Architects Attempt Sculpture

Cast Iron Brutalist Art Deco "Horse Tamer" Bookends with Copper Finish (LEO Design)

Though clearly Art Deco—in period and style—these 1930's bookends foreshadow the "Brutalist" aesthetic to come two decades later. Brutalism was a design ethic which swept worldwide architecture in the third-quarter of the Twentieth Century. Coming on the heels of the Second World War, it sought to overturn the (so-called) "frivolous" aesthetic of previous human generations, and, perhaps, to shock the world with its defiant rejection of grace. Brutalism is known for its brazen angularity and a lack of any concern for "fitting-in" to the existing community of buildings. Though it is often described as the expression of "function over form," it is more often perceived as an insolent disregard for traditional conventions of beauty. The new, post-War generation of designers insisted on shaking things up. And Brutalist architecture was cheap—an attractive option for schools and governments financially strapped after the War. Much of it was made of exposed poured concrete (still a relatively new and experimental architectural material) and the architects were able to bypass the costly handwork of traditional builder-craftsmen (masons, stone carvers, painters, tileworkers). By 1975, Brutalism was on the decline and existing buildings already were starting to age poorly. It seems that the new "miracle" material—poured concrete—did not hold-up well. Chipping, cracking and staining are common problems in Brutalist architecture. Perhaps it behooves architects to express themselves within the established rubrics of good building design—and to build upon the hard-won knowledge of the centuries of builders who have discovered what works and what does not.

One might have guessed that I do not like much Brutalist architecture (and one would be correct!). However, I do (sometimes) like small Brutalist "accents"—in the form of sculpture, bas relief or other aesthetic embellishment. These bookends pre-date Brutalism by a couple of decades. Learn more about them by clicking on the photo above. 


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