Jo Underhill shoots Britain’s ‘unapologetic’ Brutalist buildings

Anti-beauty brought to life

‘What draws me to Brutalism is that it’s not afraid or ashamed of what it is’, says Jo Underhill. ‘It’s not apologetic – and in a way it’s anti-beauty.’

The Hertfordshire-based photographer has been shooting some of the UK’s best loved – and most maligned – concrete buildings for her ongoing series, Beautiful Brutalism.

‘I try and capture details of the texture of the concrete, especially when it’s mixed with other materials,’ she says. ‘I love the contrast between wood and concrete – the warmth and the cooler tones.’

Among big hitting Brutalist architecture such as the National Theatre and the Hayward Gallery, Underhill has trained her lens on lesser-known textural structures.

Birmingham’s Central Library by John Madin, 1973 (now demolished). Photography: Jo Underhill

‘Unfortunately not all Brutalist buildings were built with the same design vision,’ admits the photographer. ‘People have lumped Brutalist greats – such as Denys Lasdun’s National Theatre and the (now demolished) Birmingham Central Library by John Madin – in together with the poorly made tower blocks and car parks built by local authorities in the 1960s and 1970s.’

Welbeck Car Park’s future hangs in the balance. Photography: Jo Underhill

London’s Welbeck Car Park, currently at risk of demolition, is such a victim: ’People are more aware of the Brutalist style now than they were five years ago, but quite a bit of it has already been demolished, even though it’s only 40 or 50 years old. To me, it hasn’t had enough of a life to warrant that.’

Designed by Michael Blampied and Partners in 1971, Welbeck features an elaborate concrete diamond facade. It was sold last year to make way for a £600m hotel, but has been named as one of the most important unsung buildings in the capital, by architect Sam Jacob who describes it as ‘simultaneously practical and symbolic.’

Underhill’s Instagram and blog serve as a love letter to its concrete planes, whose future looks bleak.

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