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‘Brutalism London’ – the ‘Marmite’ of architecture. Love it or loathe it, London is home to epic examples of the best Brutalist Architecture.
From hidden housing estates to concrete cultural centres, brutalism London is still very much visible in the capital.
From concrete cultural spaces to heavyset housing estates, here is our guide to the best brutalist London architecture / brutalism London in the capital:
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Table of Contents
Brutalist London – a quick history of Brutalist architecture
Brutalist architecture first came about in the 1950s post war, emerging from the earlier modernist movement at the turn of the century.
Brutalist London buildings are characterised by their geometric and sometimes symmetrical shapes and their minimalist aesthetics that showcase the building structure (usually concrete) over excessive design and stylings.
In a word, brutalist London buildings are a ‘bit blocky’.
Brutalist London map
The Best Brutalist Architecture in London
1. Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate, Rowley Way, Camden
AKA Most Famous Brutalist London
For us, the ‘best’ residential example of Brutalist architecture in London has to be Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate in the London borough of Camden.
This brutalist London housing estate is such a surreal place to walk around (almost slightly ‘unworldly), that it feels like no other housing estate in London.
Comprising over 500 apartments in two low rise parallel sections, the brutalist London Alexandra and Ainsworth estate was completed in the late 1970s.
It was designed to be a self contained estate with a school, youth centre, park and shops all on the same estate (although all the shops at Alexandra and Ainsworth estate were boarded up when we last visited).
You can walk around the Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate but remember it is quite a small and enclosed community so respect the tenant’s privacy and refrain from doing too many selfies and the like.
To get the best Brutalist architecture view of the Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate in Camden, London, head to the east end of the estate and climb up the stairs by the boarded up shops to get views from the upper levels.
How to get to Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate:
The nearest stations are South Hampstead Overground train station and Swiss Cottage London Underground station.
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2. The Barbican Estate
AKA Cultural Brutalist London
Perhaps best known to visitors from outside of London for the Barbican Centre and nearby Museum of London, the Barbican Estate itself comprises over 2,000 flats and homes and is Grade II listed.
The Barbican area was devastated by bombing during WWII and the replacement residential buildings that make up the Barbican Estate were completed by the early 1970s.
The brutalist architecture Barbican Estate in London can be accessed by members of the public although some sections are out of bounds to non residents. There is said to be high demand and a huge waiting list to live here, as the location is so central.
The brutalist Barbican Estate is located in the City of London Square Mile and we’d recommend you arrive via Barbican Tube station.
Take the stairs upstairs from the station to the gantry that goes directly onto the estate, mooch around and then finish at the Barbican Centre station, which has brutalist style symmetrical ponds and a great place to get a drink or catch a show.
This piece of prime London brutalism also recently caught the attention of Grammy winner Harry Styles, with the brutalist Barbican taking a starring role in his music video for As It Was. To be fair, we always thought One Direction’s original music was also pretty Brutal.
We’d also rate the Barbican brutalist architecture as one of the most Instagrammable places in London >
How to get to The Barbican Estate:
The nearest stations are Barbican London Underground station (easy to remember!) and Liverpool Street national rail station.
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3. Thamesmead, Bexley, south east London
AKA A Clockwork Orange London Brutalism
Outer London brutalism! We first came across Thamesmead as a ‘London brutalist’ place of interest to us, after watching Stanley Kubrick’s film version of Anthony Burgess’ controversial novel, A Clockwork Orange.
We were in awe of the Clockwork Orange London filming locations, so different and like no other London filming location we’d seen before on celluloid.
After a bit of research, we found out that A Clockwork Orange had London filming locations all over including the subway at Wandsworth, another London Brutalist architecture in Uxbridge but a lot was filmed in the then new (ish) housing estate of Thamesmead.
Mainly consisting of social housing built in the 1960s to alleviate lack of housing in other parts of London, Thamesmead was designed to be a self contained town, centred around a system of waterways (concrete canals) and a central lake.
Thamesmead as a whole is an ‘interesting’ place to visit, and one of the best examples of London Brutalist architecture – although it did feel eerily quiet when we visited one midweek morning in the summer.
It should also be mentioned that as at 2023, Thamesmead is in the midst of major redevelopment works so much of the best London brutalist architecture here may soon be lost.
How to get to Thamesmead
The nearest station to Thamesmead is Abbey Wood train station – there is no London underground station nearby.
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4. The Brunswick Centre, Bloomsbury, London
AKA Shopping Brutalist London
The Brunswick Centre is a London brutalist beauty in Bloomsbury that stands out like a sore thumb compared to all the other buildings in the area (but in a good way).
Just down the road from the iconic British Library Building and near to Euston and Kings Cross, The Brunswick Centre is primarily a residential estate with several retail spaces and shops located beneath it – brutalist architecture in London has never been so practical!
