My project, Abstract Brutalism, is a continuation of a line of creative enquiry I have been pursuing since 2005. As a Landscape Architecture student, I was drawn to the revolutionary, 20 year project of New Babylon by the Dutch artist Constant Nieuwenhuys.
The monumental, fictional structures Constant created to accommodate the rise of humanities theoretical evolution into Homo Ludens (based on the 1938 book by cultural theorist, Johan Huizinga), was the catalyst for my appreciation of Brutalist architecture.
Homo Ludens is the notion that human’s inevitable next iteration as a species is that of a ‘leisured’ being. The theory is that as technology marches on, AI and automation replaces humans in the workplace, people must occupy their time with more recreational pursuits. ‘Ludens’ is that active participle of the Latin verb Ludere, whose closest English equivalent translation simultaneously refers to ‘sport’, ‘play’, ‘school’ and ‘practice’.
New Babylon occupies an unusual position in that it is both regarded as an artistic and an architectural project. Paradoxically, it conveys the potential as a utopian and a dystopian vision for humanity. Its inception, via COBRA and the Situationist International art movements, came when the rebuilding of Europe in the post-war years offered contradictory glimpses of a wonderful and simultaneously terrifying future.
I regard Brutalist architecture the perfect, realized embodiment for Constants ‘New Babylon’ vision for Homo Ludens.
As a practitioner of modernist design theory and Stoic philosophy, these unapologetic, titans of the built environment are naturally attractive to me. Brutalist architectures physical magnetism emanates a powerful, often threatening presence. This attraction is not one of a traditional aesthetic (under no circumstances can they be described as ‘pretty’), rather, they exude an over-whelming sense of gravitas. The British social commentator, Jonathan Meades, describes them beautifully in his wonderful documentary Bunkers, Brutalism & Bloody-Mindedness as “Architecture for Grown Up’s”.
My own working paradox is that of working in two dimensions, whilst drawing from a three-dimensional theory and discipline. My ambition is to convey the sense of vibrating presence Brutalist architecture emits, via the two-dimensional plane of the ‘canvas’. This sense of presence can be achieved and is seen in the work of Clyfford Still (who, as a child lived, in Alberta) and Mark Rothko. Both are examples of two-dimensional artists whose work dominate the spaces they occupy.