Everything You Need to Know About Brutaltist Design

by Drew Henry

It can be brutal out here in the design world, but that’s exactly what fans of Brutalism want. In a world of styles that often gravitate toward open and airy or comfy and cozy, Brutalist design stands out as a counter-movement championing grit and raw forms. The Brutalist design movement came about in the mid-20th century after WWII and has left an enduring mark on our design landscape. Fans of the style value it for its honest use of materials, geometric forms, and Spartan-like aesthetic. 

If you’ve been keeping up with the LiLi Blog, you know our design experts typically gravitate more toward bright colors and lively patterns. However, the LiLi Team is looking to learn more about the Brutalist style, which relies heavily on one of our favorite materials — cement! Join us as we define Brutalism, highlight its key design features, and explore the trending look. 

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What is Brutalist Design?

Brutalism comes from the French phrase “béton brut,” meaning raw concrete. The style is most known for using exposed cement, block-like forms, and an imposing gritty style. Brutalist design is a narrative of authenticity, where the beauty of the building material, especially raw concrete, is proudly showcased. Pioneered by architects such as Le Corbusier and the Alison and Peter Smithson duo, Brutalist architecture defines an era centered on authenticity of form — a principle that resonates with many still today. 

Understanding the origins of Brutalist design is essential, as it informs much of the contemporary appreciation for this no-frills architectural style. In its early days, Brutalism was a reaction against the light, airy, and jovial mid-century modern style. While Modernism relied on glass, terrazzo, and playful designs, Brutalist architecture embraced unadorned surfaces, raw forms, and towering scale.

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Many people find the Brutalist look polarizing, either loving it for its austere authenticity or shying away from its intimidating form. 

Brutalist Architecture: Distinctive Features & Durable Environments

The defining characteristics of Brutalism are unmistakable. While it’s not often seen in residential design, you have probably come across it when visiting government buildings, large office complexes, or even college campuses. 

Brutalist buildings often exhibit heavy, monolithic forms, which give them their substantial, imposing presence. Geometric shapes play a significant role in the Brutalist style, and many Brutalist buildings feature a repeated modular motif that serves both functional and aesthetic purposes. These buildings usually possess a stark, fortress-like exterior with raw concrete and steel, asserting a rugged industrial aesthetic in the heart of urban cities. 

While Brutalist architecture is synonymous with raw concrete, it employs other industrial materials such as steel and glass. Architectural giants of the Brutalist movement include Le Corbusier, whose Unité d'Habitation reigns as a quintessential illustration of the style, and Moshe Safdie, whose Habitat 67 complex demonstrates the versatility of Brutalist designs. Using raw concrete and large-scale geometric forms, these architects have made an enduring impact across cities worldwide.

LiLi’s Did You Know? 

Did you know that the easiest way to spot a Brutalist building is to look for cement? These structures typically feature a concrete exterior and raw concrete walls, floors, and even ceilings inside. Here at LiLi Tile, we craft handmade cement tiles and our love of the material is what got us interested in Brutalism in the first place. While we like to decorate our tiles with vibrant colors and patterns, our solid gray-tone tiles would feel right at home in a Brutalist space. 

Solid Cement Tiles

The Reinvention of Brutalism: Incorporating Modernity

While Brutalism peaked in the mid-20th century, it is experiencing a revitalization today as it blends with contemporary design movements. There is a renewed interest in bringing the Brutalist style to the forefront of urban development, embracing the raw concrete aesthetic while integrating modern architectural advancements. A fresh dimension is added, focusing on sustainable materials and repurposing existing structures that align Brutalist principles with energy efficiency and environmental considerations. Materials like cement tiles are incredibly eco-friendly, as they are recyclable and good insulators.  

In interior design, the minimalist trend converges with Brutalism’s celebration of raw materials. Interior designers often reference Brutalist principles to bring an edgy, textured contrast to otherwise polished and refined spaces. Similarly, the resurgence of Brutalist furniture reflects a broader cultural interest in unique furniture statements that resonate with durability and artisanal craftsmanship.

The Enduring Debate Around Brutalism

While Brutalism is trending again, it still has its fair share of controversy and critique. Its austere and imposing designs have historically been met with polarized responses. While some enjoy its stark honesty, others are looking for a more cozy and relaxed design style. 

Nonetheless, Brutalist structures, especially institutional buildings, have been praised for their unyielding strength and many designers are leaning into the style. In a world where refined visuals often dominate the architectural landscape, the raw, unadorned expression of Brutalist architecture commands a second glance. The style grabs your attention and evokes an emotional response — whether you love it or hate it. 

Looking Forward: Brutalism in 2024 and Beyond

Interior designers, architects, and homeowners are embracing Brutalism in 2024. In a world where sustainability, function, and practicality are concerns, Brutalist design delivers. Architects and designers find themselves drawn to the style’s emphasis on structure and material. Its utilitarian, often imposing character provides an opportunity to rethink how we approach structures, materials, and life in our environment. 

As we navigate the complexities of modern life, the enduring qualities of Brutalism — strength, resilience, and raw beauty — offer a compelling design template that challenges and inspires. 

So, what is your opinion on Brutalism? Are you ready to embrace the monotone look of raw materials or do you still find comfort in playful color and pattern? Wherever you fall on the design scale, we have a tile collection perfect for your home. 

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