Visual Arts » Architecture

Brutalism -- To Be or Not To Be?



Brutalism. Even the name sounds unfriendly. The iconic, concrete-heavy style that dominated construction after World War II often has more detractors than fans. Many view the stark and linear buildings dominated by bare concrete more as eyesores than cultural treasures. As the Awl recently explored, many of these structures are now being torn down or renovated beyond recognition. But while many of the replacements are beautifully modern, demolitions and developers are erasing the record of an era of architectural change and experimentation. Some who appreciate the importance of the original style are trying to protect the few remaining landmarks of this kind.

In Indianapolis we've gone both ways in our treatment of brutalism. On one hand, you have the new Millikan on Mass apartments, blocking the view of the distinct John J. Barton Building that has held court over Massachusetts Avenue for 47 years. Both have their critics, but it's hard to imagine the newer project ever carrying the cultural weight of the top-heavy monolith behind it.

On the other hand, the Minton-Capehart Federal Building downtown has had its exterior restored with a fresh coat of paint. The spectrum of hues, designed by iconic artist Milton Glaser, is representative of the humanizing touches overlooked on many brutalist structures. The colors have funky names such as "Jamaican Smile" and "Harvest Flame." Glaser is famous for designing the signature "DC Bullet" born by DC Comics for decades, but the blockish, austere style gave him a canvas on which to leave his mark in Indianapolis.

Whether you love it or hate it, brutalism is a part of Indianapolis' architectural heritage. While newer designs may better fit our aesthetic expectations, it still has its place in the visual lexicon of our skyline. At least for now.

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