The the question of how Alison and

The married couple, Alison Margaret
Smithson (1928-1993) and Peter Denham Smithson (1929-2003) were most known as
the representatives of the New Brutalism. Alison Smithson was born in
Sheffield, Yorkshire and Peter Smithson was born in Stockon on Tees, Durham and
were studying architecture in Newcastle which was part of Durham University.
But then Peter Smithson had to stop his studies because the World War Two broke
out. In 1945, when the war ended he returned to the Durham University where he
met Alison Gil, now known as Alison Smithson. They married in 1949, then both
joined the architectural department of London County Council.


In this essay, the discussion will be about
the question of how Alison and Peter Smithson can be seen to represent the
values of their time. Which project, building or example really shows how they
set a milestone in their era. The couple was one of the first to question and
challenge modernist entrances to design and urban planning. They contributed more
to evolving the style into what became New Brutalism.


This term was first used by the couple when
introducing the project of the house in Soho, London. The main concept for the
architecture was that the exterior was left unvarnished which determined that
the materials didn’t reflect anything other than their true selves. This act
had to do with the time period because after the World War Two it was quite
difficult and unaffordable to include things such as paint and wallpapers into designs.
Le Corbusier’s buildings as ‘beton brut’ which means ‘rough cast concrete’
influenced the idea of leaving the materials as they honestly are.


The enormous changes in society after World
War Two induced to Alison and Peter Smithson’s breakthrough. A new form of
schools, called the secondary modern school, was created. Which was a number of
secondary schools for pupils between the age 11 to 15 in England, Northern
Ireland and Wales. This new system had to have a new aesthetic inclusive of
architecturally bold and enormous school buildings. After winning the first
commission the couple was finally able to open their own practice.


following example supports the answer of how they can be seen to represent the
values of their time. This was their first project and breakthrough also it led
the way for many buildings to come in Britain. And it meant that they were finally
able to reflect their ideas of new forms and visions onto the building. This
was the building which highlighted and emphasised the characteristics of New Brutalism.
The outcome of this was that “The first
building completed in the world to be called ‘New Brutalist’ by its architects
was the school at Hunstanton in Norfolk.” (Reyner Banham, 1966)


The Hunstanton School (1954) with its
clear, groundbreaking and pragmatic design and large expanses of glass composed
the definition of New Brutalism. Now, the school is in a Statutory List of
Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. Leading from this to
join the Team X (Team 10) a group of architects who assembled and created their
own design philosophy. The couple helped approach the core meanings of
brutalism: low costs, material focus, reflects inhabitants and location.” The phrase The New Brutalism was
immediately applied to it, though it had been designed in the spring of 1950,
long before even the house in Soho, but the Brutalists themselves have accepted
this appellation, and it has become the tag for the Hunstanton wherever the
building has been discussed.” (Reyner Banham,1955)



Therefore, this building is amongst the first
that started the New Brutalism movement in England by offering new elements of
formalism and structuralism that dares to seek for more functional solutions in
architecture. The architecture introduces a two-story rectangular block which
has a large multiuse assembly hall at its centre. Also, the organization of the
building widens which enables the outdoor spaces to be more usable.

In terms of materials, the building is made
of what it appears to be made. The idea was to leave the materials in their raw
and unfinished states, therefore this was a treatment of ‘as found’. “Alison and Peter Smithson have remarked on
this, ‘as Found’ is a perceptive recognition of reality, a new seeing of the
ordinary, an openness as to how prosaic ‘things’ could re-energise our
inventive activity.” Claude Lichtenstein,2001)


This next project was designed in the late
60s and built in the early 70s hoping to create the “streets in the sky” as a
tool to combine the community of the Victorian slums with the efficiency and quantity
of Le Corbusier’s housing blocks. The Robin Hood Gardens, a social housing
project in Poplar was the visualization of many developed ideas the pair had
explored at the Hunstanton and at the competition for the Golden Lane which was
unsuccessful but the idea of ‘streets in the air’ bloomed there.  


The design consists of two not tall
residential blocks with a garden area in the centre. The gardens include raised
mounds for the greenery to be visible from even higher floors and windows. The
idea was to create more possibilities of a social mix by including more than
one type of dwelling. The blocks are equipped with flats and maisonettes. The
intentions were that residents were going to access their properties via the
“streets in the sky” to have interactions between neighbours in order to form a


This was a movement for the realization of
improved social ideals which had been influenced by brutalist thinking. In the
end, it was a failed project because by the time they finished the housing
complex in 1972, the Brutalist moment had already been past. The idealism did
not correlate with the new consumerist realities of the 70s. The estate was
meant to alleviate poverty instead, the complex was associated with criminal
acts. “Brutalism was not just about
honesty in the use and construction of ‘as found’ materials… but was based on a
social program committed to creating economically, environmentally, and
culturally relevant architecture.” (Webster,1997) the intentions of the movement
were reflecting the values of their time.


The couple also contributed to other
projects than architectural ones. For example, the House of the Future which
was meant to be for theoretical discussions rather than actual use. The House
of the Future was a simulation and speculation of the future lifestyle including
automated housework, technologically enabled broadcasting of image and sound
towards the world and Mars. The simulation was designed for the Daily Mail
Ideal Home Exhibition. It was created around a courtyard garden which provided
natural lighting and a private outdoor area. The houses had just a few windows
to grant the buildings to be right next to each other. In order to be able to
observe the house, there was an elevated platform for viewers to look down
inside the model of the house. The cabins for the appliances and work areas
enabled a larger, clearer and more open living space.  Beatriz Colomina who is a Spanish architecture
historian discovered in her comprehensive essay (2004) that in fact, the
materials for the house were plywood with plaster covered with emulsion paint
instead of it being plastic. “In those
years the House of the Future (1956) was still the Smithsons’ most radical proposal
for a housing design. Their thoughts on a different kind of interior and a new
organisation of daily patterns of life led to a radical transformation of the
dwelling into a new sort of ‘container’ with no separate, fixed rooms.” (Dirk
van de Heuvel,2004) Then again, the architects managed to create a new living
method which had useful characteristics because they were looking for


All these projects which contributed to a
big movement of concepts, this couple is known and should be known for
introducing new methods of visualising authenticity in structure, use of
materials and environment. They established to show the values of their time by
characterising the movement of New Brutalism as an act of honesty towards what
the architecture actually exists of. In the example of the Robin Hood Gardens
the idea of creating socially relevant architecture was the aim. Additionally, the
project tried to respond to the needs of creating an environment full of improved
living.  In summary, Alison and Peter
Smithsons should be seen as enlightenment for such a controversial movement to
be able to influence and enrich architecture and be relevant to this day. 


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