art spaces.
Only a minutes walk from the Hayward Gallery you will find the National Theatre. A multifaceted building with layered walkways, rooftop bars and all manner of vertical shapes interlocking as the viewer moves around the different walkways close by. Layered lines of concrete create an intriguing palette of offset greys that lightly texture the outside walls. When you take a walk down to the South Bank be sure to check this building out.
The new(ish) annexe of the Tate Modern is a very beautiful space from the outside. But we are still drawn to the innards of this building, especially the process of the architecture in progress. The Tate's annexe is particularly special, fragmented lines that contort at every edge. You can see in the photo below that an underbelly of concrete has been used to hold this huge vertical mass. In the finished building the concrete has been clad with bricks, so you won't get to see the perfectly cast concrete that you can see in the photo below. But get inside this beast and into the tanks and you will discover a beautiful concrete den with spiral staircases and whole rooms of the reinforced grey stuff.
Whilst writing this piece The Guardian wrote an interesting piece on Why Roman concrete still stands strong while modern versions decay, check it out for some wider reading...
(So you can find it later)