The Top 10 Most Iconic Brutalist Buildings in the World

La Casa del Portuale in Naples, Italy. Designed by Aldo Loris Rossi
Photo: © Google (Maps Streetview), Modified by Boris Boguslavsky

There’s something undeniably appealing about Brutalism. The raw, unyielding material of concrete, coupled with the harsh structures and utilitarian aesthetic of brutalism can’t help but evoke thoughts of some dystopian, authoritarian existence. A world in which society wanders through streets lined with these towering, faceless, concrete structures. And yet, there’s a futuristic feeling to it as well. Although it may not be a future anyone wants to live in. The style certainly has bleak undertones. Despite all this, there’s something beautiful about it. Many people are clearly enamored with Brutalism and Brutalist architecture. So much so that the style has seen an apparent resurgence.

I keep stumbling across images of brutalist buildings, interiors, sculptures, and more throughout my daily perusing of art and design publications throughout the web. There are some truly amazing buildings out there, and I took it upon myself to compile the best examples.

Geisel Library

University of California San Diego, San Diego, USA.
Designed by William Pereira.

Photo: Antoine Taveneaux. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Geisel Library must be one of the most recognizable brutalist buildings in the world. Built in 1970 as the ‘Central Library’ for the University of California, San Diego, it has become one the quintessential examples of Brutalist architecture anywhere on the planet. The stacked, boxy tiers, the concrete buttresses, the floor-to-ceiling windows, and the way it looms over all who dare approach makes Geisel Library fall squarely within the Brutalist style, firmly cementing the building into the style’s canon.

Geisel Library Entrance
Photo: CyclicalCore @ DeviantArt (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Photo: Ray LAC @ Flickr CC BY 2.0

Wotruba Church

Vienna, Austria.
Designed by Fritz Gerhard Mayer & Fritz Wotruba

Photo: Kramar 2015 (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Colloquially known as ‘Wotruba Church’, but actually titled ‘Church of the Most Holy Trinity’, this unique building stands solemnly in Vienna. A lot can be said about building a Brutalist church, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.

Featuring 152 asymmetrically placed giant concrete blocks, this one-of-a-kind church has earned its place among the great accomplishments of Brutalist architecture. The blocks the building is composed of vary greatly in size, ranging anywhere from 0.84 cubic meters to 64 cubic meters in volume. The largest block measures 30 x 22 x 15.5 meters (94 x 72 x 51 feet). Apparently, the design of the church created some local resistance to its construction, but fortunately, such objections were no obstacle.

Photo: Funke (CC BY SA 3.0)
Wotruba Church Interior – Kramar 2015 (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Wotruba Church Side – Kramar 2015 (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Wotruba Church located on the Sankt Georgenberg in Maur in Liesing, Vienna, and was built in 1974 based on a model designed by Fritz Wotruba.

Wotruba was an Austrian sculptor, considered to be one of the most notable sculptors of the 20th century in his country. Unfortunately, he never got to see the building in its final form, but as they say, a society grows great when men plant trees in whose shade they know they will never sit. Wotruba may not have had the chance to witness his design materialize, but thankfully, we do.

Photo: Frank Herbert (CC BY 2.0)

HABITAT 67

Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Designed by Moshe Safdie.

Photo: Jon Evans (CC BY 2.0)

The stark contrast between the rigid blocks of Habitat 67 and the greenery which surrounds and sits atop it is truly something to behold. The residential complex undoubtedly sits in the Brutalism hall of fame. Habitat 67 is not only a notable Brutalist structure, but is widely considered to be a landmark in the entire field of architecture.

Panoramic view of the Habitat 67 complex. Photo: Patrick Breen (CC BY 2.0)

The Habitat 67 project began as a thesis for Safdie’s archiecture program at McGill University. It quickly drew acclaim and recognition, and eventually led to the Canadian Government financing it’s construction with Safdie as the head architect, despite his young age.

Habitat 67 under construction in 1966.
Photo: Unknown Photographer (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The residential complex is comprised of 354 identical, prefabricated concrete blocks sporadically arranged in various combinations, and reaching various heights. The goal for the project was to provide affordable housing, and to illustrate a modern lifestyle that people may live in as cities grew and more and more people were concentrated in smaller and smaller spaces.

Ironically, the unique design caused great demand for each residence within the complex, and each beautiful concrete cube now costs quite a bit. Sadie still owns a penthouse in the building.

Telecommunication Center

Skopje, North Macedonia.
Designed by Janko Konstantinov.

Photo: yeowatzup @ Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

A contemporary concrete miracle, the Telecommunications Center in Skopje, Macedonia played a crucial role in the reconstruction of the city after a devastating earthquake in 1963. The center is actually an ensemble of three separate buildings; the Telecommuncation PTT Center, the Counter Hall, and the Administrative Building.

Built right in the city center, on the bank of the River Vardar, the Telecommunication Center has become an iconic presence in the city skyline, and rightfully claims its place among the most notable Brutalist buildings in the world.

National Theatre

London, UK.
Designed by Denys Lasdun.

Photo: Ann Elliot (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Built between 1967 and 1976, the Royal National Theatre is one of London’s architectural landmarks, and sits comfortably as one of the simultaneously most-hated and most-loved buildings in the entire city, according to a 2001 Radio Times poll. Prince Charles, in 1988, described the building as “a clever way of building a nuclear power station in the middle of London without anyone objecting”.

