10th Mar 2015 5:30pm
Building Brutalism: architecture, labour and concrete on the South Bank
Christine Wall, University of Westminster.
The Queen Elizabeth Hall and Hayward Gallery, built of in-situ concrete between 1961-1968, and the National Theatre, built between 1969-1976, were for many years the brunt of jokes and criticism: they are now recognised with the distinction of Grade II listing and as renowned examples of Brutalist architecture. However even this new appreciation of twentieth century concrete structures omits any analysis of the construction process, thereby excluding any investigation into the workforce and the knowledge, skill and accuracy necessary to build what are essentially vast sculptures in concrete.
This paper uses the testimonies of former site workers to recount the physical process of building and also wider political and economic change beyond the boundaries of the site, including local and global patterns of migration. In the 1960s, at the height of Wilson’s drive towards industrialized building, avant-garde architecture was being carefully and skillfully, crafted in central London by carpenters using hand tools. It is only through revealing the conditions under which these structures were built, the knowledge and skills demanded of the labour force and the wider social world of labour, that we can broaden current definitions of architectural heritage and architectural value.