It’s Brutal Out Here

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BRUTAL [adjective.] Extremely honest, savagely direct, or coarse in speech or manner.

ISM [noun.] A distinctive practice, doctrine, system, or theory.

UNIVERSITY [noun.] A brutal system with extremely distinctive courses and theories, indoctrinating either speech or manner. More professionally known as an institution at the highest level of education where you can study towards a qualification or conduct research.

Brutalism, as an architectural style, emerged in the 1950s and gained popularity throughout the 1960s and ‘70s. Although it garnered less popularity than the moon landing and Star Trek, but slightly more than the Johnny-Cash-ignited forest fire of 1965, this monstrosity of a discourse was particularly prevalent in the construction of government buildings, university campuses, and public housing projects.

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Brutalism is the kind of architecture that makes you question whether the intention is bold, innovative, and imposing, or soul-sucking, dry, and oppressive. After all, terms like heavy and utilitarian are often used to describe these designs. But if you’re into the idea of unapologetically Orwellian dystopia meeting functional structures, then Brutalism might just be the architectural trend for you! What other 50-year-long relationship has the key characteristics of being raw and exposed, while prioritising purpose over form and still commanding attention? You might find yourself convinced that beauty was in the eye of the beer holder with this one.

The Brutalist movement in South Africa’s university buildings and learning spaces is like the love child of a concrete factory and a Soviet-era bunker, but this grandiose design choice does play a bigger role than simply showing off industrial prowess. The monumentality of these buildings brings a sense of awe and inspiration to a place of developing minds. Practically, the very large and open spaces that concrete technology provides, allow for optimal educational conditions.

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Robert Leslie Social Science Building, University of Cape Town, built in the early

Minimal distraction: Who needs ornate decorations when you’re working towards a degree in computational neuroscience and astrophysics?

Acoustic properties: When you’re paying good money for an education, you can’t blame failing on the insufficient way sound behaves and interacts with a particular environment or material.

Natural light: The only thing worse than being stuck in a lecture hall for hours is being stuck in a dark one.

Durability: The average adolescent isn’t exactly concerned with protecting the architectural history of our country. Let’s allow Brutalist design to take on the task while students continue on their beer-pong streak.

Sense of community: Nothing says ‘we’re all in this together’ like a monolithic building huddling over everyone on campus.

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Wartenweiler Library, University of the Witwatersrand, completed in 1972.

Sure, maybe we like to hop onto international trends — this one, in particular, stemming from the likes of Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn, with similar intentions in mind. It’s not all unoriginal, though Our Brutalism is also shaped by local conditions, like the unique blend of social upheaval, diverse landscapes, and political tension that belongs to South Africa.

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