Completed in 1972, the tiered Brunswick Centre concrete complex consists of over 550 apartments, a Curzon cinema and even a Waitrose supermarket (not so brutal now, eh).
How to get to The Brunswick Centre
The nearest station is Russell Square London Underground station
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5. Lulot Gardens, Highgate
AKA Low Key Brutalist London
So we haven’t actually seen this mentioned on any other Brutalist architecture London lists as such.
We discovered Lulot Gardens quite by accident whilst exploring for our Highgate blog. Lulot Gardens was designed by Peter Tabori and it seems he was VERY inspired by the brutalist Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate – they are so similar and this just feels like a dainty version of it.
Designed in the 1970s and just a stone’s throw from all the delights of Highgate Village and Waterlow Park, Lulot Gardens is a mix of private and council housing.
Given the smaller scale, we wouldn’t say this is worth a special journey in itself in terms of Brutalist London architecture but it’s fine to combine it with a day trip to Highgate.
How to get to Lulot Gardens
The nearest station is Archway London Underground station.
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6. Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, London
AKA Southbank Brutalist London
A little bit of brutalist architecture on London’s south bank along the river Thames, the Hayward Gallery sits atop the rear of the Southbank Centre and hosts an eclectic exhibition line-up.
Opened in the late 1960s as an addition to the existing Southbank Centre, the whole area is a brutalist London architecture and art space with various connecting concrete walkways and catacombs.
For example you can walk from the Hayward Gallery to the Southbank Market directly via a series of interconnecting landings and stairs.
The Hayward Gallery building itself is best viewed from the adjoining Waterloo Bridge.
How to get to Hayward Gallery
The nearest station is Waterloo mainline station and London Underground.
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7. Trellick Tower, Kensal Town London
AKA Towering London Brutalism
London Brutalism from the 70s, Trellick Tower in North Kensington is another Grade II listing skyscraper that was built to try and help with London’s then housing crisis (31 residential floors with over 200 flats).
Troubled with anti-social behaviour over the years due to its unique layout with lots of hiding locations, living on the Trellick Estate used to be quite …erm brutal (ist). It has since become highly desirable and one of London’s most sought after centrally located skyscrapers to live in.
It is also said that brutalist Trellick Tower was the inspiration behind J G Ballard’s 1975 novel High Rise, which was recently turned into a (very underrated) movie starring Tom Hiddleston.
New line at the bottom – Trellick Tower is around a 15 minute walk from Portobello Road in Notting Hill.
How to get to Trellick Tower
The nearest station is Westbourne Park London Underground station.
8. Royal Festival Hall
AKA Royally good Riverside London Brutalism
Very close to neighbouring London Brutalist building The Hayward Gallery, The Royal Festival Hall was built in the early 1950s as part of the Festival of Britain.
Today it still stands proud on the London Southbank, with some of the very best views of the historic Square Mile and the River Thames.
Now a Grade I listed brutalist building, the Royal Festival Hall plays host to regular concerts and is part of the nearby Southbank Centre.
You can visit the Royal Festival Hall foyer for free, plus there is a nice cafe and riverside terrace here to enjoy a coffee or craft beer.
During the summer months, there is a rather nice roof garden here too – the Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden and Cafe / Bar (just look for the brightly coloured luminous yellow concrete steps going up – very easy to spot!).
How to get to Royal Festival Hall
The nearest station is Waterloo train station and London Underground
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9. SouthBank Skate Space
AKA sporting London Brutalism
Just below Royal Festival Hall, you find an interesting use of a Brutalist basement area – the South Bank Skate Space, a world-famous skate park bedecked in bright street art and graffiti.
How to get to SouthBank Skate Space
The nearest station is Waterloo train station and London Underground
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Our final example of Brutalist London Architecture…
10. ‘No 1’ Brutalist Building Croydon
AKA the 50p Tower Brutalism
We move out to London zone 5 for the ‘Number 1’ Croydon Brutalist building (not our ranking, but its actual title!).
Once referred to as the NLA / Noble Lowndes Annuities Tower, most people affectionately refer to it as the ‘50p building’ in Croydon, given its unique shape.
Less kindly, it has also been nicknamed the wedding cake building – take about a bouquet of brutalism!
Built in Croydon in the 1960s when the area was fast developing as a commuter belt for London city workers, the No 1 Croydon building still stands proud and has recently undergone a multi-million pound refurbishment programme.
It even featured in an episode of Netflix’s smash hit series Black Mirror (for the episode Bandersnatch where parts of Croydon were transformed into a 1990’s high street).
Whilst it is mainly a commercial building, the brutalist beauty of this building can still be admired from afar and there is even a small Sainsbury’s supermarket at the ground level.
How to get to ‘No 1’ Brutalist Building Croydon
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