A new show uses photographs of concrete buildings in their final days to argue for their preservation.
Sunlight dances across the exterior of a theater that looks half-eaten, its gaping holes and exposed wires open to the sky. Half-destroyed apartment buildings sit placidly, their glass windows not yet shattered. A church slowly gets chewed away by machinery.
These images and others are part of “Brutalist Destruction,” a new exhibit that aims to make viewers think about the impact of destroying Postwar concrete buildings. The exhibit, curated by Chris Grimley, opened earlier this month at the pinkcomma gallery in Boston and will run through May 2018.
Over the last few years, Grimley noticed that an increasing number of Brutalist buildings around the country were being demolished and photographers were there to document them. “Eventually—unfortunately—there were enough of them to cull together into the show,” he said. Some of the photographers featured in “Brutalist Destruction” had worked with Grimley before, while others he reached out to after finding their work online.
The show includes photos of Mechanic Theatre in Baltimore; Orange County Government Center in Goshen; Shoreline Apartments in Buffalo; Third Church of Christ in Washington, D.C.; and Prentice Women's Hospital in Chicago. Two U.K. buildings—London’s Robin Hood Gardens and Birmingham’s Public Library—are also in the show.
Such structures are seen by some as “monstrosities” but, Grimley noted, regardless of style, they are simply products of and testaments to their time. He pointed out that 50 years after the rise of Victorian architecture there was a wave of “venomous dislike” for such buildings, which led to many of them being destroyed. “Now, we’d be like, ‘that’s so short-sighted and narrow-minded,’” said Grimley. And yet, he added, critics of Brutalism and those who call for their demolition are following the same course.
Preservation is a matter of ecology as much as aesthetics. “There’s this phrase that’s bandied about a lot: the greenest structure is the one that’s already there,” Grimley said. “The amount of energy, whether it’s labor of the people that made it, the actual material energy of the building itself, or the embodied energy it takes to remove it—it’s wasteful on so many fronts.”
Grimley has a favorite monstrosity of his own: Boston City Hall. “It’s a perennial punching bag for critics, but for us it’s one of the most fascinating and complicated buildings for the 20th century,” said Grimley. He encourages those who dislike the building to re-think the façade and what it represents. “It’s a singular piece of work made at a time when there was a newfound civic investment in infrastructure in Boston,” he said. “It signaled that Boston wasn’t the crusty 1950s version of Beantown, but something that was aggressively trying to become involved in the future.”
Girmley said he hopes that visitors to the exhibit will confront their own biases about the polarizing architectural style as more and more of these buildings face the wrecking ball.
“Realize that just because something isn’t to your taste,” he added, “that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have the chance to age gracefully.”
“Brutalist Destruction” is on exhibit at pinkcomma gallery (46 Waltham Street, Boston) until May 3, 2018.