An Architecture of Mass Surveillance

by Harry Fisher | 15th September 2020

Brutalism holds a complicated place in our collective psyche. At its roots in England, it was derided as vulgar and ugly, and while such views do not hold as much currency today, they are certainly still widespread. The previous year has seen the beginning of the demolition of Herbert Fitzroy Robinson’s Sampson House, the sculptural Welbeck Street Car Park, and a proposal for the significant alteration of Lasdun’s Southbank IBM building. The recent popularity of Brutalism and its position as the go-to hipster architectural style has somewhat softened the image of it in recent years, yet many of these buildings are still treated in horrendous ways by the institutions that maintain them.

Plans for alteration of Dennis Lasdun’s Southbank IBM Building - Photo: 76 Upper Ground -

One need only walk across Waterloo bridge at night to see that the Southbank Centre’s sculptural staircases have been sullied with a gaudy layer of yellow paint, and its facades obscured with shipping crate restaurants and circus billboards. The administration of the Southbank Centre has also given the Southbank Centre, and its more noble older sibling, the National Theatre, a lighting makeover at night. The idea that a lighting scheme somehow makes the angry grey boxes that constitute the National Theatre and Southbank Centre more happy and appealing is condescending thinking on behalf of then Mayor of London, Ken Livingston, that it surely deserves reconsideration since revitalised appreciation for the beton brut. The era of abuse of such buildings which runs far deeper than lighting additions, I would optimistically posit, is coming to an end. The collective psyche governing our approach to Brutalism, one of disdain and aversion, is dissolving and the new vision becomes clearer every year, projects like SOS Brutalism