Main Entrance
Photo: Man Vyi (Public Domain)
Photo: Man Vyi (Public Domain)

Despite the controversial reception, the Royal National Theatre has been a Grade II listed building since 1994; a designation that places it as a culturally significant landmark worthy of protection and preservation. The building’s foyers are open to the public, and the entire complex actually houses three separate theatres: The Olivier Theatre is the main auditorium with an open stage and fan-shaped seating area that can seat about 1100 people. The Lyttelton Theatre is the second, seating 890. And the often shunned Dorfman Theatre is the runt of the litter, described as being “the smallest, the barest and the most potentially flexible of the National Theatre houses . . . a dark-walled room”.

Marina City

Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Designed by Bertrand Goldberg.

Photo: Diego Delso (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Marina City is one of Chicago’s most iconic architectural landmarks. These two twin residential towers are unique for many reasons, and stand as two of the largest Brutalist buildings ever constructed. While definitely Brutalist in their style, the towers are unique in that their interiors contain almost no right angles at all, a trait that few other Brutalist buildings share.

Marina City balconies.
Photo: Matt Hobbs (Public Domain)

Each residence is a wedge placed around a central circular hallway that surrounds a central elevator shaft, leaving the possibility for right angles in short supply. While the odd shape of each residence within may have its drawbacks, each living room and bedroom within have their own balconies. Interestingly, the towers are run entirely on electricity, with each residence having its own water heater, air conditioning, and heating units that are all powered by the electricity provided to the building.

Marina City under construction.
Photo: Chalmers Butterfield (GNU FDL)

Cité Radieuse

Marseille, Bouches-du-Rhône , France.
Designed by Le Corbusier and Nadir Afonso.

Photo: LauterGold @ Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Perhaps the single most influential Brutalist building of all time, the Cité Radieuse (english: “Radiant City”) was the seminal work of Le Corbusier, a foundational pioneer of modern architecture. Cité Radieuse was built between 1946 and 1952, and is often cited as the spark that inspired the entire Brutalist architectural style and philosophy.

Cité Radieuse Interior Corridor
Photo: Fred Romero (CC BY 2.0)

The entire building is built with rough-cast concrete, and comprises 337 apartments over twelve stories. The structure sits suspended atop a series of inverted conical concrete pylons, and residents and visitors are free to walk and congregate underneath.

Cité Radieuse Roof Terrace
Photo: Fred Romero (CC BY 2.0)

There is also a communal roof terrace with a beautiful ventilation stack, running track, and shallow pool for children. The terrace is in and of itself a perfect example of Brutalist architecture, almost worthy of its own separate post.

The Met Breuer

Manhattan, New York City, USA.
Designed by Marcel Breuer.

Photo by Ajay Suresh (CC BY 2.0)

The Met Breuer was a modern & contemporary art museum in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York City. It was a branch museum of the greater Metropolitan Museum of Art, and was permanently closed on June 23rd, 2020. The building now houses the Frick Collection.

The Met Breuer Lobby
Photo: Jim Hernson (CC0 1.0)

While in service, the courtyards were open to the public, and the interiors were just as striking as the exterior, with a markedly stark lobby and a seemingly endless grid of circular ceiling lights.

Interior view of one of the windows. A striking photo by itself.
Photo: Cynthia Gao (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Boston City Hall

Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Designed by Kallmann McKinnel & Knowles.

Photo: Daniel Schwen (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Modified by Boris Boguslavsky (Cropping, conversion to black & white)

Government buildings and Brutalist architecture seemingly go hand in hand. Show any random person a Brutalist building, ask them its purpose, and there’s a good chance they will immediately tell you ‘government’. There’s something inherently bureaucratic about the whole style, and it seems that the city government of Boston Massachusetts have embraced this principle.

Main Lobby
Eagle or Treaty Room
East and South Elevations
City Council Chamber
Boston City Hall, circa 1968.
Photo: City of Boston (CC BY 2.0)

The Boston City hall was part of a major redesign effort in the 1960’s, after the demolition of an area of housing and businesses that were deemed by the city to be ‘substandard’. It’s a controversial building, suffering nearly universal condemnation from the public during its construction, and has apparently been labelled as one of the world’s ugliest buildings.

Nevertheless the building enjoys great acclaim among architects and critics, with an AIA Poll designating it as one of the top 10 greatest American architectural achievements.

Western City Gate

Belgrade, Serbia
Designed by Mihajlo Mitrović in 1977

Photo: Błażej Pindor (CC BY-SA 3.0)

In Belgrade stands a 36 story skyscraper formed by two towers connected at the top by a two story bridge and revolving restaurant (which never functioned). The building was designed to look like a large gate to appear as a welcome to people arriving to the city from the west, and so the skyscraper is called the ‘Western City Gate’.

Having a Brutalist building as a symbol of welcoming strikes me as having missed the point of what a welcome should be, but maybe it’s just that Serbian humor.

Also known as the Genex Tower, this skyscraper is the second-tallest high-rise in the entire city. Like many Brutalist buildings, its construction was divisive, and widely criticized. And like many more Brutalist buildings, it is now well regarded and recognized as a distinctive landmark of the area.

The taller tower is residential, with 30 floors. The lower tower is for business, with 26 floors. The business half of the building was originally occupied by the Genex Group, a state-owned export company that controlled 12% of the Yugoslav foreign trade by 1989.

Just imagine waking up on a cold winter day in Belgrade, getting ready for work, walking across that 26th story bridge underneath the restaurant that never turned, and sitting at your desk to manage contracts that exchanged Yugoslavian goods for Soviet fuel and metal. What could be more Brutalist than that?

Honorable Mentions